I was recently the subject of a Sunday Times cover story written by Decca Aitkenson. Non-subscribers who wish to read it can sign up for two free articles a week here. I released the full audio of the interview on YouTube here so that anyone interested could find out for themselves what was actually said.
Given the tenor of the piece (very critical of me and even more of my daughter Mikhaila) and the fact that I have been subject to very similar unflattering coverage many times in the past it appears reasonable for even those inclined to my defense to ask: how could I possibly have been stupid enough to agree to the interview and story?
The same question has been plaguing me. In consequence, I went back to the original letter of invitation I received from one of the Sunday Times’ acquisition editors, Ms. Megan Agnew. Here it is in its entirety:
From: Megan Agnew
The Sunday Times Magazine
We have been following his story closely over the past weeks – and hoping that he is doing better. It is such an exhausting, uncompromising virus. It must be an incredibly stressful period for you all. When the time feels right, we would love to send one of our writers to speak with him for the Magazine. I like to think we tell difficult stories with generous space, time and objectivity. We run longform features, telling the whole story, rather than short flashy headlines.
The interview would cover his life and career to date, family life, illness, recovery, and upcoming plans and projects for the future. It would allow you to clear up any factual inaccuracies that might have been reported in the press, telling his side of the story, as well as celebrating his life and career so far.
Let me know what you think. I have attached some interview examples here, so you can get an idea of what it might look like.
It would be great to talk.
I sent the following query to Ms. Agnew yesterday. It contains an explanation of my motives for agreeing to the interview.
Dear Ms. Agnew:
I reread this polite, positive, and hopeful interview request letter of today after the promised Sunday Times piece on my daughter and I was published.
I can’t help but be struck by the vast gap between what was offered and the resulting interview, which no reasonable reader could possibly consider “celebrating (!) my life and career so far” (as indicated by an overwhelming majority of the readers of this piece, at least as indicated by their public comments, already numbering in the hundreds). In consequence, I have decided to write you and ask you for your opinion on what has happened as a consequence of your invitation.
The words you chose in your invitation – for example, “hoping that he is doing better,””such an exhausting, uncompromising virus,””it must be an incredibly stressful time for you all,””when the time feels right” were couched in such markedly friendly and supportive language that I allowed myself to trust the Times to deliver the story in the manner you proposed. I believed in good faith that my life and career as well as my health would be discussed fairly and without prejudice. My editors and publishers at Penguin Random House evinced the same faith, relying on their belief in the integrity of your paper.
I do not think that it is mere thin-skinned sensitivity on my part to believe that I would have fared no worse had I discussed my affairs with an avowed enemy. And what was done to my daughter–who uprooted her husband and small daughter more than a dozen times to accompany and care for me in four countries in the last year while simultaneously dealing with her own severe health issues (skeptically described by your author) and the near death of her mother–was brutally unfair, callous and cold. Her illness, thoroughly documented over multiple years at the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children, resulted in the shattering and painful disintegration of her right hip and left ankle and their surgical replacement of both before she was seventeen. She had 38 joints afflicted with degenerative arthritis, suffering from one of the most severe cases of juvenile RA her attending physicians had ever encountered. Her prognosis at age eight was continual, multiple joint replacements if exactly the sort that eventually occurred. In her teenage years, she walked around on what were essentially two broken legs for more than a year while we arranged for corrective surgeries, whole her mother and I desperately searched for medical expertise across many countries. And she managed to stay in school and forged forwards unstoppably despite all that. There is simply no excuse for Aikenhead to imply that the reality of all this is somehow questionable, as she clearly did when she opened her discussion of Mikhaila’s illness with the words “according to her website.” No. Not “according to her website,” with the sly intimation of falsehood hinted at by such phrasing. Actually. In painful reality. Over many long years and immediately verifiable – or not – by a simple request to the medical authorities involved.
I am frankly stunned by the degree of sheer cruelty and spite manifested by your journalist, Decca Aitkenhead and by the degree of misrepresentation (if that’s what it was) necessary to entice me into speaking as I did with her, with no intention on my part other than to answer the questions she put to me as clearly and honestly as my deeply flawed self could manage. Given the manner in which you crafted your invitation to me, I can’t understand how you can in good conscience accept what transpired.
Dr Jordan B Peterson
I have not yet received a response to this letter. I haven’t received a response–but it was only sent yesterday. I will post whatever I receive.
Was I unforgivably careless in the trust I chose to show to the Times? Perhaps. I believed (as did my editors and publishers at Penguin Random House) that my story was invariably going to be told and that it was therefore appropriate to provide the details in as truthful and complete a manner possible to the most reliable and credible possible source. We all took the offer from the Sunday Times at face value and held that paper in high regard. Hence, our decision — which was considered over months.
Now, the situation is complicated by the fact that I have a new book coming out March 2 (described here). This means that the decision to participate in the Sunday Times interview was also motivated by a desire not so much to publicize the book as to clear the stage so that the book might be made the central topic of any other interviews I might give around its launch time (instead of issues such as my health). I certainly feel an obligation to work with and for my publishers so that the book’s existence is publicized, and there’s obviously an element of self-interest in that, as well. I want to act such that the book has the highest possible chance of success. I hope that people will find it as useful as they appear to have found my previous book, 12 Rules for Life.
So, what would a wise man do?
Learn my lesson, and avoid the press at all cost? But I don’t know how to distinguish that from turning my tail and hiding, and I think that would be worse for me, even in my currently compromised state, than continuing to engage as I have.
Only choose to make myself available to outlets that will produce positive coverage? First, how do I know which outlets are trustworthy. I could only talk to people with whom I have become friendly, such as David Rubin and Joe Rogan. But I don’t think it’s right to stay inside what risks becoming a mere echo chamber.
Was it a mistake for me to conduct the now-infamous Channel Four interview with Cathy Newman? Or the almost equally-viewed GQ interview with Helen Lewis? Both of those were markedly hostile. Were they failures, or successes? I don’t think it is unreasonable to note that they are markedly of our time, and perhaps indicate something important–whatever that might be–about our time. Both have garnered some 25 million views. There’s something of broad public interest about the tension that characterizes both conversations….
GQ, motivated by the success (?) of the Helen Lewis interview, plans to produce a profile on me in the near future. I have been asked to make myself available for an interview. Should I do it? I haven’t decided. If it goes badly, will I only have myself to blame? Should I therefore avoid it?
I hope to be judicious in my decisions about when and where to speak. I hope that I can stick to the truth when I do so, and believe that there is no better defense (and, indeed, no better offense) than that? Do I trust myself to tell the truth? Will my ego invariably get in the way? Has that already happened?
As the man says: You pays your money and you takes your chances.