JK Rowling’s free-speech hypocrisy

Having rightly complained about cancel culture, the author is now using her financial muscle to silence her critics.



Just weeks after signing an open letter warning about the ‘restriction of debate’, JK Rowling has used the threat of legal action to restrict debate. Rowling threatened children’s news website The Day with legal action after it defended her ‘cancelling’ and criticised her views on trans people. It has agreed to pay damages.

In an article entitled ‘Potterheads cancel Rowling after trans tweet’, readers were asked if it was still possible to enjoy the artistic works of ‘deeply unpleasant people’ like Rowling.

Rowling was compared to Pablo Picasso, a man who sadistically beat women, and Richard Wagner, an anti-Semite promoted by the Nazis. Apparently, these are the historical equivalents of thinking sex is a biological thing.

In discussing Rowling’s comments about transgender people, the article said the civil-rights movement in the US ‘used boycotts to take money and status away from people and organisations harming minorities’ – implying the same action towards Rowling would be justified.

The Day has now apologised and agreed to pay a fee to a charity chosen by Rowling. It said in a statement: ‘We did not intend to suggest that JK Rowling was transphobic or that she should be boycotted.’

But there should never have been the threat of legal action. The article was certainly wrongheaded. Rowling is not a transphobe and has not caused any ‘harm’ to trans people by airing her views. Comparing a boycott of JK Rowling’s books to the actions of Martin Luther King is laughably self-righteous. But nobody should be sued for publishing a daft opinion.

The wealthy should not use their position to threaten people into silence. Given the size of Rowling’s platform, she could easily have ridiculed the article and won public support instead. As someone who has been targeted for cancellation, Rowling should know better.

Picture by: Getty.

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Melissa Jackson

25th July 2020 at 10:54 pm

I don’t have any problem with what Rowling did. If any outlet is foolhardy enough to forget they are legally accountable for what they publish, they deserve to get sued.

It’s not even that hard to not get sued – Just adding a “commentators have said…” and “critics have claimed…” will cover you.

steve moxon

26th July 2020 at 10:44 pm

The issue is that she’s a hypocrite: one of the wokerati hoist by her own petard.

Fran ⚢ Gershwing

27th July 2020 at 11:51 am

Me neither, she’s a strong sister defending herself and I applaud that. 👏 👏 👏

Tony Benn

30th July 2020 at 12:23 am

Look at the tattoos on her arms, then find out what they mean. I advise everyone to do this before buying her books.

ubik ubik

25th July 2020 at 8:37 pm

There are defamation laws and I suppose she has a right to make use of them, as anyone does.
Public ridicule would probably have been the best option here.
At least a charity is going to be the beneficiary of the settlement.

James Conner

25th July 2020 at 3:07 pm

Rowling is one ugly woman.

ubik ubik

25th July 2020 at 8:38 pm

Intellectually inconsistent is a better description.

Mike Oliver

26th July 2020 at 4:16 am

I think she looks a million dollars.
Maybe even a billion dollars.

Jim Lawrie

25th July 2020 at 1:49 pm

Free speech comes at a price if what you say about people is not true.

When journalists throw dirt at people they have no grounds for complaint when it is thrown back and sticks to them, along with the cleaning bill.

“But nobody should be sued for publishing a daft opinion.” That is your daft opinion on what was said and what should not be done about it. But the writer in question made allegations and comparisons way beyond fair comment. Perhaps you could tell us when it is, in your opinion, right to sue. Bear in mind that his allegation of harm done is the basis for his demand that Ms Rowling desist from stating biological fact. Not opinion.

