I’m Disappointed in the ‘Witch Trials’

J.K. Rowling’s image-polishing podcast doesn’t grapple with the real problem

Tucker Lieberman
16 min readApr 9, 2023

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Witch by Anja from Pixabay

A month ago, Bari Weiss’s The Free Press published a podcast series, The Witch Trials of J.K. Rowling. It’s sponsored by FIRE, a conservative organization that brands itself as protecting freedom of speech. It centers J.K. Rowling’s story, starting decades ago when she wrote Harry Potter, and continuing through the last three years of her transphobic Twitter campaign.

The podcast is hosted by Megan Phelps-Roper, who grew up in a hateful cult but got out a decade ago. She wrote a memoir of her exodus, which I read in 2020; my reaction at the time was that her memoir seemed more descriptive than prescriptive, and she didn’t seem to fully engage with the question of her own accountability. Something felt off to me. Now I see what it is. (Thanks to Natalie Wynn for explaining it — scroll all the way to the end of this article.)

There are seven one-hour episodes on this podcast. If you’ve wondered about how Rowling would like to present her position on trans people if given the chance, this podcast was that opportunity, but you might well be disappointed with what did and didn’t emerge. Below, I’ve summarized the parts I found important.

Episode 1: Plotted in Darkness

Megan Phelps-Roper says Rowling made some tweets in 2020 and “waded” into a conflict about trans rights — as if to imply that her comments were inadvertent or that Rowling were lightly committed to her position. (4:13–4:28) She doesn’t directly quote or otherwise describe what Rowling said. She only says she received pushback.

Phelps-Roper introduces herself. “Growing up, it was my community that thought J.K. Rowling was evil,” she says, essentially sharing why she was picked to host this podcast, “and it was other Christian fundamentalists who had amassed in force to condemn Rowling” over the Harry Potter books. (7:09–7:24)

Phelps-Roper notes that Rowling’s house is “technically a castle” but she insists it doesn’t feel like one when you’re inside, and that Rowling is physically “smaller” than she anticipated. Then they just talk about Harry Potter.

Episode 2: Burn the Witch

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/