Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Journalistic Licence: Revoked

By special request of Justin.

Well, given Brownie started this last night. (It's on the second page of comments from the last post, so I can't link to it directly.)


Is it okay to piss oneself at Johann Hari's predicament this damp Tuesday evening? Or is this yet more evidence of the 'Decent' penchant for schadenfreude and vindictiveness that you so abhor?
I'll be honest: whatever you say, I'll be laughing until at least 1am.
Double Macallans all round!


As Justin has noticed, David Aaronovitch has given us the benefit of his opinion.

May be far away from it, but certain that @johannhari101 has been naive not wicked.


@Stuart_Hepburn I agree. But also he just hasn't been through the ethics mill of broadcast or local journalism. I think he didn't know.


I'd class Aaro at the sensible end of Hari apologetics. I'll admit to similar thoughts myself. Johann Hari went straight into professional journalism after university[1] and didn't start out as a cub reporter or take a masters. What Aaro says has some weight, IMO. OTOH, I think Hari's journalism has been unethical (I'll come to examples of actual plagiarism in a bit), but I believe that the Independent and other publishers of his work share some responsibility here. I think the media have a (sort of?) duty to ensure that what they publish is (largely) correct and not plagiarised, made up, or otherwise not what it says it is.

In short, I completely disagree with Simon Kelner. Kelner called the 'row "politically motivated"'. But the 'row' came after this post on 'ultra-leftist' Deterritorial Support Group and this one by Brian Whelan. True, all this excitement may leave Guido Fawkes with a carpet cleaning bill, but Hari was exposed (if that's the word) by leftists, not his more obvious political enemies.

Brian Whelan on Twitter finds something else.

There are serious contradictions in Hari's claim he had sex with a neo-nazi (guardian 2002) - in the Indy he claimed the guy was 'far-left'


The neo-nazi - http://t.co/pn7oGdu - turns into a 'far-left' socialist with black girlfriend - http://t.co/In0QGtk


Finally, as promised Guy Walters "has made quite a habit of pinching quotes given to other interviewers, and claiming that they were given to him." That is plagiarism. It's not as simple as Hari substituting a more eloquent quotation from print for a vague "um-er-ah" answer in the flesh. This is passing off others' work as his own.

Harry's Place has three posts attacking the now notorious Hari. (Who used to blog there, having been, IIRC, recruited by the not-notorious Stalinist Harry.) It's not often I agree with Josh Scholar, but that's at least two too many.

What do I think? (Should you care.) I think Dave is right. Johann Hari has been naive. I'm not very sure that being naive is any kind of defence for a professional. In the US military, they have a get-out from responsibility, "That's above my pay grade." Johann Hari may work for the Independent, which is not as heavy on remuneration as some Fleet Street titles, but his pay grade confers some pretty big responsibility.

Update Wed 20:45. The word I was looking for, and didn't even know I was looking for, was 'negligent.' I think, largely, that Johann Hari has been guilty of a sin of omission. To take the US military analogy further, Hari has superiors who should have ensured that he had the training and ability to carry out responsibilities commensurate with his pay grade. Here I find the Independent lacking. (Yes I know the Mail is several factors of 10 worse.)

The problem for Johann Hari here, as I see it is that he has a) been ignorant (of widely shared journalistic ethics) and b) shown poor judgement. Sadly for him, he is paid for a) being knowledgeable and b) having good judgement. Brownie (definitely not a JH admirer) has said that he agrees with Johann Hari on some things (watch it, Brownie, your regulars will have your head on a stick if you admit to them you believe in climate change); and so, of course, do I. I don't distrust JH on issues so much; I distrust how JH chooses to frame those issues and write about them.

[1] At the moment, I can't find actual confirmation of this.

133 Comments:

Blogger Phil said...

Can you get rid of that putrid little sneer at the top of the post? (Yes, he does irritate me. Well done, Brownie, you must be so proud.)

6/29/2011 07:41:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Much appreciated.

Like everybody else, I've droned on about this elsewhere, but here's my four penn'orth.

First penny. I think Aaro's largely right. To some degree this is dependent on my belief that Hari really didn't know that you can't do what he's been doing, but even if I'm wrong about that, it's still several degrees of magnitude less evil than making up stories in order to whip up hatred and ignorance, which is what much of the UK press does daily.

