Whatever her motives — personal morality, the marketplace, credibility — Oprah Winfrey did the right thing on her show last Thursday when she held author James Frey's feet to the fire. Frey, whose "nonfiction" memoir "A Million Little Pieces," was selected by Oprah for her book club, had been caught in a web of lies. After touting the book in October, Oprah stood by her man through November and December, saying the "emotional truth" of the book outweighed its errors.

Then on Thursday she said she was dead wrong.

And she was dead right to say so.

At a time when readers can pick up a copy of "The Philadelphia Inquirer" from a rack beside "The National Enquirer" and not know the difference, it is high time people started drawing a line in the sand to distinguish fact from fiction. Publishers of every ilk seem to rely more and more on Mark Twain's famous dictum: "Never let the truth ruin a good story."

In the case of Frey, the big booksellers, greedy publicists and the author were all on board with his "good story," driving the book hard. Like the driver headed in the wrong direction who keeps forging on because he's "making such good time," once the book industry machinery was cranking it rolled on by momentum. Oprah even phoned Larry King's show to tell him that Frey's fabrications were much ado about nothing.

She knew better, of course. But by then, sales were skyrocketing and Oprah was just along for the ride.

Finally, three months after The Smoking Gun Web site outed Frey as an imposter, Oprah saw the light. Or at least she saw the shine coming off her valued reputation.

We applaud her for coming around. But more, we applaud the readers, writers and journalists in the country who simply refused to let the charade stand.

Will publishers now do more fact checking? Probably. Will Oprah's status be diminished? Probably not. Will she promote more nonfiction books in her book club? Not if she's smart. For despite what novelists, filmmakers, playwrights and others who blur the boundary between fact and fiction might say, there is a difference between what really happened and what was made up. In journalism, drawing that distinction is a big part of the job description.

We are glad James Frey was found out, and glad the American public wouldn't let him get away with fudging the truth.

We are also encouraged by the reminder to stay on our toes.

When it comes to "real world" truth, there is never room for sloppiness or shenanigans.