No More Interviews for Zadie

By Elizabeth Comment

[Ed. note—Spiers here. I’m blogging a bit while Ron’s away.]

EdRants notes that Zadie Smith isn’t doing any more interviews:

yesterday afternoon, I received a voicemail from Cornell stating that “all interviews are canceled.” She didn’t state a reason and was very apologetic…[Smith’s publicist] Cornell told me that Smith had been overscheduled and that she had been forced to cut back because she did not want to exhaust herself. The decision had come directly from Smith herself and Penguin supported the decision. But at the back of my mind, I wondered if the Kachka interview had something to do with Smith’s decision.

He goes on to conclude…

So what’s the answer? Possibly somewhere in between. Smith probably recalls that there was indeed a tangent, but may not recall the exact nature of said tangent. But if the question itself is, as Kachka states, a negative one (“What’s so bad about England?), then it’s small wonder that a negative response was given.

… seeming to imply that Boris Kachka (who is, full disclosure, an ex-colleague of mine) would have been in the wrong for asking a negative question which was hardly leading, given that she had just made remarks about England being disgusting. (If anything, it gave her an opening to soften them or take them back.) Sounds to me like Boris was doing his job. I don’t think it’s any journalist’s place to make sure the writer ends up with a flattering interview, or to encourage them to censor themselves. In a lot of the book blog coverage I’m reading, there seems to be an odd willingness to automatically defend the author as if the reporter has some responsibility to protect the author rather than to treat her as a subject.

There’s also a failure to recognize the fact that when press is unflattering, “I was misquoted” is a fairly common response, and in most cases, the reporter has much more to lose if that were in fact the case.

I also don’t think that Katcha’s comment here

Kachka also noted, rather ominously, “She doesn’t realize that when journalists come under suspicion, we have the tapes to prove it.”

was meant ominously (or threateningly,) as implied. In my experience, it’s a reality. It’s not unusual to have subjects claim that they were misquoted thinking that it’s just their word against the reporter’s and then backpedal furiously and apologize when they realize that the reporter has actual proof because the conversation was taped.

And there’s nothing “gotcha”-ish about an on-the-record, scheduled and premeditated interview. Having said stupid stuff myself and had it end up in the New York Times, I can sympathize with the pain of seeing your words in print and wishing you hadn’t said them. But at no point would I have blamed the reporter for them being there.