The Scoop on Rita Skeeter
It’s a problem all too familiar to us in the Muggle world: You can’t trust everything you read in the news. That concept is personified in Rita Skeeter, Jo’s oddly prescient satire of unscrupulous journalism. But here’s the thing: One cannot just dismiss everything Rita writes, because there are always kernels of truth buried in there.
I stumble across the dilemma quite frequently: How much of the information given to us in Rita’s articles can be considered factual, and how much of it can be dismissed out of hand? Fans tend to veer toward the latter: On the podcast Alohomora!, I often encounter the argument that evidence from Rita’s quill is inadmissible. But Jo intentionally included Rita in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire to impart information to Harry and the reader, not just to serve as satire, so I think it’s incorrect to dismiss all of her material.
So I thought it worthwhile to consider all of Rita’s articles, to see what truth is buried underneath all the slander. Note that we’ll only go into the texts that are available to the reader since we cannot make judgment calls about Rita’s articles that are only referred to in the books. And in what should be absolutely no surprise, there are exactly seven pieces of Rita’s writing we are privy to throughout the books.
Scenes of Terror at the Quidditch World Cup
We are introduced to Rita’s writing even before we meet her, when Percy furiously accuses, “That woman’s got it in for the Ministry of Magic!” (GoF 147). This is before we realize the extent of the corruption in the Ministry. One book later, we wish there were a reporter who’d speak truth to the power of the Ministry, rather than toting their water unquestioningly.
In fairness to Rita, her first article (about the fiasco at the World Cup) does not seem to contain any falsehoods, though it leans rather heavily on opinion and criticism. All quotes below are from GoF 147.
Ministry blunders … culprits not apprehended … lax security … Dark wizards running unchecked … national disgrace …
While the question of whether the security is lax is open to interpretation, one could certainly make that argument, especially since there are at most 30-ish Death Eaters causing all this havoc. (For more on the numbers at work here, please see my editorial “Death Eaters – Part 2: Voldemort’s Resurrection.”) The rest of the claims are true: The Ministry does commit blunders here, the culprits are not apprehended (since they’re all partying in a graveyard ten months later), and the Dark wizards are running unchecked.
Even calling it a “national disgrace” isn’t inaccurate: The Pottermore article on the history of the Quidditch World Cup calls this event “possibly the most infamous World Cup Final of the last few centuries.” Moreover, “the ICWQC censured the Ministry of Magic heavily after the event, judging that security arrangements had been inadequate given the known existence of a violent pure-blood tendency in the United Kingdom.”
If the terrified wizards and witches who waited breathlessly for news at the edge of the wood expected reassurance from the Ministry of Magic, they were sadly disappointed. A Ministry official emerged some time after the appearance of the Dark Mark alleging that nobody had been hurt, but refusing to give any more information.
Here we have a curiosity, as pointed out to me by Sophia Jenkins. This bit of Rita’s writing is actually given credence by the Weasleys when Arthur assumes that it’s about him. But ironically, the facts do not match up with his recollection.
‘I’m mentioned. […] Not by name,’ said Mr. Weasley. […] ‘Oh really,’ said Mr. Weasley in exasperation, handing the paper to Percy. ‘Nobody was hurt. What was I supposed to say?’” (GoF 147-148)
However, that is not what Arthur says when he emerges from the woods.
‘Of course it’s not Him,’ said Mr. Weasley impatiently. ‘We don’t know who it was; it looks like they Disapparated. Now excuse me, please, I want to get to bed.’” (GoF 140)
It appears that Mr. Weasley’s memory of the event is a bit faulty – understandable, given the late hour and high stress of the situation! The easiest explanation is that Arthur remembers talking to the breathlessly waiting crowd and refusing to give them information, so he assumes Rita is referring to him. None of the trio corrects that assumption – not even Hermione, who has a terrific memory for quoting people verbatim but was also distracted by Winky’s plight.
Probably a Ministry official emerges from the woods after Arthur and is the one to actually say that no one is hurt. So in all likelihood, this bit of Rita’s reporting is accurate, even if it isn’t about Arthur the way the Weasleys assume – but their certainty of the truth of this sentence goes a long way in establishing that Rita’s articles aren’t wholly fabricated.
Lastly, the article concludes with an ominous note “that several bodies were removed from the woods an hour later.” Even that part is true! The body in question is the Stunned form of Barty Crouch, Jr. – and he really is removed from the woods an hour later.
He [Crouch Sr.] waited until the other Ministry members had left the forest. He put me back under the Imperius Curse and took me home.” (GoF 687)
Of course, the veracity of that statement is a coincidence – Rita has no way of knowing about Barty, Jr. – but it’s true nonetheless.
