J. K. Rowling Denied Medal of Freedom?

Must all political partisanship and culture war battles eventually involve Ms. Rowling and Harry Potter? Perhaps.

The latest proof that we live in the End Times, when everything that is possible must happen before the apocalypse (e.g., watermelon flavored ice cream, the Cubs winning a World Series, the Dalai Lama being refused an audience at the White House), is that The Daily Prophet, aka the BBC, is reporting that Joanne Rowling was denied the Presidential Medal of Freedom (PMOF) by President Bush in 2008 because her books “encouraged witchcraft.”

I kid you not.

The story from BBC News, JK Rowling denied top US honour, reports:

Harry Potter author JK Rowling missed out on a top honour because some US politicians believed she “encouraged witchcraft”, it has been claimed.

Matt Latimer, former speech writer for President George W Bush, said that some members of his administration believed her books promoted sorcery.

As a result, she was never presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This is just too bizarre if you are aware of what the Presidential Medal of Freedom is and who has received this honor in the past. Checking out a partial list of recipients, we find twenty two authors, all of whom were American citizens (Eliot, of course, did become a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom but he was born in St. Louis). The PMOF can be and has been given to citizens of other countries; but to make the claim that anyone — especially a foreign author without direct ties to the United States — has been denied this award, you’d have to make a good case that they were obvious candidates for the award.

And I doubt that such a case could ever be made.

This award is reserved for folks who make “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” There’s a lot of wiggle room, obviously, in “cultural…endeavors” (can you say ‘Lucille Ball’? ‘Louis L’Amour’?) but I’m still staggered that anyone could suggest that Ms. Rowling “missed out on” the award or was “denied” her due by President Bush.

President Obama has given out 12 PMOF awards in the nine months he has been in office, just over the average number of PMOF awards per year given by Presidents Clinton and Bush, and none of those 12 have been given to Ms. Rowling. Has President Obama also been neglecting Ms. Rowling’s natural and obvious candidacy? In a word, “no.”

It turns out that Matt Latimer, the author of Speech-Less, the tattle-tale book from which this idea was taken, has major issues with the truth. Ed Gillespie, another Bush White House staffer, explained in an article about Latimer’s dishonesty, a piece posted at National Review Online this morning, why Ms. Rowling was passed over for the PMOF last year:

One story [from Speech-Less] that’s captured the imagination of bloggers is that J. K. Rowling — author of the Harry Potter series — was “denied” a Presidential Medal of Freedom (PMOF) at the end of Pres. George W. Bush’s term because her books contain “witchcraft.”

I was actually involved in the discussions in which the administration compiled, and then winnowed down for President Bush’s consideration, the list of candidates for the highest civilian honor our government bestows. Foreigners rarely receive the honor, but the last round of medals included three: former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, former Australian prime minister John Howard, and Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

J. K. Rowling did not receive a PMOF, but it was not because of witchcraft. It was because she did not commit her nation to, and help lead worldwide coalitions in, fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, nor did she oust the narcoterrorists who were taking over her country.

Now, granted, the man speaking is a Republican, a lobbyist, and a lawyer, which I suspect in many people’s minds means “three strikes,” but his argument does have a little more on the plausibility side of things than “Rowling turned down because of witchcraft.”

And, no, I am not opening the gates here on political commentary at HogPro about Presidents Bush and Obama. Go ahead and correct my mistaken thinking, please, about the PMOF but anything partisan or overtly political that you post will be deleted. There are plenty of websites for that sort of exercise, right? Thanks in advance for your PMOF comments and corrections.


  1. Yeah, I saw this on the BBC about a week ago and thought, “This guy is off his rocker.” The vast majority of Medal of Freedom recipients are US citizens… this guy clearly has some issues.

