Lynn Hirschberg’s M.I.A. Profile Earns a Correction


Lynn Hirschberg was adamant in an interview Tuesday with the Observer‘s John Koblin that, although M.I.A. had tapes that seemed to show that Hirschberg misquoted her in Sunday’s now-famous Times Magazine profile, she’d gotten her reporting right. At issue? A disputed quote involving the Grammys and Bono, which Hirschberg had as self-aggrandizing– “I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance'”–and which M.I.A.’s covertly recorded tapes, later posted on her website, seemed to reveal as more self-deprecating: “It wasn’t about accolades or fame.” Hirschberg explained the discrepancy away by claiming M.I.A. was prone to repeating herself, implying that the quote she used was drawn from another exchange entirely: “She didn’t just say that once or twice or three times. She repeated things constantly.” Now, however, the Times has come down on M.I.A.’s side of the issue, appending a correction to Hirschberg’s story:

Editors’ Note: June 3, 2010

The cover article in The Times Magazine on Sunday profiled the singer and political activist M.I.A. While discussing her efforts to draw attention to the civil war in her home country, Sri Lanka, she was quoted as saying: “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono. He’s not from Africa — I’m from there. I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.”

While M.I.A. did make those remarks, she did not make the entire statement at the same point in the interview, or in the order in which it was presented.

The part that begins, “The whole point of going to the Grammys,” up to the end of the quotation, actually came first. The part that begins, “I wasn’t trying to be like Bono,” and ends, “Give war a chance,” came later in the same interview. The article should have made clear that the two quotations came from different parts of the interview.

This will not help the growing impression that Hirschberg was at best unscrupulous in painting a portrait of M.I.A. as a truffle fry-gobbling, radical platitude-spouting pop star with, as Simon Reynolds once memorably put it, “no more real connection with the favela funksters than Prince Harry.” In fact it seems, in a turn itself worthy of a Hirschberg-like profile, it was the writer who ordered the fries, stayed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and concocted the platitudes, not M.I.A. herself. She may or may not be a true freedom fighter, but as Hirschberg has surely learned at this point, M.I.A. at the very least knows how run a successful insurgency against the New York Times. Haters beware.

Editors’ Note: June 3, 2010 [NYT]