So Rita’s first article, despite being unpleasant, is wholly accurate! But first impressions can be misleading…
Article About Triwizard Tournament
After we meet Rita and her Quick-Quotes Quill, we can see the fruits of her efforts in her article about the Triwizard Tournament, which “had turned out to be not so much a report on the tournament as a highly colored life story of Harry” (GoF 314). Most of it is given over to obviously false quotes from Harry about crying over his parents and getting strength from them.
In fact, this is the most egregious yellow journalism we witness from Rita – although she often insinuates untrue things, her brand is much more about taking things out of context than making up material out of whole cloth. Here, Harry never says any of the things she attributes to him. However, there is still a nugget of truth in the article:
Harry is rarely seen out of the company of one Hermione Granger, a stunningly pretty Muggle-born girl who, like Harry, is one of the top students in the school.” (GoF 315)
It’s true that Harry is rarely out of Hermione’s company, that Hermione is a Muggle-born girl, and that Hermione is one of the top students in the school.
In this case, we know what’s true and what’s not because we are privy to all the information about Harry and Hermione. But this illustrates the challenge going forward: When we don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, how can we parse out the valid bits of the articles?
Dumbledore’s Giant Mistake
Rita writes a condemnation of Hagrid that is brutal but not too far off the mark.
Albus Dumbledore, eccentric headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, has never been afraid to make controversial staff appointments.” (GoF 437)
I don’t think anyone would argue that Dumbledore isn’t an eccentric headmaster. And his staff appointments are controversial; Cornelius Fudge confirms as much: “There aren’t many who’d have let you hire werewolves, or keep Hagrid, or decide what to teach your students without reference to the Ministry” (GoF 709). When Rita claims that the decision to hire “the notoriously jinx-happy ex-Auror” Moody “caused many raised eyebrows at the Ministry of Magic” (GoF 437), that’s almost certainly true.
Some of the things Rita reveals in her article about Hagrid are incontrovertibly true. He “admits to being expelled from Hogwarts in his third year” (GoF 437). The position of gamekeeper is “a job secured for him by Dumbledore” (GoF 438). Hagrid confirms this, saying, “Dumbledore was the one who stuck up for me after Dad went. Got me the gamekeeper job…” (GoF 455). Hagrid breeds Blast-Ended Skrewts in contravention of the law (GoF 438). His mother is the giantess Fridwulfa (GoF 439). Hagrid has “developed a close friendship with the boy who brought around You-Know-Who’s fall from power” (GoF 439).
Lots of other bits are also true, even if they’re more subjective. Rita says that Hagrid “secure[d] the additional post of Care of Magical Creatures teacher, over the heads of many better-qualified candidates” (GoF 438). That’s true because we see one of those better-qualified candidates – Professor Grubbly-Plank – work as a substitute who is perfectly willing to teach the whole year (OotP 323). We are never given any compelling reason for why the post does not go to Grubbly-Plank.
The article also quotes Draco as saying, “I was attacked by a hippogriff” (GoF 438). That’s true, even though it’s followed by a blatant lie about Flobberworm bites.
More to the point, Draco is quoted as saying, “We all hate Hagrid, but we’re just too scared to say anything.” And Rita describes the “series of lessons that many admit to being ‘very frightening’” (GoF 438). While it may be hyperbolic to say that “we all hate” Hagrid, Draco and Rita are not entirely wrong. We know all the Slytherins hate him, we know the Ravenclaws think of him as a joke (OotP 200), and even some of the Gryffindors often express fear in Hagrid’s lessons and a wish for another teacher (Parvati on GoF 440, “a few Gryffindors” on OotP 443, and “most of the class” on GoF 368).
On the topic of Hagrid, we must concede that Harry is at least as biased as Draco and Rita Skeeter. I delved into the topic in “Did Umbridge Have a Point: Dumbledore’s Giant Mistake.” But to our point here, Rita’s reporting may be cruel, but not much of it is wrong.
Harry Potter’s Secret Heartache
Rita’s vindictive article about the supposed Hermione/Harry/Krum love triangle is something of a template for her: ferret out accurate facts and quotes and spin them into something not genuine. Of course, the bit about Hermione being Harry’s girlfriend and brewing love potions is a load of tosh, but even Hermione points out the unexpected accuracies in the article.
‘No, it’s just … how did she know Viktor asked me to visit him over the summer?’ […] ‘He asked me right after he’d pulled me out of the lake.’ […] ‘And he did say he’d never felt the same way about anyone else.'” (GoF 513-514)
So while the Harry/Hermione stuff is false, the Krum/Hermione stuff is on the mark. It’s not a great look for Mrs. Weasley to believe the article, or to act on it, but this mix of fact and fiction is hard to untangle for those who don’t know better!