This article should come under the heading “Opinion Piece”.

steve moxon

26th July 2020 at 11:09 pm

The point is that she is herself an ‘identity politics’ bigot but complains when other ‘identity politics’ bigots call her out.
She’s an extreme feminist, and it is the absurd self-contradictory basis of feminism — that the sexes are essentially the same AND irrevocably different, with supposedly one sex oppressing the other despite being identical to them — that is also the basis of the extreme ‘trans-genderism’ she criticises.
Furthermore, she hasn’t bothered to read up on ‘trans-sexuality’. For sure there must be many more people claiming to be ‘trans’ than who are — and these are dwarfed by the vastly greater numbers of ideologues who couldn’t care less about TS individuals and are championing though just using them as political symbols — but ‘autogynophilia’ does not explain the very small number of males (and actually people of both sexes, albeit only half as many females) who thoroughly feel in their brain to be of the sex contra to their bodily sex. It’s almost certainly an in-embryo developmental aberration: as with paraphilias, of which this can be considered another. So it’s pretty ungenerous, to say the least, to claim that a male-to-female ‘trans’ individual cannot consider him-herself female notwithstanding that in his-her brain he-she most certainly is. Of course a m>f TS can’t menstruate: a m>f TS is not somatically female. But JKR’s own stupid feminist philosophy insists males and females are indistinguishable. So why then would JSK insist so emphatically that a m>f TS — a male far more like a female than are non-TS males — is not a woman?
Her mind should boggle, but evidently is insuficiently developed to do so.
No wonder she sticks to writing childish fantasy.

Gareth Roberts

25th July 2020 at 11:46 am

What a silly article. The comments about Rowling were clearly defamatory and she was perfectly justified in taking legal action.

Walter Mitty

25th July 2020 at 10:33 am

In this instance I completely disagree and to frame it as “bad opinions” seems misleading to me as they inferred a specific claim that she has harmed people. It wasn’t some random person on Twitter throwing out a bad opinion it was on a children’s news website which is specifically aimed at secondary schools. The Day also appears to have close relationship with the education system.

Also, Rowling didn’t silence anyone all she did was to show that if you make malicious claims without evidence there are consequences. The news website continues as normal (not silenced) but with a lesson learned.

Seems like Rowling pursued legal action action against a news website in order to set the record straight. Any claims online, true or not, can be used against someone in-perpetuity so having the retraction/apology on record seems fair to me.

It’s not like she went after an individual trying to ruin their life by breaking them financially.

I’m not a Rowling fan by any means but I really respect the way she has stood up to the trans activists and there is a hint of hypocrisy here but I don’t have a problem with what she’s done.

Jerry Owen

25th July 2020 at 11:18 am

I agree with you. As wealthy as she is, her wealth comes from children. She has every right to protect her income and future income. Clearly her wealth is an asset in protecting her ..asset!
I never thought I would ever defend her but here I do.

Steve Clothier

25th July 2020 at 9:57 am

I do not understand the argument. Surely using legal means to protect yourself is the correct and just way. To use her celebrity platform status to gain support in the shitstorm would have been doing exactly what so many other cancellers are doing. Of course it is true that she has the capital to execute a legal action, which many have not. But he same argument applies to the power of celebrity status.
The fact is they attacked her, were wrong to do so, she defended herself using the legal system that has been set up to enable such a defence, the apologised and paid some damages which she did not profit financially from.
This does not seem hypocritical to me.

Finbarr Bruggy

24th July 2020 at 10:52 pm

Whoever put this piece of guff together must have been on something. You say “But there should never have been the threat of legal action. The article was certainly wrongheaded. Rowling is not a transphobe and has not caused any ‘harm’ to trans people by airing her views.” Look at your own last sentence here. The publication lied about her and she used her financial power to gouge them. Well done, JK. I also want to remind you that Rowling has been vilified not for expressing an opinion but for stating proven biological fact. There is a very common 5-letter word for “people who menstruate”, and it isn’t “trans”.

Mark Beal

24th July 2020 at 7:32 pm

I get the feeling there’s something here I’m not being told, but since The Day has taken down the article, I can’t find out what.

Either The Day decided it was too much of a risk to take on Rowling’s legal people, or it said something that was genuinely slanderous. The problem I have here is that Spiked has a history of blurring the line between Free Speech and Slander, of at the very least implying that some untruths about individuals are part and parcel of the cut and thrust of free debate, rather than unacceptable, particularly in their malicious, character-assassinating aspect. But I can’t make out from the above article if there really was something slanderous published or not.