    And how about something else– most of the recipients, particularly outside of political winners, are in their later years. JK Rowling’s in her forties, whereas most cultural and scientific winners have been 60+… it kind of makes sense, given the idea of truly long term contribution.. I love the books but ten years isn’t actually a long time to see the effects of anything.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    Gillespie’s claim is as ridiculous as Lattimer’s. Lattimer claims Rowling was denied the PMOF because she endorses witchcraft; Gillespie says it’s because she’s an insufficient leader in the war on terror and narcotics. One criticizes what she does as an artist (an outrage), the other what she hasn’t done as a political force (failure). This is culture war rhetoric.

    When the British Empire bestows a knight/dame-hood, or an Order of the British Empire, it rarely gives them to non-Britons. Go to Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_of_the_British_Empire#Notable_honorary_recipients. See how few receive these awards, and how late in their careers. Note that the awards are honorary, and that the foreign recpients can’t use the designations with their names. We don’t hear about Sir Billy Graham (2000).

    To make these claims about Rowling and the PMOF is self-promotional for the authors, in my opinion.

  3. Red Rocker says

    Here’s the list of recepients for the medals given by the last three presidents.


    I don’t see any British or foreign authors on the last presidente’s list. I see some actors and entertainers. a pope, a chef, a boxer. I only recognize the name of one author (William Safire) and he was an American. The only foreign names I recognize are some politicians (Blair, Mandela and Havel), the aforementioned pope. Mother Theresa, a pianist, and a cosmetician.

    A brief scan of Clinton’s recipients shows far fewer entertainers and sports figures (Martha Raye and Arthur Ashe).

    The list of potential choices is so large that I agree that it would be hard to argue that anyone would be an “obvious” candidate and if not chosen, that they were deliberately passed over. However, the overall list of recipients for each president shows some personal preferences. Looking at Bush’s list, there’s no reason to believe JKR – or any popular author – would have made it to the list. I’m not saying the withcraft thing was not a factor, but there would be more obvious factors not to include a British writer of children’s books than that.

  4. I hate it when Malfoy talks to beetles. He always says something unfair and wrong, and Rita Skeeter and her Quick-Quotes quill report it in the worst light possible.


  5. As a libertarian I’d say it’s not in the President’s duties to be handing out medals of his own choosing…unless he’s paying for them himself. 🙂

  6. This story is almost as good as the report that came out in many news articles and most HP blogs during the last Presidential election.

    Remember the story about Sarah Palin banning Harry Potter from libraries in Alaska because of their supposed promotion of witchcraft!!??

    The only problem was that when Sarah Palin was in charge of that Dept.
    the Harry Potter books were not even published yet!!

  7. In addition to my comment above, I found this bit of news from an article in 2003 stating that the Bush White House and home in Texas had no problem with the Harry Potter series. In fact as a former librarian, Laura Bush encouraged others to read them!!!


    Can “truthful” journalism ever be found anymore in this great land???

  8. Red Rocker says

    The fact that Laura Bush – a classy lady and a very generous and tolerant one – likes the HP series and encourages kids to read doesn’t have that much to say about whether the White House did or did not reject JKR as the recipient of the PMOF. It suggests that to the extent Mrs. Bush had influence over them medals, she might have influenced her husband or his staff to consider JKR’s candidacy positively. But that’s a possibility, not a certainty.

    As well, the fact that Palin was accused of banning the HP books when she was in no position to do so does not speak to the issue at hand: the accuracy of Latimer’s recollection.

    In fact, the tendencies of partisan press to exaggerate or even make up negative things about the opposition is as a whole not very germane to this particular matter.

    I find that most of us – me included – tend to put more faith in claims which are consistent with our world view, and less faith in claims which go against it. It’s just how our brains work, and the only solution is to examine with equal rigour the facts that support and the ones that go against our cherished beliefs.

  9. Thanks, John, for posting this. You eloquently put into words what I could not. Given her political leanings, would JKR have even accepted the PMOF from President Bush?

    Malfoy talking to beetles, indeed, LibraryLily.

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