Harry Potter “Disturbed and Dangerous”
Perhaps no article of Rita’s is as significant as her smear of Harry – it’s the foundation for all of the Ministry’s propaganda in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and is probably non-negligible in informing the Voldemort-controlled Ministry’s campaign against “Undesirable Number One.”
As in all her work, however, there are true bits buried in there. All the following quotes are from GoF 611-612.
On Monday last, midway through a Divination lesson, your Daily Prophet reporter witnessed Potter storming from the class, claiming that his scar was hurting too badly to continue studying.
While not a regular occurrence, that does happen. In the same vein, Rita says that Harry “is often heard to complain of pain in the scar on his forehead.” While “often” is a nebulous term, that does happen, and it would be a revelation to most of the wizarding community.
Potter’s brain was affected by the attack inflicted upon him by You-Know-Who.
While not affected the way Rita implies, Harry’s mind is affected by the attack, namely by becoming connected to Voldemort’s mind. (“Souls? We were talking of minds!” / “In the case of Harry and Lord Voldemort, to speak of one is to speak of the other” [DH 685].)
’Potter can speak Parseltongue,’ reveals Draco Malfoy, a Hogwarts fourth year. ‘There were a lot of attacks on students a couple of years ago, and most people thought Potter was behind them.’
Draco conveniently neglects to mention the part where Harry is exonerated in the eyes of his peers after further attacks by the basilisk, but what he says above is true.
Parseltongue, the ability to converse with snakes, has long been considered a Dark Art. Indeed, the most famous Parselmouth of our times is none other than You-Know-Who himself. […] ‘serpents are often used in the worst kinds of Dark Magic, and are historically associated with evildoers.’
This is a helpful bit of societal and historical context about Parseltongue.
With just enough truth bombs buried in this article, Rita does her work all too well and lays out a convincing case against Harry. (She also accurately mentions that “he’s made friends with werewolves,” which is true of one werewolf, though adding “giants too” is a flat-out lie.)
Harry Potter Speaks Out at Last: The Truth About He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and the Night I Saw Him Return
While we do not get to read the article that Rita writes telling Harry’s side of the story in Order of the Phoenix, we are left to assume it is wholly accurate, since it’s being masterminded by Hermione. Of course, Hermione dismisses Rita’s threats – “Yes, yes, one of these days you’ll write more horrible stories about Harry and me. Find someone who cares, why don’t you?” (OotP 565). But the accuracy of this piece actually proves to be powerful evidence of Rita’s credibility in the future. (For more on Hermione’s backfiring plans for Rita, check out “Revenge – Part 2: Hermione’s Revenge”.)
Dumbledore – The Truth at Last?
At the start of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Rita is the subject rather than the author of an article appearing in the Daily Prophet. And when she’s speaking on the record, she is even less scrupulous than in her writing. However, her pattern persists, such as when she says that Dumbledore “dabbled in the Dark Arts himself in his youth!” (DH 25). We see a microcosm of Rita’s gift for spinning facts when the topic of Harry comes up.
Poor Potter has few real friends, and we met at one of the most testing moments of his life – the Triwizard Tournament.” (DH 27)
Those statements are certainly true. The sentences that bookend them, not so much: “Oh, yes, we’ve developed a close bond” and “I am probably one of the only people alive who can say that they know the real Harry Potter” (DH 27). But by putting them next to true facts, it’s easy to mislead her readers.
The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore
Surprising no one, this particular bit of Rita’s oeuvre is near and dear to me. Unfortunately, we don’t get to read the entirety of her book (and no, my book Dumbledore: The Life and Lies of Hogwarts’s Renowned Headmaster is not that book, despite the similarity in titles!). We get to read an extract from the early chapters of the biography, presented in the Daily Prophet, and the entirety of the chapter titled “The Greater Good.”
Here, we cannot know the veracity of many of Rita’s claims, but there are some revelations that are real.
Kendra Dumbledore could not bear to remain in Mould-on-the-Wold after her husband Percival’s well-publicized arrest and imprisonment in Azkaban. She therefore decided to uproot the family and relocate to Godric’s Hollow.” (DH 217)
Even though Rita misses the real reason for the move – hiding and protecting Ariana – the fact that Kendra moved the family after Percival’s imprisonment is true. Rita even tiptoes up to this truth.
It seems that Kendra thought the move to Godric’s Hollow was the perfect opportunity to hide Ariana once and for all, something she had probably been planning for years. The timing was significant. Ariana was barely seven years old when she vanished from sight, and seven is the age by which most experts agree that magic will have revealed itself, if present.” (DH 218)
Aside from Rita’s insinuation that Kendra was planning to hide Ariana for years, all of this is true. Rita even makes the important connection between deciding to hide Ariana and the fact that her magic would have kicked in at that age… even if she misconstrues what that connection is. The rest of the passage – about Kendra not suffering the shame of a Squib daughter – is patent nonsense. But this excerpt as a whole nonetheless provides us and Harry with valuable information.
