Tuesday, June 28, 2011

the difference between academia and journalism?

I have friends who are journalists. I like them a lot. I hope that none of them would ever, ever deliberately misquote someone they've interviewed.

I was asked to discuss Neil Gaiman's American Gods by a journalist writing for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. The  journalist asked several questions by e-mail and asked that I respond very swiftly to them. I did because I like to be helpful.

The journalist--who has no excuse because my words were right there in his e-mail--misquoted me. He writes:

Not everyone loved "American Gods" a decade ago. In his introduction to the new edition, Gaiman mentions that some critics complained the book was "not American enough"; others "that it was too American."
Robert Geraci, a religious studies professor at Manhattan College, believes he knows why.
"I think Gaiman's book may not please those who believe there is an America," he said. "However, as a Brit who's lived in America for a long time, Gaiman can see things about our culture that we can't -- or that we prefer to ignore. In showing us the real complexity of America, which includes the America of recent British immigrants as well as the America of the First Peoples, Gaiman can't help but annoy those who prefer a mythic America that is uniform and coherent." 

What I actually said--in response to whether or not Gaiman's book is "not American enough" or "too American"--is:

debates over what is "american" are muddled from the start, as "americanness," if anything, means a conglomerate of cultural practices, ideas, and institutions. while American Gods omits some of these (such as the overwhelming presence of protestant christianity), it captures the essence of the u.s. as a "melting pot." ... gaiman's book is not a perfect snapshot of american life (what would be?), but it does brilliantly explore our cultural heritage(s) by situating america in the long history of religions and peoples."

There are some reasonably significant differences between what I said and what the piece's author attributes to me and you'll note that I don't anywhere claim that this issue is the reason why some people didn't like the book (which a reader could reasonably infer from what was written). I was asked about whether particular criticisms of the book were valid and asked how I would respond to people who held them. My answer fits that question, not the one I am possibly alleged to be addressing.

More to the point, there are some very significant ethical issues in claiming that you're quoting someone when in fact you are not. In my classes ... I call this sort of thing lying and I fail students for it.