The Guardian article written by Kathleen Hale, author turned stalker, has been burning up the internet with controversy. She is now claiming that her detractors “don’t understand journalism, and didn’t read the piece.”
I read the piece. Quite thoroughly, in fact, and take issue with Ms. Hale’s assertion that she is a “journalist.” Journalists have ethics, and a code, and they are subject to peer review. The hit piece that she published was both unethical, and, as well, was so grossly dishonest that it could not possibly have been fact checked.
In her article, she makes reference to several things that her target, Ms. Harris, did to compel her to engage in a little light stalking. I’d like to look closely at those assertions. This being the internet, it is difficult to make things go away forever. Somewhere out there in googlecacheland, there are probably a few zeroes and ones that will prove up the lie, if there is one. And, in this case, there is.
From her article:
“One day, while deleting and rewriting the same tweet over and over (my editors had urged me to build a “web presence”), a tiny avatar popped up on my screen. She was young, tanned and attractive, with dark hair and a bright smile. Her Twitter profile said she was a book blogger who tweeted nonstop between 6pm and midnight, usually about the TV show Gossip Girl. According to her blogger profile, she was a 10th-grade teacher, wife and mother of two. Her name was Blythe Harris. She had tweeted me saying she had some ideas for my next book.
“Cool, Blythe, thanks!” I replied. In an attempt to connect with readers, I’d been asking Twitter for ideas – “The weirdest thing you can think of!” – promising to try to incorporate them in the sequel.”
Here are the tweets: Kathleen Hale Tweets
We can see from those tweets that Blythe Harris’s initial – and apparently only – contact with Kathleen Hale was the two words: sleep paralysis. She did not tweet Kathleen Hale saying she had “some ideas for her next book.” She tweeted the words “sleep paralysis” in response to a post from Kathleen Hale asking for weird stuff to add to her next book.
Moving on to the next section of Hale’s piece, she says:
“Curious to see if Blythe had read my book, I clicked from her Twitter through her blog and her Goodreads page. She had given it one star. “Meh,” I thought. I scrolled down her review.”
Here is a link to the actual review, which consists of the two words: Fuck this. Blythe’s review of Hale’s book. The “review” include status updates. You should read them yourselves. However, Hale says this:
Blythe went on to warn other readers that my characters were rape apologists and slut-shamers. She accused my book of mocking everything from domestic abuse to PTSD. “I can say with utmost certainty that this is one of the worst books I’ve read this year,” she said, “maybe my life.”
Other commenters joined in to say they’d been thinking of reading my book, but now wouldn’t. Or they’d liked it, but could see where Blythe was coming from, and would reduce their ratings.
“Rape is brushed off as if it is nothing,” Blythe explained to one commenter. “PTSD is referred to insensitively; domestic abuse is the punch line of a joke, as is mental illness.”
“But there isn’t rape in my book,” I thought. I racked my brain, trying to see where I had gone wrong. I wished I could magically transform all the copies being printed with a quick swish of my little red pen. (“Not to make fun of PTSD, or anything,” I might add to one character’s comment. “Because that would be wrong.”)
I will let you decide for yourself if her summary is accurate.
The article goes on to say this:
In the following weeks, Blythe’s vitriol continued to create a ripple effect: every time someone admitted to having liked my book on Goodreads, they included a caveat that referenced her review. The ones who truly loathed it tweeted reviews at me. It got to the point where my mild-mannered mother (also checking on my book’s status) wanted to run a background check on Blythe. “Who are these people?” she asked. She had accidentally followed one of my detractors on Twitter – “I didn’t know the button!” she yelled down the phone – and was now having to deal with cyberbullying of her own. (“Fine, I’ll get off the Twitter,” she said. “But I really don’t like these people.”)
That same day, Blythe began tweeting in tandem with me, ridiculing everything I said. Confronting her would mean publicly acknowledging that I searched my name on Twitter, which is about as socially attractive as setting up a Google alert for your name (which I also did). So instead I ate a lot of candy and engaged in light stalking: I prowled Blythe’s Instagram and Twitter, I read her reviews, considered photos of her baked goods and watched from a distance as she got on her soapbox – at one point bragging she was the only person she knew who used her real name and profession online. As my fascination mounted, and my self-loathing deepened, I reminded myself that there are worse things than rabid bloggers (cancer, for instance) and that people suffer greater degradations than becoming writers. But still, I wanted to respond
I haven’t read all of the five-star reviews of Hale’s book on goodreads, nor do I intend to. However, I seen nothing that substantiate’s her claim that Blythe’s review was creating a “ripple effect.” Goodreads is enormous. I myself read Hale’s book in March of 2014 without ever noticing the review by Blythe Harris.
In addition, her attribution of all the bad things that happen to her to Blythe Harris is both weird, and based on this next section, completely unreliable. Because she then says this:
One afternoon, good-naturedly drunk on bourbon and after watching Blythe tweet about her in-progress manuscript, I sub-tweeted that, while weird, derivative reviews could be irritating, it was a relief to remember that all bloggers were also aspiring authors.
My notifications feed exploded. Bloggers who’d been nice to me were hurt. Those who hated me now had an excuse to write long posts about what a bitch I was, making it clear that: 1) Reviews are for readers, not authors.
2) When authors engage with reviewers, it’s abusive behaviour.
3) Mean-spirited or even inaccurate reviews are fair game so long as they focus on the book.