The chapter “The Greater Good” also contains lots of valuable intel. The beginning – about how “Dumbledore left Hogwarts in a blaze of glory” and how his post-Hogwarts Grand Tour with Elphias Doge was derailed by Kendra’s death (DH 353) – lines up with what we hear from primary sources.
Rita also drops the bombshell revelation of Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s friendship in their youth (DH 356) – a secret unknown to most of the wizarding world, regardless of how the Fantastic Beasts films treat it. She reprints young Albus’s letter to Grindelwald and shows that “Albus Dumbledore once dreamed of overthrowing the Statute of Secrecy” (DH 357). Rita misses the connection of the Deathly Hallows, but other than that, her reporting of that brief summer friendship hits the mark, though, of course, it is surrounded in the text by her editorializing (e.g., “How despicable does Albus Dumbledore appear?” [DH 357]).
On the topic of what happened to end that brief boyhood friendship, Rita draws all the wrong conclusions but reveals all the right facts. All the following quotes are from DH 358-359.
Barely two months into their great new friendship, Dumbledore and Grindelwald parted, never to see each other again until they met for their legendary duel.
‘It was poor little Ariana dying, I think, that did it,’ says Bathilda. […] ‘Gellert was there in the house when it happened, and he came back to my house all of a dither.’
‘Albus was beside himself at Ariana’s death. […] Aberforth blamed Albus […][Aberforth broke] Albus’s nose at the funeral.’
This dreadful coffin-side brawl, known only to those few who attended Ariana Dumbledore’s funeral, raises several questions.
All these tidbits are crucial information in unraveling what really happened that summer and what the connection was between Albus and Grindelwald’s friendship and Ariana’s death. In fact, these facts are what Harry and the reader have to go on up until Aberforth’s tell-all at the end of the book.
[Grindelwald] fled the country hours after the girl’s death, and Albus (out of shame or fear?) never saw him again, not until forced to do so by the pleas of the Wizarding world.
Dumbledore delayed, for some five years of turmoil, fatalities, and disappearances, his attack upon Gellert Grindelwald.
Rita assumes Albus’s delay was due to “lingering affection” for Grindelwald or “fear of exposure as his once best friend.” And she’s wrong there – we find out later that Albus delays because he fears finding out who dealt Ariana the fatal blow. But Rita is accurate in pointing out the delay and in connecting it with the events of their boyhood friendship.
Quite frankly, Rita offers up more valid information here than Elphias Doge does, despite how fervently Hermione and Elphias plead with Harry not to believe what Rita writes. Harry has enough experience with Rita Skeeter to recognize that she surrounds facts with enough innuendo to spin completely false narratives… but that the underlying facts can nevertheless prove accurate.
In this, Harry is becoming a very astute reader (check out this great deep dive by Harry Potter: Hogwarts Tournament of Houses fave David Martin on the subject). Hermione brushes aside information that comes from untrustworthy sources: “Harry, do you really think you’ll get the truth from a malicious old woman like Muriel, or from Rita Skeeter? How can you believe them?” (DH 185). But she actually answers her own question a moment later: “But you know how much truth there was in everything Rita wrote about you!” (DH 185). Yes, Harry does know that: not much truth… but not zero. That is why Harry cannot brush aside what Rita writes without investigating further, and why we shouldn’t either.
Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup Final
Now that we know how Rita operates – present accurate facts surrounded by opinions and innuendo – we can properly enjoy her eighth published work we get to read: the true “eighth story” of Harry Potter and his friends.
In 2014, Rita publishes an article about the Potters, the Weasleys, and Harry’s other friends showing up at the Quidditch World Cup – presenting a beautiful full circle moment, since her first writing we encounter is also reporting on a Quidditch World Cup. While Rita’s article is as “enchantingly nasty” as ever, it provides us with invaluable information on our beloved characters’ careers and family lives.
Ginny cursing Harry due to “cracks beginning to show” in their union is unlikely. But Harry’s camaraderie with Krum, Hermione’s meteoric rise in the Ministry, Luna Lovegood’s incredible fashion choices, and Teddy and Victoire’s talent for prolonged snogging all seem like legitimate information we can accept as true. Especially as someone who has disavowed Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, this is the glimpse I craved into the characters’ adult lives, and I’m grateful Rita provides it.
I can leave you with one of the last true facts Rita provides us at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup: “Harry Potter is scratching his ear.” I see no reason to doubt her!