The inevitable Johann Hari post

"It's a bit odd, being outside the world of journalism looking in," I thought as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror this morning. "What people like me, and possibly you, don't usually understand," I said aloud, propping myself against the sink and raising a conspiratorial eyebrow, "is that there are certain practices we would think are absurd or evidence of unprofessionalism that are just standard practice in journalism." I hung my head in contemplation, slowly raising my toothbrush back to my mouth, deep in thought.

Except no I never. I said that in a blogpost back in March. Ho ho! I'm such a card. All I can manage to think about in the mornings is whether or not today is the day I have my Falling Down style breakdown and run up and down the Tottenham Court Road screaming with my shirt off. I'm just using the same bloody joke a gabillion other people have used and passing it off as if it was my own.

God, this is getting a bit meta. I might have to have a lie down.

Yesterday, I was busy looking through a Richard Littlejohn column in which he admitted starting with his conclusion, pretended the EU denied something it didn't, used the existence of the scheme the EU didn't deny (the Arc Manche region) to make it look like the EU was lying, exaggerated the powers of the Arc Manche to make it look more significant than it actually is and then passed off the cost of the new headquarters of the EU Council as costs of the headquarters for this small, regional scheme. Oh, and added an extra £40 million to that pretend cost. All in a rehash of a story that appeared months ago, itself a repeat of something that emerged six or seven years ago, and has cropped up in its exaggerated, rubbish glory a few times since.

Then, while trying to find a source for Littlejohn's fantasy costs I logged onto Twitter and walked into a bit of a to do about Johann Hari copying bits of his interviews from other places and passing it off as though things had been said to him that hadn't. They had been said, mind, just not to him in those exact words.

Of the two, I know which is worse. But that doesn't excuse Hari from passing things off as having been said to him that hadn't. He shouldn't have done it. I can see why people attacked him for it, and I don't blame them. His initial defence didn't help much either. It reminded me of the post I quoted from at the beginning here. Of course it's wrong to cut and paste things and pretend people said things to you they didn't. Only in the world of newspaper journalism could anyone be confused enough to think this is alright.

The thing is though, I still can't help thinking this is a bit like watching Falling Down. At the start, Michael Douglas is an annoying, insufferable, right-wing prick as he smashes up a shop, berating the shopkeeper for not speaking English well enough and how much money the shopkeeper's country gets from his country. He's not easy to sympathise with. But then he walks into an army surlpus store and meets a guy who keeps an empty Zyklon-B can in his secret collection of nazi paraphernalia in the back of the shop and launches into a bunch of racist and homophobic rants before attacking Douglas for not being enough of a right-wing nutter and seemingly attempting to rape him. Suddenly, Michael Douglas's rants don't look quite so bad.

Obviously, Hari isn't a right-wing prick and he's not going on some Mail reader's gun-toting badass wank fantasy and Michael Douglas ends up being probably worse than the army surplus nazi so the analogy is a bit lame, but its sort of similar. If you think what Hari has been doing is the lowest of the low, hoo-boy, are there surprises in store for you if you spend some time looking behind what you read in newspapers.

So, yes, Johann Hari should be in trouble for what he did and I guess that's up to his editor. He's apologised and said he won't do it again. In a world where the Press Complaints Commission allows columnists to tell bald-faced untruths preceeded by the words 'the fact is', that'll probably be enough.  If he ends up getting into more trouble, can't say I'll be complaining.  I won't be complaining if he doesn't either.

The story still seems to be unfolding, and perhaps someone will uncover worse things, but until then it would have been nice if the attention, Twitter storm, Newsnight coverage, front page apology and potential sacking had been about one of the guys in the army surplus stores.


Ahmed said...

I am glad you're back to posting more often. Reading your posts are funny!

Yakoub said...

The latest sad episode in this sorry affair is The Guardian's report of the Kelner interview on Radio 4's Media Show. What makes it sad is that The Guardian piece failed to mention that their very own Deborah Orr was at the same interview, and confessed to comparable crimes - but in the days before she worked for The Guardian, and before she realised it was naughty.

It's a grubby affair.

uksceptic said...

"The story still seems to be unfolding, and perhaps someone will uncover worse things, but until then it would have been nice if the attention, Twitter storm, Newsnight coverage, front page apology and potential sacking had been about one of the guys in the army surplus stores."

Nail on head.

Matt Wardman said...

No one has really got onto how Hari handles factual stuff yet.

What do you suppose they'll find when they do?