I guess I’m kinda sad that Johann “Harvey” Hari will not be returning to “The Independent” (dread term, as its former, most well-respected columnist Wallace Arnold would say). I was looking forward, perhaps over-gleefully, to seeing exactly what the Great Plagiarist would come up with that would in any way atone for his previous frauds to his loyal followers. Equally, I wanted to see how the Independent (“It once was. Are you still?”) would once again weasel its way around the fact they let him get away with these frauds for so long: indeed, would promote him way above his journalistic capability – which many seasoned journalists had called into question before the balloon finally went up – his intellectual honesty or his educational ability (Tim Worstall was calling him out on his inept economic analysis long before his plagiarism came to light).
But, having returned from his New York journalism re-education camp…sorry, I mean retraining course…(hang on, he never had journalism training in the first place, so how does that work?) he has decided to cop out. Fleet Street Blues puts it kindly: “Fair play to him for falling on his sword…” Well, far enough, except that it was a sword he fashioned himself from the ploughshare used by more honest, less ambitious and glory-seeking journalists than he.
Is there a lesson to be learnt from the Johann Hari affair? Yes, there is, and it is, in the portentous tones of Laurence Rees, it’s “A Warning From History”. The rise of Hari roughly coincides with that of Tony Blair and New Labour, and it’s difficult not to recall Peter Oborne’s verdict on the relationship between truth vs falsehood during that regime, in The Rise of Political Lying:
It is not unreasonable to speculate that the prime minister has a strong tendency to fall victim to a common conceptual muddle: the failure to understand the distinction between truth versus falsehood and truth versus error. Tony Blair, and many colleagues, consistently seem to feel that they are lucky enough to have been granted a privileged access to the moral truth. This state of grace produces two marvellous consequences. It means that whatever New Labour ministers say or write, however misleading or inaccurate, is in a larger sense true. Likewise whatever their opponents say or write, whether or not strictly speaking accurate, is in the most profound sense false.
Hari’s apologists (Polly Dutt-Pauker, Caitlin Moran etc) have all tended to forgive the Blessed Hari’s venial sins – misrepresentation, plagiarism, making up direct quotes – because he represented a Cardinal virtue: a “moral” truth, though not one supported by anything so mundane as facts, reality or common sense. It’s as though he and they have taken the example of Evelyn Waugh’s Shumble, Whelper, Pigge and Corker in Scoop and learnt exactly the wrong lesson. But then right-wing satire is always a bit too subtle for the lefties’ more clod-hopping tastes.
So Hari is off to write a book
“on a subject I believe is important and requires urgent action. To be done properly it needs international travel and …in depth focus…”
Hmmm. “The Ethics of Journalism – An International Study”, perhaps? The Plagiarist’s Progress, perchance, following our hero from the City of Destruction (a rather ungenerous way to describe the Independent, but I wouldn’t know; I’ve never worked there), up Hill Lucre, to the House Beautiful and down into the Slough of Despond and the Valley of Humiliation? A novel called…oooh, I don’t know, something along the lines of “The Fabulist” perhaps, about a reporter on a respected national publication who throws it all away by making stuff up? Oh, that’s already been done (and had the Hollywood treatment, too).
Maybe it’s a biography of Polly Dutt-Pauker he’s thinking of doing. Now that would require in depth focus – and international travel, of course (and Tuscany is so beautiful this time of the year, too).
Good luck, Johann, whatever you do. Just stay away from journalism, all right?
And now you’re out of the way, you snivelling little creep, it’s time to go after bigger buggers. Time to turn up the screws on Simon Kelner. Stay tuned, fact fans.
Well, 2012 is upon us for better or worse. Amidst the many pundit predictions of what will come upon us in this coming year, I noticed one curious omission: none dared foresee what should befall us with the imminent rearrival of Johann Hari in our midst.
