Why should I have anything to say about Johann Hari's disgrace
? Splintered Sunrise
has already dealt with this in two elegant posts
, perfecting a more-in-sorrow-than-in-delicious-glee tone that makes me giggle. I can't possibly top this. And yet, I do have some claim to speak on this topic. Firstly, because my encounter with someone who, accompanying one Johann Hari esquire, identified himself as David Rose at a debate in 2005, has caused no end of confusion. You see, someone using the identity of 'David Rose' was editing entries on Wikipedia in ways that were malicious to some journalists but convivial to Johann Hari. It was suspected that this 'David Rose' might be a sock puppet used by Hari himself. 'David Rose' told readers to contact me, as I had met him and could confirm his existence. The vast majority of queries I received on this came during Hari's recent vow of silence, as Twitterers and email correspondents pursued answers that they couldn't get from the cherubic fibber himself. I dutifully explained that I had in fact met someone called David Rose and that he seemed to be friend of Hari's. Now it turns out the real David Rose is likely to be this guy
, who doesn't resemble the person I met, and hasn't known Hari for ten years. So, the question I'm now asking is: who the hell did I meet
? (The matter of who left those fiercely defensive comments on this blog using the 'Rose' identity, and who e-mailed me as recently as 2009 using the same identity to plug one of Hari's articles, is perhaps less of a mystery).
Secondly, while the right-wing pundits and papers are just now getting up to speed on this, I had noticed Hari's propensity for plagiarism and fabulation long ago. The arch-reactionary and Islamophobic
Catholic writer, Damian Thompson, is leading the Torygraph's gloat-fest, but they are well behind the times as far as I'm concerned. Allow me to elaborate. Private Eye
reported fabrications on his part regarding quotes from Iraqis pleading for invasion back in 2003. I pointed out some very serious fabrications regarding Galloway's memoir
in 2004. Chris Brooke
first drew attention to Hari's plagiarism in his Negri interview back in 2004. I pointed out several of his distortions, including a pretty nasty slur on Eric Hobsbawm
, in 2005. So, you see, the problem has been noticed well before now, and largely not by the right. More recently, before this drama blew up, several of us pointed out Hari's falsehoods about Muslims in the East End
- with the result of inducing a quite spectacular huff on his part, in which he blocked all of his critics on Twitter and unfriended several on Facebook (yes, including me). Granted, some of the accusations now current - for example, the fabrication of evidence regarding atrocities in the Central African Republic
(which Hari still denies despite what seems to be compelling evidence) - are actually much more serious than the above. But that's saying something. The nadir of Hari's professional standards has been evident to many for a long time.
And this is not a case of a Jayson Blair, exactly, though fellow staff members are reputed
to have considered Hari "our Jayson Blair". True, if the Blair comparison holds, it would mean that The Independent
's managers and editors had ignored repeated warnings about Hari's behaviour, protecting him because his copy was good for advertising revenue. Still, Hari's untruths and distortions have been at times far more politically toxic than anything Blair invented. Alhough, as an opinion journalist, he has never had the status of a Judith Miller, he could nonetheless do some real damage - as his mea culpa
over Iraq acknowledged. But what is at issue here is the media itself.
Hari has been defended robustly by The Independent, which has invested heavily in his reputation. It tried - lucklessly, in the end - to save his Orwell Prize, which must be a source of some of the paper's advertising revenues. Editor Simon Kelner was out there firefighting on Hari's behalf, insisting that he's really, really sorry (I bet he bloody is), and that the paper believes in him. I daresay even the lawyers, who have certainly been deployed on Hari's behalf before, were working overtime during this fiasco. Now, it's clear from Hari's mea culpa that the paper intends to keep him on staff, though he will use some of his accumulated earnings to take a few months holiday while he attends a journalism course. While constituting a tacit admission of the laxity of professional standards in the media, wherein a university graduate could go far and fast with minimal training, it also confirms the paper's commitment to their star writer. The fact is that the liberal media likes the sort of 'colour' journalism that Hari provides - the telling quote, the saucy detail, the heart-wrenching testimony. The Hari-Brockes school of falsification is a lucrative form of infotainment. Ideally it wouldn't be completely riddled with fabrications, but that style of writing does lend itself to embellishment, exaggeration and invention. And it's simply impossible that the editors and managers of The Independent don't know that. But then, as we learned from Richard Peppiatt, and above all from the profusion of explosive revelations known collectively as 'Hackgate', truth is at best a secondary value in the capitalist media.
As for Hari himself, any temptation I had to feel sorry for him evaporated when I read his self-serving apology. No one could feel more sorry for Hari than he does for himself, and he acknowledges none of the serious charges made against him, no matter how strong or irrefutable the evidence is. The people I feel sorry for are those talented journalists starting out on their careers, anxious to provide good copy, packing that colour in, maybe tempted to embellish, exaggerate, or be overly generous with the detail. Had Hari been hung out to dry, they would have had an example to be wary of. "There but for the grace of Simon Kelner...", they would think, and delete whatever nonsense was just tripping off their keyboard digits. By protecting him, as The Independent seems to have done, they have given notice that the consequences of falsification, of plagiarism, and of slander, aren't all that severe. And that... well, that isn't true, is it?
Labels: capitalism, ideology, independent, johann hari, liberals, media, propaganda