Hard News by Russell Brown

Production error

The Guardian's Jonathan Freedland has very kindly got back to me regarding the "law of the jungle" interview with our Prime Minister. Seems the dread phrase was meant to appear in single quotes in the intro, but a "production error" meant it appeared in full quotation marks, making it appear that she actually said it.

This is fair enough as it goes, and I know very well about the various imperatives in the trade of written journalism, but I can't help but feel that Freedland - who is one of my favourite British journalists - pushed the envelope of implication just a little too far in this case.

Anyway, here's the correspondence:

Hi Jonathan,

I run a New Zealand weblog community called Public Address (http://publicaddress.net). Your interview with our Prime Minister has made headlines here, especially the phrase "law of the jungle".

I wonder if you can confirm for me whether she actually used the phrase "law of the jungle" in a direct quote or whether it was simply implied in the quote you did use in the story ("... who wants to go back to the jungle?"). I'm assuming it's the latter.




Thanks for that note -- and yr assumption in your message to me is bang-on and correct. If it helps, here's the letter Charlotte and I have sent to the Dominion a few hours ago:

Dear Sir

Since our Guardian interview with Helen Clark seems to have stirred some controversy, we thought we would take this opportunity to clarify matters.

As the transcript released by the Prime Minister confirms, the quotations attributed to her in the body of our article are 100% accurate. Moreover, we believe the entire article represents a fair and accurate account of the argument she set out to us - namely that the invasion of Iraq without a UN mandate has created a dangerous precedent.

Now, to the controversial phrase "law of the jungle." It is quite true that Ms Clark only used the last two of those four words, but it was clear to us that 'law of the jungle' was precisely the idea she had in mind. Indeed, as the transcript shows, that was clearly the meaning behind our use of the phrase in a question to her - which she embraced in her answer. It is hard to imagine what else she could have meant when she asked, "Who wants to go back to the jungle?"

To reflect that fact, we used the phrase in single quotation marks in our original version of the article - to convey that this was the figure of speech invoked by the PM, if not uttered by her in its entirety - but, due to a production error, it appeared in full quotation marks in the paper.

We hope that clears things up.


Charlotte Denny, Economics Correspondent
Jonathan Freedland, Columnist