December 2, 2001
J.K. Rowling is actually not a Satanist, explained Scripps-Howard religion columnist Terry Mattingly in the Nov. 24 Rocky Mountain News. Mattingly wrote about the e-mail that has been circulating which purports to contain quotes from a London Times interview with Rowling in which she takes pride in the Harry Potter books bringing children to Satan. The actual source of the Rowling "quotes" was a July 2000 article in the humor newspaper The Onion. According to The Onion, "Today, more than 14 million children alone belong to the Church of Satan, thanks largely to the unassuming boy wizard from 4 Privet Drive." The Onion concludes with a purported July 17, 1999, quote from Rowling in the London Times, announcing "These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son Of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes . . .while we, his faithful servants, laugh and cavort in victory."
Yet the same week that the News debunked the bogus rumor about Harry Potter, the News helped spread an equally bogus rumor. A News story on Nov. 20 hyped the growing hysteria over OxyContin, a highly effective prescription painkiller. The article claimed that "The drug has been linked to more than 120 deaths nationwide . . ." There was no source for this fact. Since the spring, purported death statistics for OxyContin have spread all over the mainstream media, usually announced without a source.
The only newspaper that appears to have actually looked for the real story is the Free Times, a weekly alternative newspaper in Cleveland. In "The Media-Made Oxycontin Drug Scare," writer Sandeep Kaushik investigated the anti-OxyContin claims, and found them to be almost entirely fabricated. To the extent that the death claims had any connection to reality, coroners had found Oxycodone in some dead bodies - often bodies which contained traces of a wide variety of drug abuse. As Free Times explained, "Oxycodone is the opiod agent in at least 40 separate brand-name prescription medications besides OxyContin. . . . there is absolutely no way of telling . . . whether an oxycodone-related fatality was due to OxyContin or another drug." There were hardly any cases in which a fatality could actually be traced to OxyContin.
Sadly, although the Free Times story appeared on May 2 (www.freetimes.com/issues/933/features-coverstory.php3), it appears to have had little impact on the mainstream media's propensity to report fictitious figures about OxyContin deaths.
Unsourced claims should always be a source of skepticism among readers. A Denver Post article touting the increased sales figures for station wagons (Nov. 11) claimed that "some believe their [station wagons'] rising popularity is the beginning of the end for SUVs' reign as kings of the road." If there's actually an automobile industry expert who thinks that station wagons will eventually outsell sport utility vehicles, the readers ought to be told who he is.
Woody Paige's sports columns for the Post are usually so loaded with alliteration and attempts at clever wordplay that the style gets in the way of Paige's (sometimes thin) content. But appearing as a fill-in columnist in the Saturday editorial page for the Post, Paige has been more self-restrained in his style, allowing the content to shine through. The pieces are much stronger than Paige's late-1980s foray into non-sports column writing.
A particularly good recent column (Nov. 24) was Paige's humorous look at the bizarre newspaper ads by "Joanne Justus of Parker" celebrating her February divorce. As Paige points out, Ms. Justus' expensive advertisements with their headline "and justice for all" turned into a form of self-parody, as she appeared vain and unjust, rather than proud and free. But the Denver Newspaper Agency never should have accepted those nasty ads in the first place.
Presumably, the DNA wouldn't run an advertisement beginning "Mr. I.M. Mener is using this somewhat unique format to announce his pleasure at the death of his personal enemy Justin Credable." Or "Ms. Barb Dwyer wishes to thank her friends who assisted her recent victory in a child custody battle . . ." So why run ads gloating about divorce?
Both the Post and the News have a weekly four-page insert written for children. The Post produces its own "Colorado Kids," while the News buys "The Mini Page" from a syndicate. Between the two, the Post is the winner.
Even for a children's section, "The Mini Page" is insipid, bland, and superficial. "Colorado Kids" has a much more original voice, partly because it lets real children write bylined articles.
The back page of "Colorado Kids" features a book installment of non-fiction or biography, and the works chosen are surprisingly non-PC. As the capstone, "Colorado Kids" includes a parent-teacher guide geared to the CSAP standards. This not only gives parents and kids a project to work on, it helps both of them understand their school's curriculum better, since curricula are increasingly focused on CSAP standards.
After years of giving little in-depth attention to police shootings, both the Post (Nov. 11) and the News (a three-day series last week) have produced major, multistory investigations into the Denver Police Department's high rate of questionable shootings. May they promote justice for all.
More by Kopel on Potter:
A Dementor Short. Mugglewear Casual mars Harry hat trick. Reason Online. June 4, 2004. Review of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanmovie.
Deconstructing Rowling.National Review Online. June 20, 2003. Review of The Hidden Key to Harry Potter, which convincingly explicates the work as a series of Christian fiction, in the tradition of Tolkein and Lewis.
Mugglemania. Harry Potter is the ur-libertarian who just might save civilization. National Review Online. July 22-23, 2000.