I note that The Day, in their apology felt obliged to say, “‘Debate about a complex issue where there is a range of legitimate views should have been handled with much more sensitivity and more obvious recognition of the difference between fact and opinion.” It may be a very minor victory in a very small skirmish, quite aside from whether or not it’s sincerely meant, but it would be all to the good if more publishers and institutions were forced to concede as much.

Regarding J.K. herself, most people have limits as to how far down a certain rabbit hole they’re prepared to go, and it would appear that Rowling has found hers. The question is if and when she’ll discover that a rabbit hole that requires complete and unwavering adherence to a particular ideology is not a good one to have entered voluntarily in the first place.

Les Wainwright

24th July 2020 at 7:07 pm

The wokerati have learned a lesson here – you can’t bully very rich people

The fact that sh’e 100% correct really helped her case.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 4:49 pm

Rowling is an extreme-feminist idiot.
Like Lionel Shriver, and Joanna Williams on here, she persistenly fails to see the wood for the trees.
It is the absurd self-contradictory basis of feminism — that the sexes are essentially the same AND irrevocably different, with supposedly one sex oppressing the other despite being identical to them — that is also the basis of the extreme ‘trans-genderism’ they criticise.
It isn’t rocket science to suss the stupidity of this.
Rowling appears pretty standard ‘woke’ more generally than her extreme feminism, so she is on no grounds to complain about efforts to silence her when she espouses herself the very ideology behind the attempts to silence.

Emma White

24th July 2020 at 4:30 pm

She has ignored most critics. I imagine the reason she took The Day on was that this is a Department of Education approved source of content in state schools. Their
defamatory and biased article was sent to school children nationally in June as part of their home learning. I know , as my daughter got set it. Quite different to an opinion piece online.

Tolar Owen

24th July 2020 at 4:39 pm

Thank you. I can’t believe she’s now being vilified for fighting back. None of these brutal judgments are applied to men who question gender ideology. Graham Lineham got kicked off of Twitter but he hasn’t received thousands of rape and death threats. Ricky Gervais doesn’t receive threats at all. But God forbid a middle-aged white woman stand up for biological reality and the rights of teenage girls and then fail to apologize profusely when she’s mobbed. Beyond that, she’s fighting back against state-enforced power using tools that others have used for far lesser grievances. Burn the witch!

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 4:50 pm

Guffaw! What planet are you on?

Emma White

24th July 2020 at 6:28 pm

I agree Tolar and I disagree that she is being hypocritical here. By taking on the most egregious and aggressive attacks on her views ( and here by a publication approved by the state and disseminated to schools) she is keeping the public sphere open. I was not happy that my daughter was told by a state school that J K Rowling was a terrible person who had done something ‘wrong’ by not bowing before the TRAs, and I would have thought that editors and readers of Spiked would not be happy either. I complained to the school.


24th July 2020 at 4:52 pm

That’s the story I read as well-schools seem to link with some very dubious ‘charities’ nowadays and bring in topics that parents are just finding out due to lockdown. They seem very keen on the trans agenda-which surely is something that only affects a few people , but don’t give lessons on say period problems which affect a lot of girls ( and mean they do not want to share toilets etc with boys transing into girls ) Ms Rowling seems to have out-lived her usefulness , but while she had her 5 minutes of fame promoted enough agendas and cancelled enough people , but as they say even a stopped clock is right once a day.

Jerry Owen

24th July 2020 at 6:00 pm

Thanks for that I was unaware. Possibly there was a case of slander to answer to.

Tolar Owen

24th July 2020 at 3:13 pm

I’m glad she’s fighting back with the tools she has. She’s not employing the tools of state power–like having police officers go to people’s homes if they “misgender” people on Twitter–nor is she engaging in criminal behavior, like sending someone the 3000 rape and death threats she’s received.

