On April 29th, the mothership ran this interview with Captain Britain and MI: 13 writer Paul Cornell. Within a few hours of posting, it was edited to remove offensive content and the message board thread comments pertaining to the edited area were removed.
A number of people are understandably upset by the second question and the circumstances under which it disappeared. Rather than do an editorial this week, I contacted Matt Brady for a short question and answer session about the subject.
Due to a severe scheduling and location conflict, this took considerably longer than we meant for it to. I apologize for the delay.
LISA: What exactly happened with the Paul Cornell interview and the last couple of questions that were removed from the site?
MB: Glad to fill you in, Lisa. A question was asked that was poorly phrased and perhaps not thought out as well as it could have been beforehand, and the exchange was then regrettably missed in the editing process. We apologize to anyone who was offended.
There is really no excuse — it was a bad judgment call on Ben’s part and we certainly should have caught it before it was posted. We obviously always try to be thorough when proof reading an interview, but this one unfortunately slipped through the cracks.
That said, as soon as it was pointed out to me, the passage was removed.
LISA: It seemed odd that Ben would ask that question. Did he indicate why he asked it?
MB: Given Ben’s geographical location relative to Mr. Cornell’s, the interview, like many seen today on various entertainment sites such as Newsarama, was conducted via e-mail. A list of questions was sent for Mr. Cornell to answer. As is the case with conducting an interview like that, there can be a disjointed feel to the flow, that is, the question following an answer isn’t always picking up on what was said previously. That was the case here – which was then, at the end, amended by the interviewer with a poor attempt at humor.
LISA: When and how did you find out that the question was posted? How long did it take to pull it down?
MB: I usually review the threads that go up on any given day shortly after they’re posted. When I saw the complaints about that final question, I took it down immediately, and, as is customary, removed the posts mentioning it, as the question in the interview itself had been removed. We do that occasionally to avoid the “Hey, what are you talking about, there was no ____ mentioned in that interview” comments that can lead to a back and forth, and derail the whole thread from that point onwards. We should have explained the misunderstanding right away to prevent any confusion.
LISA: What’s the policy for retractions on Newsarama? Was there a reason you didn’t note you’d removed that part?
MB: Normally, if spelling/grammatical errors are found within a narrow window after the article was posted, they’ll be corrected without note, as other online news outlets can be seen to do virtually every day. When the change involves correcting a factual error or clarifying something that was said by the subject, those are noted at the end. To date, large changes of that nature are few and far between.
In this case, I felt the window was small enough – from the time the interview was posted to readers pointing out the question – that it could be edited without many people noting (obviously, I underestimated Newsarama’s readership, and it had already been seen by many readers). I removed it (in retrospect, removed more than was necessary, clearly), and the posts referring to it, and moved on.
Pulling it without comment was a mistake on my part for which I take full responsibility. I deeply apologize to those who were truly hurt by the question asked in the interview, and I apologize for not posting a message explaining what had happened. Clearly, the situation could have been handled much better than it was.
LISA: Most people read an interview as though the interviewer sat down with a person and they wrote down what was said. This doesn’t always work for reading e-mail interviews. Things can get awkward when a question is left in after the subject has already answered it fully, or a controversial statement gets dropped without a followup question behind it. Here you ended up with the worst case possible for email interviews: a question asking if a character has violent extremist leanings after Cornell explains that a character is an “everyday British Muslim.” Is the convenience offered by email interviews worth losing the flexibility of real-time person-to-person interaction?
MB: To some extent, I’d agree with that. Placing the process in context here, you had, on one hand, Ben asking questions about a project that was, at the time, still coming up, so there were still some cards being played close to the vest in terms of story and character. A list of questions was generated based on what was known, and a few “fishing expedition” questions were added in just to see if there were some blind alleys that could be walked down (to completely mix metaphors) and yield interesting results. Looking at the questions themselves, I can see how someone could come up with a list such as that… a) what is Faiza’s life like given the world today? b) did she join the team with an ulterior motive? Given that little was known about the project or the character in question – it’s a valid line of questioning.
Again, I can see the progression – there was some fishing going on, but, yes, charged words were used, and I guarantee you no offense was meant by Ben’s question. He did not come from a bigoted point of view in asking it, but I can see, given the way it was asked and the tacked on joke afterwards, that it might have been interpreted in that manner, and again, I apologize for those who were offended by it.
LISA: Modern comic book creators don’t shy away from current events and political themes even in light superhero fare, and more and more fans seem to be touching on social issues as they relate to the stories told in the medium. After this week’s experience, are you going to be handling things differently when it comes to political matters? Are there any guidelines you’ll be giving to your contributors when it comes to sensitive topics?
MB: Heh – DC announced Decisions, and Marvel has never shied away from blending the real world into its stories. Heck, the marketing groundwork for Secret Invasion has been done for Marvel by several governments around the world who are urging all of their citizens to keep their eyes open for regular people acting strangely. You’ve got the two major publishers touching upon some form of political allegory in their works. Creators are bringing it out in various ways in independent books. I don’t think there’s a way not to be handling political matters in comics these days. Not every day in every project, but politics and the issues are omnipresent these days. It’s hard to avoid them.
So, to answer the question, when stories do start to cross back and forth with politics and the real world, we will continue to ask questions that are pertinent to the topic, and those questions will be asked in a straightforward manner.