Here’s a delightful little story about journalistic integrity.
Last Monday, just after landing at Keflavík airport, I was leisurely browsing the Duty Free Store when my cellphone rang. It was my friend Jonas, asking if I had any interest in commenting on THAT Vanity Fair piece on CBC radio. Apparently the CBC had contacted him after reading his piece in New York Magazine in which he slammed the more fictional aspects of the piece and Jonas was, well, just kinda sick of the whole thing. And who can blame him?
Anyway, in between spritzing a variety of perfumes up the length of both my arms I told Jonas to go ahead and give the guy my contact details and I’d speak to him and hear what he had in mind.
Cut to around 30 minutes later. By this time we’re on the road, EPI is driving and YT is providing the entertainment as usual, when my cellphone rings. The guy on the other end introduces himself as Howard somebodyorother, producer of the CBC radio show The Current, and he tells me they want to do a bit on their show next Friday about the Icelanders’ belief in elves.
So the guy starts firing questions. The conversation goes something like this:
HOWARD SOMEBODYOROTHER: Is it true the Icelanders believe in elves?
YT: Not elves. There are a lot of stories in Icelandic folklore about hidden people who lived inside boulders. I guess you could compare it to Native Indian beliefs that rocks and trees and everything else had their own spirit.
HSBOO: So people believe there are elves living inside rocks?
YT: NO. There is mythology about HIDDEN PEOPLE who lived in boulders.
HSBOO: So people don’t believe they live in rocks now.
YT: Come on. We’re living in the 21st century.
HSBOO: But this study shows that [some percentage] of people in Iceland believe in elves.
YT: Well, I haven’t seen that study so I can’t comment, but I have to wonder how scientific it is. Nobody I know believes in elves.
HSBOO: None of your friends, or …
HSBOO: That Vanity Fair piece claimed that when they were building the Alcoa plant they had to look for elf settlements before they could build it. Is that true?
YT: [laughing now; this was just too ridiculous] Um … I can’t imagine it’s true. Jonas wrote about that in his New York Mag piece and said it wasn’t true, and I’m presuming he checked with Alcoa.*
HSBOO: So … are there examples of construction or something being stopped because of elf homes?
YT: Actually, I have heard stories of that happening [excuses herself to check with EPI …] actually my husband says yes, that this did happen once, in Kópavogur, a small town …
HSBOO: When was that?
YT: [asks EPI] My husband thinks around 30 or 40 years ago.
HSBOO: Oh. [sounds disappointed that it was not, like, yesterday.] So you’ve not heard of this happening recently? There is no Ministry of Elf Inspection …? [as Jonas wrote in his article]
YT: [laughing] No!
Anyway, to cut a lengthy conversation short, the questions continued and they all revolved around elves and they were very clearly designed to elicit a predetermined response. Which, unfortunately for HSBOO, were not forthcoming from YT. He wanted me to pay lip service to his elf story, and I didn’t. Because it’s not real.
So finally he says something to the effect that it would be great if I could be on their show and they’ll have two other people on as well: some guy who runs an elf school [“you’ve heard of him?” “er, no…”] and also Terry Gunnell, a professor of Icelandic folklore at the University of Iceland. Because it would be good to get “different points of view”. He’d call me later in the week; the programme would be on Friday morning.
So I hung up and – honestly? I had a bad feeling. Like something was not quite upfront; like I was being manipulated. Still, I thought, how bad can it be? If they start trying to manipulate me on live radio all I have to do is answer to the best of my knowledge and ability. And then I put it out of my mind.
Cut to this morning. I open my email, and there is one from HSBOO. It reads:
it was great speaking with you the other day. Unfortunately, the slot
that I thought the segment on Iceland and hidden people was going to be
on has changed. It is now on a much shorter part of the show and so,
unfortunately we had to change the lineup and we will just be having
experts on the topic and Icelandic folklore on the show. I apologize
for that. But next time we do a segment on Iceland, which I am sure
will not be in the too distant future, I will call you.
Heheh. The segment had changed? More like: they dropped me because I didn’t give them what they wanted. They wanted something sensational, something to propagate the WEIRD ICELANDERS cliché, and I just wasn’t jumping through the hoops. Hence they decided to go with the “experts”.
When EPI came home I related my little theory and he remarked that it would be interesting to listen to the show — would it be broadcast live online? I did a quick Google search, located their website — and this is what I found:
And when the American aluminum giant ALCOA wanted to build a smelter in Iceland, it had to first verify that the project wouldn’t trespass on land occupied by hidden people … or as most people know them, elves. And it turns out this is standard procedure in a country where half the population believes that elves are real.
OK, the shocking thing is not this blatant manipulation of the truth, this bastardization of fact to fit their own agenda. No, the shocking thing is that this is fricking Canadian STATE BROADCASTING – a media outlet that is supposed to be credible and to have some sort of integrity.
And so I ask you: if they so blatantly and shamelessly exploit and maneuver the facts in this instance – then how do you know when they are actually telling the truth?
AND WE STILL HAVE LOTS OF WIND
It was pretty fierce today and blew the dust – that has emerged from beneath the snow – all around and into everyone’s nostrils. Seriously, I felt dusty all day today. Right now it is -2°C [28F – did I mention it’s cold?], the sun came up at 7.07 and went down at 8.01 pm.
* I talked to Jonas this evening and asked him — and indeed, he did verify the inaccuracy of the Vanity Fair piece with Alcoa.