Second penny. Politically-motivated - Kelner needs to fuck off. I always blame the editors more than the writers in these situations anyway (because the editors are either covering up for the writers, as here, or engaged them precisely because they knew what they were getting, as with Fraser Nelson and Melanie Phillips). But really. Yes, it's evident that quite a lot of people are either backing Hari or attacking him for political reasons, but it's also evident that a lot of people are actually crying "journalistic ethics" and doing it quite sincerely. If Kelner wants to ignore that then so much the worse for his reputation as an editor.

Also, it's not legitimate to say oh, DSG is a far-left site and so we can shout "politically-motivated" as if that proved anything. The site put together a good piece about a genuine issue so well done to them. If they don't like Johann Hari than that's neither here nor there. (Declaration of interest: I was in email contact with DSG, in between their posting the piece and the media storm of yesterday.)

Third penny. (And talking of Pennys, has Laurie Penny really blamed this on homophobia? So I'm told, but is there a quote and a link?) I like Hari. I didn't use to, but I have come to do so in recent years. I follow him on Twitter, which I only really do with people I like. I think he's a brave guy and one on the right side in most things, with lot of passion about it.

However, I've always said I thought he was over-promoted, and this doesn't seem like a entirely wrong judgement right now. I can't say exactly what I based this feeling on, I'm not going to do hindsight here. Maybe it was the Private Eye piece that people have dug up again recently. I dunno. Maybe compared to a previous generation of writers he didn't seem to have done so much, or to understand so much, or to write so well.

Fourth penny. I've never been a professional writer, though I've written occasionally for small amounts of money for about twenty years now. But it would never, ever have occurred to me to do what Hari did. It would always have been obvious that you shouldn't do that, and it would always have been likely that you would have got caught. I am quite sure the world of journalism right now is absolutely full of hacks, of all kinds, in all sorts of fields, saying that if they did that, their feet wouldn't touch. Lower-paid hacks, that is.

If that's so, I think they're right. Obviously you can't do this, and the only way you can possibly think otherwise is if you have some kind of gilded passage up to the top of journalism where you never actually have to learn proper nuts-and-bolts stuff like this because you're forever interviewing important people and writing important pieces and being told how important you are. From college days onwards. And it's worth thinking through that, worth thinking through the idea that those at the top of a profession might in some ways be less professional, less aware, than their lower rated colleagues.

But that's how it works, sometimes happens, which is why, for now, I believe Hari. But really.

6/29/2011 07:55:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I've taken off the first line which names you; but the rest I think reflects Brownie being Brownie. It's his schadenfreude. FWIW, I think the answer to his rhetorical question is, "no".

6/29/2011 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

Addressing Brownie's opening question: I don't think we should denounce people for Schadenfreude, but neither is it something to be particularly proud of. (Says someone who has been indulging in a spot of it re JH)

Also: what ejh said in his 4th penny. But then I'm only an ivory-tower type, not a fearless campaigner or scourge of The Wrong Sort.

6/29/2011 08:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

I'm surprised you think the Independent should be held responsible. I don't see how they can check everything - without thinking what JH did was shockingly wicked it seems highly unprofessional and unexpected - apart from anything else you'd think the fear of being caught out would have stopped him doing this.

6/29/2011 09:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sarah, I absolutely believe that.

First, I suppose I expect subs to read copy *carefully* (for legal issues etc). And if something seems wrong (see all the stuff found by bloggers), perhaps to do something about it.

Second, and I excised this from the post as I thought it wasn't relevant. I accept that if a student cheats (by plagiarism) the fault is theirs (though I would expect the examining university to make citation/plagiarism policy clear); but surely if a uni passes a cheating student, they deserve blame too?

I can't say for sure, but I think that where businesses accept recent grads for senior(ish) positions, they make sure that those grads have mentors or are familiar with the rules of the trade etc. I don't think Johann Hari had such mentoring, and I do blame the Indy for lack of care of its employees.

I also agree with Justin that, really, JH should have understood from school and university what was and what wasn't fair use, despite the above.

6/29/2011 09:34:00 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Agreed 100% with ejh.

