J. K. Rowling understands the importance of public opinion. From everyone mistaking Hagrid as opening the Chamber of Secrets to Umbridge “keeping the peace” when Voldemort returned, the Potter series is a battleground between what is known and what is truth. With the introduction of regular articles from the Daily Prophet, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire raises the importance of what people think in the Wizarding World. Though rumor, gossip, and public opinion are present in the other books, Goblet is where a character instrumental to stirring the pot just to sell copies is introduced.
Rita Skeeter brings new opportunity for the reader to see public opinion being shaped by the media and rumor. Before, our window was limited to cultural traditions or misinterpretations. Pure-bloods, like the Malfoys, slandered the Weasleys for being blood traitors (tradition) and Sirius as a mass-murderer (misinterpretation). Goblet breaks the boundaries of that window to include something all the more sinister: deliberate lies. Skeeter’s crusade to discrediting people is not restricted to factual information. Falsehoods are sought out with more interest than hard truth, which contributes to ruining people’s lives.
During the aftermath of the Quidditch World Cup, Mr. Weasley reads the Daily Prophet’s report of the Death Eater vandalism at the campsite and the harassment of some Muggles. People complain about the seeming lack of security and the damage to their property from the masked belligerents. Percy, Mr. Weasley’s own son, even says “father feels he’s got to make up for his mistake at the match. . . . If truth be told, he was a tad unwise to make a public statement without clearing it with his Head of Department” (152). The Prophet shapes public opinion of the Ministry on the words of a man who just feared for the safety of his children, Hermione, and Harry. So you could say he was not of sound mind when addressing the press.
One of the biggest revelations in the Potter series involves the scandal of Hagrid’s parentage. In Chapter Twenty-Three, ‘The Yule Ball,’ Harry is puzzled by Ron’s reaction to finding out that Hagrid’s mother was a giantess. “[Ron] Well . . . no one who knows him will care, ‘cos they’ll know he’s not dangerous. But . . . Harry, they’re just vicious, giants. It’s like Hagrid said, it’s in their nature . . . they just like killing” (430). The following chapter, ‘Rita Skeeter’s Scoop,’ breaks the story to Hogwarts and the wizarding community at large. Because of the outcry, Hagrid locks himself in his cabin for a significant period. Only Hermione’s fury at Skeeter plotting to dig around Ludo Bagman and his goblin drinking companions compels Hagrid to see his friends. “You horrible woman . . . You don’t care, do you, anything for a story, and anyone will do, won’t they?” (451).
But public opinion doesn’t only issue hate at Hagrid. Dumbledore says many former students protest the thought of Hagrid being sacked. “Really, Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time. Not a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven’t had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it” (454). Dumbledore understands the power of public opinion and the futility with caring about it.
If the woes of the adults are any indication to the power of public opinion in Potter, what happens to the teenagers (Hermione and Harry) is arguably worse. Read about them in ‘The Rule of Rumor in Goblet of Fire Part II’ coming out soon.
***This post is part of my Perusing Potter – a series of exploring the known and not-so-known aspects of the Harry Potter Series***