Treachery of the soundbite

Richard Dawkins fell into the treacherous pits lying in wait for those who live by the soundbite. He was reported last week as having insulted Peter Kay for saying something silly about being sustained by his faith. The effect was to make Dawkins seem petty and even engaged in a nasty spat with someone who was in competition with him for a book prize.

Repeat after me, several times,

“I will no longer regurgitate kneejerk responses every time a journalist rings up for a quote.”

Luckily few of us will be called on to put this into practice, but, you never know.

Dawkins had the grace to apologise in the Guardian and admit that he was just giving a standard phone rentaquote and had no problem with Peter Kay’s apparent adherence to the Catholic beliefs (or lack thereof). I have greater respect for him after this admission, given that it shows he is aware of some of the consequences of being media flavour of the month. There is always a danger of trivialising serious issues when you get involved with mass media. That’s what they are there for.

Worst, this made Dakins appear to have no understanding of humour or context. Peter Kay could have been being ironic. I don’t know, not having read his autobiography or ever being likely to, but I suspect the contradicions in the offending quote may have been there for comic effect.

In any case, he mind boggles at a book prize that involves a competition between a crusading atheist biologist and a Bolton comic. Maybe they should get together and create a real crossover bestseller.