As for Schadenfreude, I'm going to be boring and pious and say that I do think laughing & jeering at Johan Hari is precisely the kind of thing I've been banging on about on the other thread. I think it's urgently necessary that Hari takes the consequences of what he's done, but not because it'll make me laugh. I haven't quite got to the bottom of this one - which is why I've written so much about it recently - but I do believe that if you're genuinely enjoying someone else's downfall you need to look at yourself, and that this is one of the things Decents generally seem not to get. (I can understand feeling glad about it if it's someone you have personal and material reasons for hating passionately*, but even then it would be a grim and shamefaced kind of 'glad'.) Misery not good; rejoicing in misery therefore not, basically, right.

Tedious, pious, I know.

*Which would include M. Thatcher, T. Sodding Young, etc.

6/29/2011 09:47:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

I think, largely, that Johann Hari has been guilty of a sin of omission.
I'm sure I saw someone say something very similar recently:
Johann's was a sin of omission, the quotes were all real, just not made to him.
Not passing off other people's work as your own, are you?

More seriously, does the title come from last night's Family Guy?

6/29/2011 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

PS

apart from anything else you'd think the fear of being caught out would have stopped him doing this.

There seems to have been bugger all chance of the Independent catching him out. So what would stop him?

And when he gets caught out, his editor stands up for him.

This come back to my "Is David T a troll?" post. Blogs and newspapers are responsible for what appears on their sites. Maybe not immediately, given instant technology, but I think the Guardian gets this right. When there's a factual error, they post a correction at the top of the article. The Indy did not scrutinise enough.

I've tried to be a libertarian, but it doesn't work for me. So I'm in a sort of "no man is an island, cut off from the main" phase. Yes of course JH is clearly at fault, but the Indy went on paying him (much better than his graduate peers), and I can't blame him for taking that as encouragement.

6/29/2011 09:47:00 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Forgot to mention, I think the university/plagiarism:Kelner/Hari analogy is spot on. (Former professional journalist, current university lecturer.) I think Kelner probably gets it as well, which may be why he's decided the best form of defence is attack.

6/29/2011 09:49:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

SkidMarx, no, wasn't that a James Bond title?

(Ooh, slightly drunken (post Apprentice) thought. Eric Blair (b 1903) Eton; Anthony Powell (pronounced "Pole" as any fule kno; b 1905); Ian Fleming (b 1905). I know Orwell knew Powell. Did either know Fleming? )

But the quotes not being made to him is a big issue. Suppose Marting Amis' recent "crumblies vaporisation booths" thing turned out to be journalistic invention, but JH inserted it into his interview.

Really, an interview is fairly simple. I said this, he said that. And if the Indy pay expenses, don't they own the tapes (or whatever recording media are these days)?

6/29/2011 09:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Brownie said...

In 2007, we wrote a post about JH's review of Cohen's 'What's Left?' in which we suggested Hari was developing a reputation for making things up. Which he was.

Johan threatened to sue, so we took the post down. He then celebrated this fact on his blog and claimed we admitted libelling him. We posted a clarifying message exlaining this was not so, and he threatned to sue again, forcing us again to take down another post.

To be clear, there were clear threats of litigation and these threats were backed by the Independent legal team, even though the original Hari review we posted about was carried by 'Dissent'.

If all that doesn't entitle us to a little schadenfreude, I don't know what could.

That said, and in the spirit of not kicking someone when they're down, I hope he gets an opportunity to resurrect his career. I *do* happen to think he's on the right side of most issues and, if he's given a chance, this experience will no doubt make him a better writer.

I think the point about no formal journalisitic training does not support a conclusion that JH was naive rather than lazy and contemptuous of his readers on this occasion (Orwell Prize winner doesn't know it's wrong to misappropriate work to pad out his interview?), but it's a worthwhile observation nonetheless. Let's be clear, JH (and Nick Cohen and DA for that matter) are not really journalists at all. They are columnists. They are paid to offer their opinions rather than for their nose for a story, investigative powers and abilities to scoop rival publications. They are regular punters like you and me, but with a way with words.

Perhaps what's surprising in all this is that it doesn't happen more often. Or should that be: what's surprising in all this is that more of them aren't caught?

6/29/2011 11:00:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

As far as I can see, this is Laurie P's relevant tweet: "I like to be part of a baying, gleeful hate-mob as much as any other twat, but the #interviewswithhari tag is getting homophobic. Not cool."

http://twitter.com/#!/PennyRed/status/85693681692180480

6/29/2011 11:20:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

But it's no longer obvious what she was reacting to, a tweet too old to find now, a tweet now deleted, a tweet she somehow feared was about to be posted -- or whether she was in fact running defence for him in a larger way, as was immediately and mockingly assumed.

