(please click on image to improve sharpness)
Wow. The week after this piece was posted online was, to put it mildly, an interesting one. Thousands of views, dozens of comments, and a hell of a lot of criticism. Luckily, I received fantastic support from family, friends and fellow writers just before the backlash hit, so I was ultimately able to laugh it off and share the more vivid/explicit comments with them. I wouldn’t say these comments from Hitchens’ fans class as ‘trolling’ particularly, but the experience certainly gave me a great insight into the dark side of the internet.
It all started on Friday the 13th (of November) — which probably should have been a clue that this interview wouldn’t go as hoped. Contrary to some of the comments I later received, I was truly interested to hear from Mr Hitchens, and I wanted to write a piece focusing entirely on his fascinating viewpoints: we even had a few overlapping opinions, which I hoped to discuss. I’d seen his wonderful interview with Owen Jones, and fully expected that we could replicate that friendly, engaging conversation:
Unfortunately, I instead received half an hour of difficult answers and, at times, surprising rudeness. The only explanation I have is that Hitchens presumed from the outset that I was a left-wing student journalist preparing to insult him whatever he said, and so he decided to put up a defensive wall. The post on his blog certainly suggests he changed his responses pre-emptively, and ironically it was this which created the lack of material, and also which made the experience so painful: both reasons for the final interview focusing largely on the conversation itself.
There are a few parts of the interview which, in hindsight, we should have removed in the editing stages: for example, there was a furore around the sentence in which I said I’d “agreed to a phone call” with Hitchens; this simply referred to my agreement with the (brilliant) Features editors at Exeposé, and wasn’t at all an arrogant ‘agreement’ to talk to Hitchens, but ultimately I should have re-worded it.
I was amazed by some of the other responses, however. Quite a few chose to attack me personally — or even my short, friendly introduction after the article, in which I exaggerate my perfectionist tendencies for comic effect.
A lot of people were critical of my comparison between Hitchens and Katie Hopkins, but I’d stand behind that decision. My personal opinion is that both of these writers make controversial statements purely to get media attention, and often resort to hate-fuelled or cruel language. Hitchens is a clever man — I said as much in the interview — but ultimately I think they’re very similar.
To conclude, I’m glad I wrote what I did, and I hope Hitchens will be more open in future. Alternatively, he could just refuse to take interviews. As his blog post noted, it’s very nice of him to support student journalists, but not if he’s going to be difficult simply for the sake of it.
A few extras…
Here are some of the more supportive comments from http://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2015/12/another-student-interview.html (I include them purely because they interested me or made me smile):
Finally, here's something I created, purely for a bit of fun!