Potter series promotes healthy skepticism of journalism, local author writes.

In an “expanded edition” of his book of essays on the “Values of Harry Potter,”  local libertarian gadfly Ari Armstrong slams a 2008 article in the American Communication Journal, by Amanda Sturgill and others, which argued that the Harry Potter series portrayed journalism in dark and destructive manner.

Armstrong’s basic point is that, sure, journalism in the Potter books, embodied in character Rita Skeeter, was flawed at times, but that’s how journalism is in real life as well. So the book teaches young readers to look at the news media with a critical eye.

“Consumers of journalism will do well to adopt the thoughtful skepticism promoted by the Potter series,” Armstrong writes.

He provides a few examples to illustrate his point that journalists can make mistakes without undermining the value of the news media. One of his examples, unfortunately, is New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s opinion, written after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, that “We don’t have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was.” Yes, that was a dumb opinion, but Krugman is not a reporter; he’s paid to opine. You’d think Armstrong could have come up with better examples from the spectacular archive of journalistic foibles.

Still, Armstrong’s critique about the Sturgill article is on target for the most part, as he points to examples, even if they’re brief, of the beneficial role journalism plays in the books, as well its destructive use as propaganda when the news is taken over by Voldemort. There seems to be an obvious lesson in the dangers of state control of the press here, and you wonder why Sturgill ignored this and the other material Armstrong cites.

Armstrong writes:

“The Potter novels teach that, even in the faceof shoddy reporting or outright censorship, the truth can prevail if its advocates keep fighting for it.”

I noticed that Armstrong did not say the truth “will” prevail without quality journalism, and he’s right. You have to wonder today, with serious journalism struggling, whether enough of the truth will get out there for our experiment in democracy to have a happy ending.

So maybe the lesson in the Potter series that Armstrong lauds isn’t the one we really need.  We need more books showing how the truth doesn’t prevail in the end  when journalism is forsaken or corrupt. That’s where things look to be heading to me.

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