What Did J.K. Rowling Know, and How Did She Know It?

One of the more vivid pen-portraits in the Harry Potter series is the tabloid journalist Rita Skeeter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In addition to fabricating quotes and facts, Skeeter illegally eavesdrops on private conversations by transforming herself into a beetle. Before this particular magic trick is revealed, the three central characters guess that she is somehow listening in, and one of them suggests that she might have found a way of “bugging” Hogwarts; the use of the word eventually suggests the truth to Hermione.

The resemblance to the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal, in a book published way back in 2000, is strong enough to raise questions.

1. Was this mere coincidence? After all, illegal eavesdropping is the sort of thing an unethical reporter might do, and it’s possible that Rowling simply made it up.

2. Did Rowling have real information not available to others, or an intuition about what was happening based on information showing up in news stories? The former seems implausible; the latter is easier to believe.

3. Was the fact, though not the extent, of phone hacking widely known among educated UK citizens, but not discussed in the media?

Footnote “Codswallop,” Mr. Mayor? Really?

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.