6/29/2011 11:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting to read knowing what we know now:

http://www.johannhari.com/2003/12/04/noam-chomsky-s-attack-on-johann

Talking of plagiarism, have people been following the Silvana Koch-Mehrin scandal?:

http://www.scienceblogs.de/zoonpolitikon/2011/06/academic-fraudster-as-a-member-of-the-research-commission-of-the-european-parliament.php

Off-topic, may be of interest to Curtis watchers or conspiracy followers:

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/guy-walters/2011/06/video-brilliantly-curtis

6/30/2011 05:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

CC - thanks - I had also in fact been thinking of universities and plagiarism - particularly WRT people's disapproval of the examiners when it turned out Gaddafi's (?)son had plagiarised his thesis. That immediately made me feel jumpy because, as a PhD examiner, although plagiarism might be one thing on your mind, I think it's fair to say that the assumption is that the student has worked closely with the supervisor and both (particularly the supervisor I suppose) have behaved ethically. It's very difficult to be *sure* something isn't plagiarised, although clearly one should always be alert to problems and do some checks.

I should say I do certainly take your point, both with regard to Hari and the example of the plagiarising undergraduate. I always check out anything I'm suspicious of - though, again, particularly with anonymised marking, when you don't have the clue of a mismatch between student record and quality of essay, it's hard to be sure you've caught all examples.

Brownie - that' interesting - I knew there were some 'issues' between HP and JH but didn't know what they were. I'll have to check out his review to give me a clue. I also find much to agree with in some if not all of his articles.

6/30/2011 05:29:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I think the point about no formal journalisitic training does not support a conclusion that JH was naive rather than lazy and contemptuous of his readers on this occasion

or in general - I don't think, anyway. To me it's very basic - he made stuff up (all that 'he sighs into his coffee' stuff, or whatever) and even a sixth former would know that this is an attempt to mislead the reader. Thus i'm fully with ejh here:

Fourth penny. I've never been a professional writer, though I've written occasionally for small amounts of money for about twenty years now. But it would never, ever have occurred to me to do what Hari did. It would always have been obvious that you shouldn't do that, and it would always have been likely that you would have got caught. I am quite sure the world of journalism right now is absolutely full of hacks, of all kinds, in all sorts of fields, saying that if they did that, their feet wouldn't touch. Lower-paid hacks, that is.

I'm not a fan of what HP Sauce posted about him in the wake of his review of Cohen, chiefly because the truth of the issue was somewhere inbetween Hari and Cohen in that instance (Cohen's denial of ever having been interested in Orwell seemed as misleading as Hari's OTT expansion of Cohen's upbringing, and it also involved a clear case of Cohen doing exactly what Hari did, ie lying about his writing), and Hari had a reputation to protect in the face of OTT criticism from Private Eye, among other places - but because of that, because there were already concerns about his approach to veracity, this new thing is all the more ridiculous.

Perhaps what's surprising in all this is that it doesn't happen more often. Or should that be: what's surprising in all this is that more of them aren't caught?

I guess so, though for me it's just a baffling thing to even try to do; it wouldn't occur to me as a punter to even think that a journo was lifting chunks of text from elsewhere and pretending they came from his/her own interview. What are subs for? Why do mags like the LRB advertise jobs for fact-checkers?

That's where the checks and balances thing comes in, with regard to phd examination I guess. To elaborate the metaphor: by the time the thesis is finished, the external examiner is entitled to assume that the pieces have already been checked for veracity/originality (and if a PhD involves verbatim interviews, experiments, things like that, it will have to be). If someone else has written an essay for a student, there's very little way for a uni to prove this without extensive evidence - like a viva, which even then is not infallible - but if they're lifting text from elsewhere and passing it off as their own independent research, it's pretty easy to check.

surely the metaphor here works with the external examiner as the newspaper reader and the supervisors as the editors - and in which case, the supervisors are as much to blame as the writer (though from experience, it's not always the easiest job supervising, and relies on a good support network).

just on politically motivated - I don't think this is necessarily to do with party politics, but to do with journalism/personal politics. Private Eye have had it in for Hari since he started at the Indie for some reason, and there's a reason why HP Sauce are crowing more than others - because of the legal threats. I'm pretty sure that a lot of this (not the HP but the Eye) has to do with the 'overpromotion' thing, too.