If she’s got to “face consequences” of her speech, then those attacking her using emotional and physical harassment–not just disagreement–need to experience some consequences too. This might make them a little less willing to mob and threaten people for simply questioning the science denialism of the trans movement.

Gordon O Gopher

24th July 2020 at 3:08 pm

I couldn’t care less about almost-billionaire Rowling’s right to free speech. With 14 million twitter followers – probably mostly young – she’s hardly short of having her opinions heard.

Tim Wheeler

24th July 2020 at 2:51 pm

Good for Rowling! Everyone should fight the Khmer Cancel-Crazies with all they’ve got!

Jonathan Palmer

24th July 2020 at 2:28 pm

That’s our girl. Struggling single Mum on benefits, then claimed to be encouraging reading, but got waking royalties for talking books films and theme parks, then a ruthless capitalist defending her “property” even against Potter dictionaries and concordances. Then Labour party Remainder rich girl using her money to insult half the population.

When she gets caught out we got “but I was abused and my daughter’s given me permission to write” then a demand that we stick up for her in the name of free speech when she has possibly never stuck up for anyone with whom she disagreed in her life and now this.

I will stick up for her right to free speech simultaneously regarding her behaviour as verging on evil. What a specimen.

Andrew Mawdsley

24th July 2020 at 1:25 pm

I said this weeks ago. Rowling is a hypocrite. She was more than happy to close down debate around Brexit by calling people low information or xenophobic, but then wants to be supported when she opines on trans rights.

Personally, I think she’s correct on the trans debate (men don’t menstruate), but I do think she’s got some front, given that she was happy to vilify those who didn’t agree with her about matters of democracy.

You either believe in free expression or you don’t. If you dont, fine, that’s your choice. Just don’t try and have it both ways.

Jonathan Marshall

24th July 2020 at 2:55 pm

Quite right. The woman is a weapons-grade hypocrite, but credit to her for standing up to the trans loonies.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 4:55 pm

She’s not only a ‘weapons-grade hypocrite’, but she doesn’t understand the ‘trans’ issue either. For sure there must be many more people claiming to be ‘trans’ than who are, but ‘autogynophilia’ does not explain the very small number of males (and actually people of both sexes, albeit only half as many females) who thoroughly feel in their brain to be of the sex contra to their bodily sex. It’s almost certainly an in-embryo developmental aberration: as with paraphilias, of which this can be considered another.

Gerry Mander

24th July 2020 at 1:03 pm

It’s easy to understand Rowling’s annoyance though.


24th July 2020 at 1:11 pm

Is it? I don’t understand the Potter Cult. Since when does writing a few average kids’ books make you an expert and authority on everything?

Jonathan Marshall

24th July 2020 at 2:59 pm

Good grief, ZP – you’ve posted something I agree with!
You are right about Potter – basically Greyfriars with added “magic” – and her adult books are even worse. “The Casual Vacancy” (written under a pseudonym) is utterly dire and was rejected by publishers until she revealed the fact that she’d written it. Her detective stories (“Cormoran Strike”, fhs) are nearly as bad.

steve moxon

24th July 2020 at 4:56 pm

Me too … oops!


24th July 2020 at 9:44 pm

The story lines are also similar to comic strip story in Bunty only the girl-who is usually an orphan excels in French ( because her dead mother was French ) science ( because her dead father was a top scientist ) and hockey -which makes her popular and her and her friends -usually have names like Peggy unmask the bad teacher who is really a spy. I think Rowling’s name is put on what is a corporate effort-it came out at just the right time and got too much publicity just for children’s books .

Finbarr Bruggy

24th July 2020 at 10:58 pm

What level of biological expertise do you need to understand that “people who menstruate” are women? Show me a menstruating trans-woman.

T Zazoo

25th July 2020 at 2:10 am

It doesn’t. The problem is her not-very-good children’s books sold in huge numbers. That made her a billionaire.

Money buys a lot of things. One of the things it buys is people’s attention.

Its certainly bought ours. And once you have people’s attention you can hold forth on all manner of things.

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