November 11th, 2009
Every so often I hear about a quote I supposedly gave to a journalist which I didn’t actually provide. Sometimes that’s been because a journalist (or sub editor) has muddled my name with another expert quoted in a story or feature. Sometimes it’s because a journalist’s taken something from my blog and rewritten it. And sometimes it’s because a journalist has written what they thought I might say and put my name to it.
When I’ve questioned this misreporting editors are usually willing to rectify mistakes, but journalists and editors have often questioned why it would bother me. After all, in an era where many ‘experts’ are thrilled to get a mention in the press (as a form of self promotion) it presumably shouldn’t matter what you’re quoted as saying, so long as someone is quoting you. Right?
Well maybe for some, but not for me. Here’s why.
Firstly, it’s just bad journalism to decide to misquote, rewrite or make up something you claim an expert has said. It dishonest reporting and is unfair to readers and journalist colleagues who are investigating their stories and reporting accurately.
Secondly, it’s unfair on the person being misquoted. It can misrepresent their expertise or area of study (if they’re a genuine expert) and make them the target of unjust criticism from colleagues. [If they’re a quack it just gives credence to their unsubstantiated ideas and allows them further publicity]. It can also create more work for the expert concerned as if you’re misquoted about a story and more journalists catch on to this you have to explain the error to them – which can actually lead to them treating you with suspicion. And you feeling like you’re going crazy and can’t remember what interviews you’ve given.
I’ve had a few experiences like this over the past couple of years and it’s always annoying and again reduces my faith in the media. It’s particularly annoying because I actually want to work with journalists and am happy for them to quote my blog (accurately and with acknowledgement), or to get in touch with me so I can either help them or refer them to someone who can be of assistance.
What’s a real pain is when you’re misquoted but then other people pick up on the story and you discover you’re an expert in something that you perhaps aren’t qualified in. Flattering, possibly, but irritating too.
And that’s how today I discovered I am a ‘renowned English sexologist’. Which is a nice compliment but nowhere near as exciting as also finding out I also invented “Twilight success”. Yes. All that fuss in the media you’re seeing about the Twilight books, Team Cullen vs Team Black, and the New Moon film? That was down to me.
I sincerely hope you’re impressed. I certainly was.
Although, of course, it’s not true. I have not researched nor published any academic papers about Twlight. I have read the series (and enjoyed it). But I’m not an expert on the topic of the book or the interest it’s generated among teens (particularly young women). There are people who have researched the Twilight phenomenon and it’s a growing interest area within literature, philosophy, media and cultural studies (for some examples see here, here and here. Not to mention being a hot topic within the Slash Fiction genre.
Unfortunately all this escaped the journalist from Dutch newspaper De Pers, who recently quoted me in a feature about Twilight ‘Alleen dat haar, al o my god’. Translated (with thanks to my friends over at Bad Science forums) my contribution reads something like this: “The renowned English sexologist Dr Petra Boynton calls it Twilight Success, that, according to her, is all about the almost tangible gigantic sexual longing of Bella for Edward, the longing of woman for man, as a signal on the cultural level that female sexual feelings are not all romance and roses, nor indeed the acrylic nails and fake tan of most porn films. But they exist in another place that women have perhaps not looked into before. Are you ready to look into it yourself?”
Now perhaps I’m being a bit facetious about my interpretation of ‘Twilight Success’, but this quote does represent problems for me. Particularly because another journalist saw this story and contacted me for their story on desire and the Twilight phenomena. It’s how I discovered I’d been quoted in the first place. Luckily I was able to refer that journalist to some people who are more expert in this area than I am. But it would have been nice to do that for the De Pers piece – and also nice not to seem particularly stupid when I was called by the second journalist and had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.
Nobody from De Pers contacted me about this story. This is not an area I’ve researched. The only possible link to this story I have is that I wrote in my pre-Halloween blog a few weeks ago “Actually I’ve done little else but fantasise about Edward Cullen of late, so this guide (how to date a real-life vampire is useful in case he tires of Bella and comes for me. Join me, and check out the Twilight series, or tuck into Susie Bright’s Bitten – a great new gothic erotic anthology”.
Which doesn’t mention anything about desire between Edward and Bella, new genres or comparing romance with porn. (I have researched the latter issue and published on it, but not in relation to Twilight. So I’m still confused).
I contacted the paper pointing out this error and questioning whether it was a case of either muddling me with someone else, or completely misquoting an unrelated blog entry, or simply putting my name to something to help a story stack up.
I’ve heard nothing back.
It’s tempting to ignore events like this when they happen. After all there are many more serious issues going on in the world that we could be focusing on.
My reason for flagging this up is how can we trust journalists to report on the serious issues if, even if it’s only occasionally, we find there are those who attribute experts to content without gaining their consent or checking for accuracy? If they fabricate the simple stories, what other lies might they be telling us?Tweet