After all, Independent editor Chris Blackhurst has publicly stated that Hari will make a return this year, after the secret “investigation’ by Andreas Whittam Smith (whom many serious commentators believe actually moonlights – with the aid of a silly beard , a joke-shop mitre and a crook he may well have nicked from a children’s nativity scene- as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Certainly, the way Her Majesty can scarcely control her giggles whenever that bearded loon opens his mouth suggests she is in on the joke. I rest my case).
Might I humbly suggest that Hari be given a gentle reintroduction into the rough and tumble of Fleet Street, by perhaps being given a mentor, as advocated in the Confederation of Business Industry handbook of Following EU Directives/slavishdevotion/edict01235.87-98/englischepigs-humbling-of.
And might I even more humbly suggest – this being totally against the whole Fleet Street ethos for 200 years or so – that this mentor come from a newspaper other than The Independent? It’s just that, surely, on his first awkward steps on the rocky rehabilitation road since his re-education stint in the Guantanamo of the liberal US media, Hari might welcome the guiding hand of a fellow spirit, one who supported him through his bad times, who felt his pain, albeit at a distance, and knows his tactics better than he does.
Here, in my one and only prediction for 2012, is how I reckon that tricky first Hari interview with a Celebrity Interviewee might go:
Polly: Well, I’m awfully glad to meet you, Mr Celebrity Interviewee. I am Polly Dutt-Pauker (for it is she). Here, let me give you one of my cards…
Celeb Interviewee: Well, thank you Miss Dutt-Pauker…
Polly: Mssss! Have one of my cards…
Celebrity Interviewee: Sorry, Ms Dutt-Pauker, but you see I have an important interview with a chap by the the name of Hari and I don’t have time…
Polly: (Gaily, in a politically-pointed way) Oh, hah-hah-hah. I see, in your mean-spirited conservative-voting fashion you do not quite understand my educative progressivism. Allow me to introduce you to my good friend Hari… (indicates space to her left)
Celeb Interviewee: (goggles) Well, I’d be very pleased to meet Mr Hari…
Polly: And you know he’s very pleased to meet you. And more than pleased that you meet him.
Celeb Interviewee: Well, if I could see him…
Polly: See him? Well, Mr Celebrity Interviewee, if you had availed yourself of the very fine spectacles available from our famed National Health Service, whose hospital-contracted infection rate is second to none in the western world, you could quite clearly see that my good friend Hari is right here beside me.
Celeb Interviewee: (goggles) But I can’t see him…
Polly: Hah-hah-hah. You right-wing, proletariat-crushing bankers are such a tease. Of course you can’t see him, he’s a future we must all bring about, not matter the cost. I know: I mentor him on economics, as I do on so many others. I hope you are are broad-minded enough to recognise and accept that Hari is a Pooka.
Celeb Interviewee: A…Pooka?
Polly: Yes. That’s Pooka with a P, not an F. Say hello, Hari.
Celeb Interviewee: Well, I can’t hear him, either…
Polly: Have no fear! I assure you that not only is Hari a dear friend, but he knows everything you’re about to say, even before you say it! It’s amazing how he can divine your thoughts even before you’ve thought them. Well, goodbye – I must leave you in Hari’s capable hands! I’m off to Tuscany, where I hear the au pairs are blooming lovelier – and cheaper – this time of year! Did I give you one of my cards?
The quote is of course from the kid Cole in The Sixth Sense.
Don’t know why, but that film came to mind when I read this strange story about Johann Hari:
“They only see what they want to see.”
That’s the other good line from The Sixth Sense.
Scene: The Independent. Time: Deadline. Simon Kelner (for it is he) is on the phone to his night editor: “Duffy, listen…Whaddya got for the front page…millions out for strike action? Thousands, then? Oh, hundreds?…no matter, what’s the pic?…how many in the pic?…Three!…Jeez, can’t we photoshop some of them, make ’em a crowd?…oh, dressed as polar bears and pandas, were they…well splash that and make it “Pandas, Polar Bears and Penguins strike against Pensions big freeze”…whaddyamean there’s no penguins….OK, forget the penguins…bring the penguins in on page three, get the environmental page guy to do something with a Greenpeace press release or something…where’s Sharapova?…page 7??!!…. no, bring her up to page 5…big pic…don’t care what’s written, a big pic on page 1 with a tease and huge on 5….’cos she serves up big grunts…and put her on 6 and 7 as well…what’s that?…Hari’s fessed up? Hari? Hari??!… Stick ‘im on the funnies page!”
