Writers have philosophised about the “death of the author” since the 1960s. Yet I wonder whether these essayists, who wanted to concentrate solely on the meaning of texts themselves rather than imagining what the writer intended, could have imagined the depths to which the New York Times would sink last week with its marketing campaign. It involved a photo on the New York subway of a young person with the words “Lianna is Imagining Harry Potter Without Its Creator” superimposed over the top.
This is so worrying because the New York Times is frequently viewed as the bastion of liberal journalism. It is also the second largest US paper by circulation after the Wall Street Journal, the publisher of the Pentagon Papers (the covert government study of US involvement in the Vietnam War) and the winner of more Pulitzer prizes than any other news organisation. And yet it has jumped straight into the territory of “alternative facts”.
The point is that without its creator there would be no Harry Potter. To imagine that there could be is a feat which even the most resourceful mind could not pull off. It is to imagine an untruth, an attempt to try and fashion the world like a three-year-old, who puts their fingers in their ears and goes la-la-la to give themselves the impression that you haven’t told them it is bed time. The invitation to deny reality is the liberal equivalent of the Republican Party telling supporters the presidential election was stolen — an assertion the NYT would attack ferociously as right-wing propaganda.
Liberalism, which I confess I hold dearly, is becoming more and more authoritarian in its attempts to create and control reality through language. Sections of the left now believe that they can just say something and that will make it true. It’s as if they are taking literally Dorothy’s most famous line in The Wizard of Oz, “Click your heels together three times and say ‘There’s no place like home’ and you’ll be there.”
Most depressingly of all, it appears the NYT is marketing itself with this fact-defying slogan simply in the flagrant pursuit of young readers. Liberal under-30s have been persuaded that the most successful living female author is the very embodiment of the devil, on account of her views on the materiality of sex. In the interests of grabbing some new subscribers, they must be thrown some red meat and JK Rowling must be erased. One wonders if there is a striking parallel between the New York Times and its British equivalent, the Guardian, in this regard. A recent essay by Hadley Freeman on Unherd appeared to suggest that her newspaper had limited discussion of gender ideology to appease “left-wing bullies”. She spoke of “cowardly institutions that have allowed themselves to be bullied by a tiny misogynistic online minority”.
The New York Times defended its Pentagon Papers scoop with the freedom-of-the-press clause in the First Amendment, and was founded in 1851 as a paper that would avoid sensationalism and practise restrained and objective reporting. Apparently this doesn’t cover JK Rowling’s reliance on biological fact and her right to express that view. Where is its journalistic integrity?