“Sorry,” I pleaded on Twitter. “Didn’t mean all bloggers, just the ones who talk shit then tweet about their in-progress manuscripts.” I responded a few more times, digging myself deeper. For the rest of the afternoon, I fielded venom from teenagers and grown women, with a smattering of supportive private messages from bloggers who apologised for being too scared to show support publicly.
This exchange has been memorialized through screen shots. Her tweet had nothing to do with Blythe Harris – the review that she was referencing was a review by Kara of Great Imaginations (it was a three star review, and can be found here if you are interested, and the tweets can be found here: Hale tweets re: bloggers. You can see for yourself that Blythe Harris was not involved directly in this in any way, and did not tweet to @HaleKathleen, in spite of the fact that Kathleen Hale claims that this all stemmed from Blythe being mean to her.
In addition, Hale is, today, here claiming that she was acting as a journalist when she researched this piece.
Hale said although the situation is difficult, it led to a rewarding moment in her career, being the third most read author on The Guardian two consecutive days.
“This came with its fair share of [criticism] from people who didn’t read the piece and have little-to-no understanding of journalism,” she said. “So that was hard, but I’m getting used to feedback of all kinds.”
The Guardian has also has a code of ethics for their journalists, which you can find here
Pay special attention to the following:
“Fairness: The voice of opponents no less than of friends has a right to be heard . . . It is well be to be frank; it is even better to be fair” (CP Scott, 1921). The more serious the criticism or allegations we are reporting the greater the obligation to allow the subject the opportunity to respond.”
There is no evidence that either The Guardian or Hale herself gave Blythe the opportunity to respond. People have raised this in the comments and The Guardian hasn’t answered.
“Privacy In keeping with both the PCC Code and the Human Rights Act we believe in respecting people’s privacy. We should avoid intrusions into people’s privacy unless there is a clear public interest in doing so. Caution should be exercised about reporting and publishing identifying details, such as street names and numbers, that may enable others to intrude on the privacy or safety of people who have become the subject of media coverage.”
Hale included significant details about Blythe that related to the make of her car, the county of her residence, the location of her vacations and the breed of her dog. Those details were unnecessary to tell the story. The detail that “Blythe Harris” was the blogger was unnecessary to the story. That is not respecting her privacy, which cannot at this point be restored to her.
“Subterfuge Journalists should generally identify themselves as Guardian employees when working on a story. There may be instances involving stories of exceptional public interest where this does not apply, but this needs the approval of a head of department.”
This obviously didn’t happen, since Kathleen Hale used her connections to get Blythe’s address as an author, not as a Guardian freelancer, which would constitute subterfuge. In addition, the article doesn’t indicate that she disclosed an affiliation with The Guardian when she “fact-checked” Blythe, nor does it indicate that she had department head approval for her subterfuge, and this story hardly qualifies as involving “exceptional public interest” since no one other than Kathleen Hale and Blythe Harris, and possibly the police, care that Kathleen Hale is a stalker.
“Conflicts of interest Guardian staff journalists should be sensitive to the possibility that activities outside work (including holding office or being otherwise actively involved in organisations, companies or political parties) could be perceived as having a bearing on — or as coming into conflict with — the integrity of our journalism. Staff should be transparent about any outside personal, philosophical or financial interests that
might conflict with their professional performance of duties at the Guardian, or could be perceived to do so.
Declarations of interest
1. It is always necessary to declare an interest when the journalist is writing about something with which he or she has a significant connection. This applies to both staff journalists and freelances writing for the Guardian. The declaration should be to a head of department or editor during preparation. Full transparency may mean that the declaration should appear in the paper or website as well.
2. A connection does not have to be a formal one before it is necessary to declare it. Acting in an advisory capacity in the preparation of a report for an organisation, for example, would require a declaration every time the journalist wrote an article referring to it.
3. Some connections are obvious and represent the reason why the writer has been asked to contribute to the paper. These should always be stated at the end of the writer’s contribution even if he or she contributes regularly, so long as the writer is writing about his or her area of interest.
4. Generally speaking a journalist should not write about or quote a relative or partner in a piece, even if the relative or partner is an expert in the field in question. If, for any reason, an exception is made to this rule, the connection should be made clear.
5. Commissioning editors should ensure that freelances asked to write for the Guardian are aware of these rules and make any necessary declaration.”
This one is particularly messy because of Hale’s ties to media and publishing, which give her insider status and access that Blythe Harris can only dream of. Hale’s fiance writes for The Guardian. Was this a conflict of interest that should have been disclosed? Because it wasn’t. In addition, it seems just absolutely self-evident that if Hale was acting as a “journalist” the conflict of interest here is that the subject of the piece – herself – is also the writer of the piece – herself. This is so laughably and transparently a conflict of interest that I am stunned that someone could refer to themselves as conducting “journalism” in this situation.
In my opinion none of these aspects of the code were complied with when The Guardian published this piece. Hale herself, acting as a journalist, violated all four of these sections as well. In addition, the expectations related to fact checking and evidentiary support behind a piece of investigative journalism are important. If the piece by Hale was editorial content, it is still horrible editorial content. But if she is trying to claim that this is journalism, where is the objectivity? Where is the fact-checking?
I am hopeful that somewhere out there a real journalist exists who will find this blatant bias and abuse of power so objectionable that he or she will finally write a real piece of investigative journalism about this, where the theme is “when the privileged attack the powerless: a lesson in stalking.”
Hope springs eternal, if generally unfulfilled.