Daily Prophet-ic politics
Newspapers not only provide a wealth of information but also contribute to widespread, growing political implications. Despite this, newspapers often do not always reflect complete authenticity, but this still does not necessarily ruin their credibility. While their job is to deliver news, some papers take this duty and twist it to serve their own purposes. J.K. Rowling’s the Daily Prophet in the Harry Potter series embodies these characteristics as well; the Prophet delivers news and opinions, some inaccurate, and attempts to rally the wizarding world under one singular press point of view. In this way the Daily Prophet exhibits certain nationalist, realist, and authoritarian tendencies.
The Daily Prophet dominates the text as the major form of press. It informs the wizarding world what is going on in addition to offering advice to its audience on how to live and protect themselves, such as in the sixth book when a Prophet article titled “Ministry Guarantees Students’ Safety” regarding Scrimgeour’s “stringent new security plans” that “include defensive spells and charms, a complex array of countercurses, and a small task force of Aurors dedicated solely to the protection of Hogwarts School,” to which “[m]ost seem reassured by the new Minister’s tough stand on student safety” (Half-Blood Prince 41). The Prophet seeks to provide news and reassurance to wizards and witches, yet even the title of their newspaper—“The Daily Prophet”—references a person of a Muggle religion of sorts. In addition, the breakdown of its title also biblically alludes to a prophet—one that spreads, teaches, and proclaims the will of God. This is ironic, given that wizards have powers of magic, which is seen as taboo in many religions. However, this allusion might instead provide insight on how the Prophet perceives itself as being viewed by the wizarding people. By naming itself after a type of religious figure, the Daily Prophet asserts that the news it spreads gives people a hope or belief in not only itself but also the Ministry of Magic, with what it associates. As a “daily” prophet, the main wizarding newspaper makes itself appear more trustworthy and always there for witches and wizards to turn to, a light in the darkness. This projects a sense of hope onto the wizarding community if they always have a news source to turn to that they believe concerns itself with the protection of the wizarding world. They expand this only to the wizarding world, so this provides a nationalist tendency for the Prophet.
As a rallying point, the Daily Prophet advocates nationalism. Nationalism, in this sense, consists of the wizarding community, people who are bound by a different race—that of magical powers and to some wizards’ concerns, blood. The Prophet makes it its job to focus on wizarding news that affects the general population of that part of the world. It rarely mentions the affairs of Muggles, and when it does it is only in relation to the wizarding community, and even then the paper and the public will criticize the Minister of Magic for his decision. For example, in the third Harry Potter novel, the Prophet’s article “Black Still at Large” reads that “Fudge has been criticized by some members of the International Federation of Warlocks for informing the Muggle Prime Minister of the crisis [of Sirius Black’s escape]” (Prisoner of Azkaban 37). This shows that the wizarding world wishes to keep themselves completely separate and devoid of the Muggle world as much as possible, though they exist within it. The Prophet is one example of how the wizarding community has nationalized themselves as a group of people based around the ability of magic. Though opinions differ from within, they are all still bound by the ability to do magic: some just take this a step further with applying blood status to it. This is most evident in the seventh book, during which the “Muggle-born Register” comes to light, where the Ministry has put out a statement in the Prophet stating that “recent research… reveals that magic can only be passed from person to person when wizards reproduce,” so “the so-called Muggle-born is likely to have obtained magical power by theft or force” (Deathly Hallows 209). In this instance pure-blood fanatics and those convinced by Voldemort’s regime take it a step further and include Muggle-born witches and wizards as mere Muggles who stole the power witches and wizards covet. Here is the turning point in the books, where Muggle-borns were once accepted and sometimes celebrated are now being roped in for questioning about powers they were born with. This further bands wizards and witches together and sets them apart from the non-magical world: they willingly abject themselves from Muggle society and take it so far as to create the “Blood Status” test (Deathly Hallows 210). Witches and wizards take pride in their magical abilities because that is their identity not only on an individual level but also on a national-esque level. The Prophet is the main source of press news that connects witches and wizards together through feelings of nationalism.