Fans of a certain classic screwball comedy may know where I’m coming from with the above intellectual profile..
A suitcase? If it comes ready-packed and pret-a-porter, a certain J Hari would be a goer for this prize at the moment.
Brian Whelan’s excellent expose of Johann Hari’s, shall we say, “creative” way with direct quotes and interviews – which itself follows another Hari expose here – is quite rightly receiving a lot of play on the mediablogs, such as FleetStreetBlues.
Most of the commentators have used the phrases “cut ‘n’ paste” and “mash-up” to describe what Hari has done, which is fine as far as it goes, but I think a more accurate analogy comes from the wonderful world of Photoshoppery.
Those of us who use the digital image editing program Photoshop for more than just the occasional colour correction or cut-out and drop shadow know there’s an incredibly handy tool called the Clone or commonly, because of its icon in the toolbar, the “Rubber Stamp”. This handy little gubbins lets you copy an area from one part of a picture and then “stamp” it on to another area. In the early incarnations of Photoshop, this was fairly crude – often the colour of the pixels in the copied area didn’t quite match those in the target area, so you had to massage them with, say, the smudge tool to make the transplant more seamless.
So far, so cut’n’paste. But over the years, this little tool has become increasingly sophisticated, to such an extent that Photoshop itself does the mixing, reading the pixels of the copy to those with the target and making whatever colour adjustments are necessary to either to make the transplant truly seamless, to the extent it would take a real expert to find where the join is. And it can do this with areas copied from another picture and stamped into another one, too: the adjustments are done automatically.
It would appear that Hari is more than just a bog standard cut’n’paste merchant. He is master of the photoshopped quotation, able to cut quotes from a variety of sources and paste them seamlessly into one coherent whole. The tenses match, the flow of the quotations remain unimpeded: they really do read like the direct reporting of what a person said at a single time and a single sitting at a single place. Except of course that it isn’t and they weren’t.
Astonishingly, Hari doesn’t seem to grasp what might be wrong with this in a report which purports to be the subject’s thoughts and behaviour at a single time and a single place:
My test for journalism is always – would the readers mind you did this, or prefer it? Would they rather I quoted an unclear sentence expressing a thought, or a clear sentence expressing the same thought by the same person very recently? Both give an accurate sense of what a person is like, but one makes their ideas as accessible as possible for the reader while also being an accurate portrait of the person.
Well, yes, Mr Hari, I guess most of us think there is nothing wrong with cleaning up the occasional grammatical lapse or deleting all the umms and errrs that occur in everyday extempore speech. Most British journalists would also have no qualms about reordering sentences within a direct quote to help make the sense flow, although our US counterparts tend to be more queasy about doing this.
But actually lifting quotes from a subject’s previous interviews, inserting them into other quotes and trying to pass it off all as what that subject said at a single interview is wrong. And it’s wrong for the same reason that photoshopped pictures purporting to show a single event in time and place are wrong.
An interview is after all a picture in words of a single event, if you like. It purports to be a faithful rendition of what was said and, in the case of the personalised “intellectual portraits” which Hari favours, what was done by the subject at a single point of time, just as a press photo should show what happened at a single point of time. To doctor either, either to make them more newsworthy or, in Hari’s disingenuous words, “make their ideas as accessible as possible” is nothing short of deceit.
Hari may well claim that none of his subjects have complained. Perhaps none of them noticed or, if they did, didn’t care. But then they’re not the ones who are really being deceived. It’s his readers to whom Hari owes an apology.
UPDATE: Nice to see the old Downfall Hitler meme is alive and well on YouTube and being put to good use.
UPDATE II: And of course The Daily Mash has got into the act.