Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
How we cite our quotes:
It was true that Harry was the subject of much renewed muttering and pointing in the corridors these days, yet he thought he detected a slight difference in the tone of the whisperers' voices. They sounded curious rather than hostile now, and once or twice he was sure he overheard snatches of conversation that suggested that the speakers were not satisfied with the Prophet's version of how and why ten Death Eaters had managed to break out of the Azkaban fortress. In their confusion and fear, these doubters now seemed to be turning to the only other explanation available to them: the one that Harry and Dumbledore had been expounding since the previous year. (25.48)
The Azkaban prison breakout is the beginning of a change in public opinion in both Harry and Dumbledore's favor. The problem for the Ministry of Magic is that they can only control information so long as the public wants to believe their stories. It seems comforting to dismiss Harry and Dumbledore's account of the return of Voldemort, since Voldemort means war. But once the Death Eaters break out of Azkaban, the public no longer wants to believe that Voldemort has not come back. They want an explanation for the mass breakout, and Voldemort seems more realistic than outright denial. In a sense, this gives us hope: good P.R. and propaganda only work for so long before people start demanding real answers.
Rita gave Hermione a long, hard look. Then, leaning forwards across the table towards her, she said in a businesslike tone, "All right, Fudge is leaning on the Prophet, but it comes to the same thing. They won't print a story that shows Harry in a good light. Nobody wants to read it. It's against the public mood. This last Azkaban breakout has got people quite worried enough. People just don't want to believe You-Know-Who's back."
"So the Daily Prophet exists to tell people what they want to hear, does it?" said Hermione scathingly.
Rita sat up straight again, her eyebrows raised, and drained her glass of Firewhiskey.
"The Prophet exists to sell itself, you silly girl," she said coldly. (25.211-214)
Book 4 contains a much longer critique of journalism than Book 5. Still, Rita Skeeter's extremely pragmatic view of the newspaper business ("The Prophet exists to sell itself") is interesting. The Daily Prophet presents people with news they want to hear, with stories that'll sell. But since the Daily Prophet has so much influence on public opinion, don't they also have a responsibility to be balanced and fair in their reporting? The Daily Prophet’s slanted reporting demonstrates how much damage newspapers with an agenda can do to the political situation in a country. As for Rita Skeeter herself, she just wants to report what'll get her the most fame – whether it's true or not. But since she's so businesslike, it's pretty easy for Hermione to manipulate her into working for them. After all, Rita Skeeter isn't committed to a particular point of view; she'll report anything as long as she can make a name for herself doing it.
"I have testimony from Willy Widdershins, Minerva, who happened to be in the bar at the time. He was heavily bandaged, it is true, but his hearing was quite unimpaired," said Umbridge smugly. "He heard every word Potter said and hastened straight to the school to report to me —"
"Oh, so that's why he wasn't prosecuted for setting up all those regurgitating toilets!" said Professor McGonagall, raising her eyebrows. "What an interesting insight into our justice system!" (27.156-157)
Professor Umbridge is presenting evidence of how she knows that the D.A. has been meeting for the past six months. She is using testimony from a criminal who appears to have avoided prosecution in exchange for his word against Harry. Now, Professor McGonagall finds this exchange totally corrupt. But (at least according to all of the Law and Order we've watched) it's pretty common to swap testimony against other criminals in exchange for a lighter sentence for yourself. Do you think this is a corrupt practice? How does Professor Umbridge's particular deal with Willy Widdershins seem unfair?