Trufflegate: M.I.A. vs. Hirschberg
Lynn Hirschberg’s profile of rapper and wannabe activist M.I.A. has generated a firestorm of controversy since its publication a week ago, most notably because the perturbed singer posted the reporter’s personal phone number on Twitter. While not the most ethical move on the singer’s part, it seems there were some ethical discrepancies on both sides.
All political implications and judgment of the 34-year old performer aside, the article raises one important question: just how much editorial freedom should journalists have? How far is too far?
Nearly everyone who has read the New York Times Magazine cover story seems to agree: Hirschberg undoubtedly and single-handedly lampooned her subject, exposing her many contradictions, shortcomings and nonsensical statements. In short, she made M.I.A. look like a poser.
But M.I.A. argues that Hirschberg took many of her statements out of context – and even has the audio to back it up. Without the reporter’s knowledge, M.I.A. secretly recorded the interview, something that is definitely coming in handy now.
Most notable of Hirschberg’s rampant use of editorial freedom was this quote she attributed to M.I.A., which makes the singer look like a self-centered, wannabe activist.
I wasn’t trying to be like Bono. He’s not from Africa-I’m from there. I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”
According to M.I.A.’s recording of the interview, this is the actual quote:
It wasn’t about me, and me getting to the Oscars. Or me going to the Grammys. That doesn’t mean anything. The whole point of that journey was so you can go, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are going to die next month, here’s your opportunity to help,’ and no one did. And they still died! It wasn’t about accolades or fame.”
Hirschberg, in her quest to annihilate the successful singer/activist, combined a quote taken from a different interview then rearranged the order in order to make the quote fit with her specific agenda. The real M.I.A. quote is a lot less damning than Hirschberg’s version.
Trufflegate has illuminated the journalistic ethics that seem to be missing from so many newsrooms, or journalists’ own psyches, for that matter. Editing a subject’s quote to make it more readable or concise is one thing, but completely rearranging a quote, putting it in an entirely different order and completely changing the context of its meaning is entirely another. It’s hard to tell what causes this lack of ethics – a shrinking industry, fiercer competition to get the story or an influx of online competition for traditional media outlets. And Hirschberg is by no means the only offender.
Perhaps the most infamous point of contention is the vivid description of M.I.A. eating a “truffle flavored French fry” while simultaneously declaring that she “wanted to be an outsider,” the scene from which the controversy garnered its nickname.
According to an article by the New York Observer, it was Hirschberg’s idea to order the decadent dish - exposed to the public all because of M.I.A.’s stealthy recording.
Ok, I’ll admit it – M.I.A. said some crazy, off-the-wall shit. And I won’t argue that it seems she often says things just to get a reaction, to appear controversial and not like the everyday pop star that she is. But the fact of the matter is, Hirschberg, while a well-respected writer, risks her credibility when she doctors quotes and takes them out of context in order to prove her own agenda, especially when it seems she could have proven that point anyway.
But for now, it seems that M.I.A. has gotten the last word, amidst a firestorm of controversy – controversy I’m sure she isn’t complaining about.