I wasn’t going to write about Kathleen Hale. I really wasn’t. The Guardian article that made her infamous in the YA bookternet was way before I started blogging. Even when the book deal inspired by the article was announced, I didn’t feel there was anything for me to add to the conversation.
But this week, BookPage published an interview with Hale that made me want to bang my head against the table, so I guess I’m going to write about that
Many in the community will argue that Hale shouldn’t be given a platform at all. I tend towards this view, but I am sympathetic to those that think it’s still useful to engage with what she says from a critical distance. But that’s key: there has to be a journalistic distance to the approach, not breathless wow-you’re-edgy praise.
An interview doesn’t have to be adversarial; lots of interviews are simply a framework that allows the subject to tell their side of the story. They don’t all have to be Crossfire, they can just be opening prompts. But even in that case, only the quotes should be from the subject’s perspective. The article itself shouldn’t be from the subject’s perspective. That’s what makes an interview different from, say, a guest post.
There’s no real difference between this article and an essay written by Hale herself, except that the interview format means that Hale’s words are masquerading as literary journalism instead of being honest about what they are.
Not only does the interviewer, Carla Jean Whitley, fail to push back against any of the [ridiculous] things Hale says, but she actively adopts Hale’s framing of events, parroting her perspective.
In most cases, this would just make for an uninteresting, poorly-written article that signals to me that particular outlet isn’t interested in being responsible. Whatever. In this case, though, it’s far worse, because Hale isn’t just giving us literary opinions. She’s actively defending her admitted stalking of a book reviewer.
BookPage handed Hale a microphone to promote her book, defend her actions, and refuse blame… and simply left it at that. No analysis, no framing, and certainly no other side to the story.
If you haven’t read the interview, let me show you what I’m talking about. The very first paragraph introduces the context of the book, as you’d expect:
Remember, we haven’t talked to Hale yet. This is all in the voice of the article’s author and represented as the objective version of events.
According to Whitley, Hale’s stalking included “exposing the reviewer as someone using a false identity online.” This explicitly adopts Hale’s framing of the situation: the reviewer was dishonest and malicious, and Hale’s actions uncovered the dirty truth.
Nowhere does Whitley mention the more common (and obvious) interpretation that, like many, the reviewer used a pseudonym online. This is a common practice among bloggers who want to keep their blogging separate from their real life and protect their privacy. (Ironically, Hale’s actions only prove the necessity of such safety measures.)
Adopting Hale’s framing of the reviewer as some sort of con artist begins a process of shifting blame to the victim that Whitley facilitates.
Whitley doesn’t push back against Hale’s repeated claims that “the internet” itself is to blame for her actions, not Hale. “I got sucked into the internet, and it made me go crazy,” Hale says. Later, “the internet is a toxic hellscape” and “social media has ruined lots of lives.”
Whitley allows Hale to dismiss her critics as “trolls” best ignored and reframe the response to the Guardian essay as “offense” and “backlash.” She minimizes the seriousness of her actions and the response, referencing it as a time she “published something “inappropriate” online and caused a minor uproar on Twitter.”
The interviewer takes it upon herself to bring up the term “cancel culture.” There’s no reason to bring up this term, which brings to mind online mobs shouting down transgressors, unless you think it applies to Hale’s situation. Whitley is now framing Hale herself as a victim of online aggressors.
Hale takes this version and runs with it. “No YA publisher will work with me out of fear of offending my anonymous online critics/trolls,” she says, again unquestioned by the interviewer. Whitney never suggests that publishers might have their own reasons for not working with Hale that are more than bowing to unfair pressure. She doesn’t point out that Hale has proven herself a liability, one who will cross legal and ethical boundaries. She doesn’t point out that Hale’s debut received a mixed-to-negative response before the controversy.
Instead, Whitley keeps coming back to Hale’s writing about mental illness. It’s hard not to feel that Whitley thinks Hale’s claim that the response to the Guardian article “put” her in a mental hospital should garner her sympathy. Whitley, who also wrote the positive review of Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker for BookPage, gushes over the “vulnerability” shown by Hale’s “honestly” about mental illness, even as Hale uses it as an excuse for predatory behavior.
Only once does the interviewer ask Hale to confront the criticism directly. This is when the article goes from a disappointing garbage fire to a frightening garbage fire.
While none of this interview passes basic journalistic muster, this is the paragraph I was shocked made it online.
Hale is explicitly saying that the reviewer is (at least in large part) responsible for what happened. Not only are Hale’s unspecified mental illness and the toxicity of the internet to blame for Hale’s stalking… but the victim is to blame as well. It’s “scary” to be stalked, Hale allows, but it is only shocking since we’re used to being anonymous, career-ruining trolls with “no repercussions.” Hale’s actions are the natural response to the reviewer’s “online conduct.”
I’m not wildly theorizing when I say that Hale still thinks she was right, that the reviewer deserved it. She’s saying it right there.
BookPage posted an argument that reviewers, in some cases (like posting a one-star review, which is somehow analogous to unfairly Yelp-smearing a restaurant?), deserve to be stalked or experience other “repercussions.” That’s the argument Hale is making, and that’s the argument they posted to the site–with no framing or pushback. That’s a viewpoint they consider legitimate and welcome on their platform. If it weren’t, they’d have a counterpoint or they’d call it what it is. They’d give us any indication that this is not normal author behavior.
Instead, Whitley does worse than let Hale’s opinions stand. She actively bolsters them. She does the heavy lifting to absolve Hale of responsibility and rehabilitate her image.
I’m not going to say Hale’s work shouldn’t be written about or her voice should be suppressed. But this subject needs to be written about with the utmost care and maturity. BookPage had the opportunity to do that, but instead, it handed Hale the reigns.