6/30/2011 07:57:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

please feel free to delete this but there are a lot fewer than six degrees of separation between David Toube and Hari - JH is certainly a 'friend of a friend'. Not sure what to make of that, but still.

6/30/2011 07:59:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

I'm not getting any particular pleasure out of this, but I'm not particularly surprised by it either. I remember being astounded when he got his first gig at New Statesman (we weren't contemporaries exactly, but I saw a few of the CONTROVERSIAL pieces he used to write for Varsity. They were bad, even by the standards of that wretched rag), with what was clearly a fabricated story about drugs and May Balls. I mean obviously there are drugs at these things, but it was just as obvious that most of the detail in there Hari had made up. The quotes also looked phony.

He's improved since then, but I've always been a little wary of his stuff, even when he started to agree with me. Partly its his style, which tends to make him the centre of anything he writes. That can work, but it always seems rather egotistical in his case. Its all about him somehow. And partly its the fact that he doesn't really seem to have moved on in spirit from that undergraduate who used to manufacture HUGE controversies out of tiny little incidents, when writing for Varsity.

Also, as an aside, doesn't it seem like we've moved from an era of giants to dwarves. I mean Hari as a great white hope?

6/30/2011 08:09:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Sarah, well Harry's Place now has their fourth Hari post (and best, IMO). I think it's a combination of things. Partly envy, Hari had extreme youth on his side once, but I also agree with the "overpromoted" thing.

Also, where the Independent can be unfavourably compared to a university is that they don't seem to have a plagiarism policy. AFAIK, all students these days are told what is considered cheating and what the penalties are. It's not just that the Indy didn't catch Hari, it's that they appeared not to care.

OC, there are very few degrees of separation between Johann Hari and David T and Brownie. He blogged on Harry's Place for a bit. He threatened to sue them. He's a London-dwelling, left-leaning former Iraq War supporter. I wouldn't be surprised if they had friends or acquaintances in common. I'd be more surprised if they didn't.

6/30/2011 08:14:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Cian, Its all about him somehow. This is true of far too many journalists.

I think that US newspapers are fairly poor, but their magazines are vastly better. UK journalism seems obsessed with turnover of writing. Hari's work would be better if a sub ed had replied to his submissions with simple questions like "How do you know this?" "Do you have a source you could make clear?" and so on.

This is journalism. I agree about this being an age of dwarves in the UK.

6/30/2011 08:25:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

But also he just hasn't been through the ethics mill of broadcast or local journalism. I think he didn't know.

This "I was never given the proper training in professional or ethical behaviour" excuse was also popular with equity analysts after the dot com boom. The regulators generally took the view that blame was a renewable resource and that it could be *both* the fault of the employer for not supervising properly *and* the fault of the employee for not being ethical.

6/30/2011 08:48:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

its his style, which tends to make him the centre of anything he writes. That can work, but it always seems rather egotistical in his case. Its all about him somehow.

linking to the last post about US magazines - this is also true of a lot of writers for the New Yorker, but the British version of it does tend to overflow from good first person reporting into pieces which rely for their drive on fairly questionable 'impressions'; and in shorter pieces, as the majority of UK commentary is, it tends to end up as the kind of 'journo is the story' stuff that I find so annoying.

what was clearly a fabricated story about drugs and May Balls. I mean obviously there are drugs at these things, but it was just as obvious that most of the detail in there Hari had made up.

Part of this is surely a problem with the UK journo establishment's approach to youth. I mean, a few E's at May Balls is not really news - if anything, the ridiculous, pointless expense of the things is the genuine 'story' there. The problem is the same with Laurie Penny - the breathless accounts of the student demo's were just so OTT (even if I can believe the 'articulate students' thing - the slogans the student spout in her pieces genuinely are the kinds of things smartalecky students repeat over and over again).

But on a broader point - I can also see the attraction in trying to recruit people in relative youth. There's a vast amount of students and young professionals who don't really have representation in the opinion pages, and I can't really feel too unhappy with editors who try to address this - and Hari was/is popular with relatively young people (certainly I se his stuff, and that of Charlie Brooker, getting posted on the facebook walls of friends far more often than 'established' writers like Aaro).