While the paper is nationalist, it also contains elements of realism. This is personified in Rita Skeeter, the only reporter by name in the Harry Potter series. Harry and his friends first encounter Rita Skeeter in Goblet of Fire, while she covers the Triwzard Tournament and ultimately, puts out fake stories about Harry, which fuel the Ministry of Magic to build on her work in Order of the Phoenix. Rita Skeeter in particular is a realist due to her methods. She uses spying and blackmail as a way to receive her stories by turning into her beetle Animagus form, which allows her to be hidden “on the statue the night [Harry and Ron] heard Hagrid telling Madame Maxime about his mum,” in Hermione’s “hair after [she and Viktor] had [their] conversation by the lake,” and “perched on the windowsill of the Divination class the day [Harry’s] scar hurt” (Goblet of Fire 728). Her means are justified so long as her story is in print and seen by many people. Rita Skeeter may not be an evil person—albeit still a “horrible” and “foul” woman, according to Hermione (Goblet of Fire 451-452)—but she has taught herself how not to be good in order to pursue the art of journalism, most specifically within the Daily Prophet. She takes a stance, perhaps ones that seem ludicrous, yet spins them into strange stories about Harry and his friends that further her self-interest and thus boost her ego as a journalist. She is passionate about the stances she takes in order to further herself, sometimes getting her hands dirty in order to do this, such as illegally becoming an Animagus and buzzing around for stories in her beetle form. Her work in the fourth book sets up the type of journalism the Ministry of Magic advocates in the form of ostracizing Harry and Dumbledore in the fifth book, turning Harry into “someone nobody will believe” (Order of the Phoenix 74). The Ministry calculates their interests and ultimately learns how not to be good, so they are not taken advantage of by Dumbledore and Harry’s story of Voldemort’s return and thus lose their power. The Daily Prophet, as a realist entity, is also an authoritarian one.
The authority harnessed by the Prophet is acknowledged by most of the wizarding world to be credible, that their ethics line up with the general population. The credibility of the paper makes it difficult to question their authority because they have proved themselves qualified to rule based on their publications and being one of the only, if not the only, accurate wizarding news sources, at least initially. However, Seamus Finnigan admits that his witch mother “believes the Daily Prophet” because it reported that Dumbledore was “sacked from the Wizengamot and the International Confederation of Wizards because he’s losing his marbles” (Order of the Phoenix 219). Because the majority of the community has granted them agency, the Prophet enforces the Ministry’s rule, starting in the fifth novel and moving in different ways throughout the series as a whole. As sides in the beginning of the second wizarding world polarize, the Prophet, under the influence of the Ministry of Magic, aims to discredit those, such as Harry and Dumbledore, who work against the Ministry’s cause of placating citizens and keeping them only as informed as they need to be. This mimics the state-controlled reporters an authoritarian regime would covet, that they enforce obedience but defer dissent because dissent is dangerous for the authority. When the press is more public and includes more points of view, it distorts the order set up by the authoritarian government. This is why in the fifth book that the Prophet’s article “Trespass at the Ministry,” about Sturgis Podmore’s supposed trespass and following arrest in the Ministry, is “barely an inch long and placed right at the bottom of a column” (Order of the Phoenix 287). This placement of this news even makes it smaller and less bearing than it would be if it were a headline; not many people will concern themselves with it and really look at the implications and logistics of it. Regardless, because Harry and Dumbledore are painted as dissenters by the Prophet, the majority of people would naturally curve away from their views and stick to the newspaper that has gained their trust, and if not trust, then belief. Even Hermione, who considers the Prophet as her enemy eventually, acknowledges that “it’s best to know what the enemy is saying” (Order of the Phoenix 225). While the newspaper itself has the agency to pursue publishing stories to aid the public, this also lends to it becoming attached to the sovereign that is the Ministry of Magic and doing its bidding or else the Ministry would label it dangerous.
The Daily Prophet thus retains qualities of nationalism, realism, and authoritarianism. Its title suggests enlightenment by a single, glorified source, that being the Prophet for witches and wizards. It ties the magical community together because of their abilities and their differences from Muggles and even delves into segregating Muggle-borns as Voldemort’s regime grows stronger. As a realist entity, the paper’s reporter Rita Skeeter is a great first example of realism within the print. Authority requires compliance from reporters in that they are state-controlled, which is what the Ministry of Magic attempts in later books, starting with Order of the Phoenix and the discrediting of Harry and Dumbledore. The Daily Prophet is a complex creation, a gray area of the wizarding world: it withholds yet permits the sharing of information in different lights that affect the wizarding world’s viewpoints. As the major component of mass print culture for witches and wizards, its power is residual to its magical following and comes in many different political forms.
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