The pathetic Johann Hari ‘apology’ is a classic case of framing the debate in your favour. Hari has completely ignored all but the very mildest of the ‘allegations’ against him and, sadly, most mainstream journalists seem to be taking the bait. People keep saying that he has used his interviewees’ ‘writing’ to clarify points. While that is still dishonest, it’s far more defensible than his tactic of lifting quotes from interviews conducted by other journalists. The evidence for this is undeniable. Given that a huge part of interviewing is gaining the trust of an interviewee and encouraging them to coherently explain themselves to you, being unable to do this and lifting portions from an interviewer who has succeeded is plagiarism of their work, pure and simple.
To go further – as I linked to in my post on this yesterday and as has become even clearer in the past 24 hours, he makes things up. He doesn’t ‘borrow quotes’ for an ‘intellectual portrait’, he flatly makes up things that did not happen.
So we have a lying, plagiarising writer with (as already written about on this blog and in many other places) an apparent inability to check basic facts.
But he’s a lefty.
As I mentioned yesterday, the rush of the liberal clique to defend Hari was depressingly predictable. Deborah Jane Orr, Polly Toynbee, Caitlin Morin and Grace Dent all leapt to his defence. Laurie Penny and Sunny Hundal joined Patrick Strudwick in calling Hari’s critics ‘homophobic’. Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent, defended Hari due to the claim that there had been no complaints from his interviewees (yet as seen above, an associate of one of the interviewees clearly complained, and it’s widely known that Noam Chomsky previously complained about made-up quotes in a piece Hari wrote about him). With quite ruthless cunning, Kelner also played up to the prevailing attitude amongst Hari’s defenders in calling the criticism ‘politically motivated’. Again and again I have read the absurd suggestion that the people who care about this are right-wing and ‘have it in’ for Hari because he’s a ‘left-wing’ voice in the media. Again and again I have read comments like Sunny Hundal’s ‘I don’t see why we have to flagellate ourselves’. To these people Hari is ‘one of us’ and so ultimately beyond criticism.
The absurd accusation that people were ‘bullying’ Hari was repeated time and time again, as if ordinary people making fun of the deception of a national journalist (and one who happens to be impossibly self-righteous) was comparable to picking on the weak kid at school. Hari prides himself on being provocative and ‘pushing buttons’. The final paragraph of his ‘About Me’ section on his website consists of a list of attacks and insults he has received due to his work. I doubt he’ll be rushing to add this one.
A point about his apology. I’ve seen people congratulating him on ‘apologising’ and ‘learning’ from this experience and from his readers. When the Negri plagiarism (a very serious case, as Hari uses old quotes to imply that Negri is being evasive when accused of murder) was brought to his attention a few weeks ago, Hari witheringly responded that his ‘accusers’ couldn’t grasp that someone could say the same thing on more than one occasion. That was his ‘explanation’. This apology has only come about because this story has exploded and threatened him. Additionally, his ‘thanks’ to people for pointing out his ‘mistake’ is hilarious given his well-documented tendency to insult and block people who question/criticise his work on Twitter. He also does not allow any comments on his pieces. This is not a man who invites constructive criticism in any sense.
It’s just impossible, once you look at the facts, not to see that he is a poor excuse for a journalist. Agreeing with some of his views does not excuse this. It does, however, mean that many are not willing to listen to the facts.
I have banged on about this for the past day and a bit not because I have a personal problem with Hari but because I think it’s important. I think it’s important that left-wing journalists are held to the same standard we would expect of anyone else (and all of the ‘but right-wing journalists are even worse’ defences are moot – we know they are bad because we are continually pointing out that they are bad). I think it’s important that we do not sweep misdeeds under the carpet because we happen to largely agree with someone or (in the case of the journalists) because someone is our colleague and friend. I think it’s important that our principles are not person-specific. I think it’s important that when someone whom thousands of people clearly trust is shown to be a liar that this is exposed and that trust is destroyed – especially when he uses his unwarranted power to spread lies.
I fully expect this to blow over and Hari to be back writing ‘liberalism-for-dummies’ column by next week. I fully expect people to retweet these by the hundreds. I fully expect the squadron of ‘left’ writers who have leapt to his defence to soon be criticising other public figures for their lack of rigor and critical thought. Still, at least this episode has exposed the deep hypocrisy at the heart of this ‘politics-as-a-lifestyle-choice’ industry.