Rather that than the usual pathway of 'niche music journo to mainstream music journo to 'controversial' fashion/features to political opinion' that seems the usual way of doing things in UK writing (Barbara Ellen, Miranda Sawyer, James Delingpole, Caitlin Moran); or of the 'I'll do anything and make it full of TEH LULZ' approach of someone like Hadley Freeman and arguably Moran as well.

And I equally fail to see why Hari's route to a position on a paper is any less questionable than, I dunno, that of Oliver Kamm or Melanie Phillips.

6/30/2011 08:55:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Well, subs don't really get paid to check for plagiarism in this lifted-from-a-book sense -- we obviously can't read everything "just in case", there isn't time (and we're not paid enough). And while some subs do have a sixth sense for implausible register, it tends to be specific to some territory they're familiar with: the whole point about this story is that Negri was/is nearly off the map to writer, readers, editor, the "sphere of sensible discourse". Indeed, Hari's role here was a standard-issue "Very Serious People" gate-keeping hit job: "Negri: another loon you don't need to bother with."

I've discovered people leaning a bit heavily on wikipedia for background info when I was fact-checking (the irony!), but this is in small hurried cultural news pieces so not that big a deal. I informed the editor testily that the writer in question was lazy; this got filed away as a datum on their file, or possibly forgotten -- sometimes writers who are bad in one way are good in others. A lot of ordinary journalism is basically process-work: passing on information. Someone wrote this but you assume press releases aren't copyright; you don't automatically check. Everyone's working at speed trusting that others are doing SOME part of ther job correctly: you doublecheck the stuff people usually get wrong, you don't secondguess every single element.

6/30/2011 09:06:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

I know leader columns aren't, say, Sunday supp interiors spreads but, for those pondering blamees, you've got to factor in the unique working circumstances of the Indy. Someone on a weekend supplement there told me eight or nine years ago that it was a miracle if the skeleton staff on said publication got to read every page before the thing went to the printer.

This talk of editors and subs is also a bit strange if you've ever read i and its unique, Burroughs-style approach to the truncation of longer stories for the main paper. (That's why I've always had mixed feelings about the editor being, say, a restaurant reviewer for a glossy men's mag whose editor had also at one point been be one of his media columnists.)

When I read a copy of The Independent. I'm always amazed how between the veteran types, you get these earnest, literate, but very unjournalistic pieces on bands and social phenomena. They read like fresh graduates, which is what they often are. (The foreign editor is 27 or something.) I don't get a sense of editing, in the old-fashioned sense.

I somehow ended up with Hari's weird paperback about the Royals which he wrote even before Iraq IIRC, and my judgementalism dates from there.

The broader point is naturally that newsrooms seek reductiveness and drama, and that the comical British journalistic convention of writing interviews up in the present tense necessarily leads to 1) dishonesty, 2) the sub-televisual confection of drama, 3) a general stench of ennui and formulaic-ness and schlock.

6/30/2011 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, Kamm, loathsome as he is, knows his material, while Mel, loony as she is, did actually do a proper job on the Guardian for quite a while before she underwent her epiphany. (That's not to say that Kamm's connections won't have helped smooth his path into high-profile journalism, mind, but what can you do?)

Miranda Sawyer is a lightweight. (Caitlin Moran may not be, but she's the ex of a friend of mine which tends to complicate one's view.) I do tend to think that a few years on the Adlestrop Gazette is a better journalistic training than any amount of time of a music paper, but then again, what is not?

6/30/2011 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Foremr NME editor Neil Spencer was once asked why Julie Burchill had been so successful, when her views were largely anathema among her peers, and he said something like: she turned her copy in on time, to length, it was clean -- meaning not full of typos or bad grammar -- and never needed rewriting; it was always well formed; it was rarely boring.

On the other side of the desk, I can promise you, not being a pain to edit -- especially when it comes to deadlines -- is a professional reliability that comes to matter over the long haul.

6/30/2011 09:15:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

sorry, that was me

6/30/2011 09:16:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

organic cheeseboard, I don't really agree about The New Yorker. When pieces are first person heavy, they tend to be humorous, or "personality "pieces (Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Sedaris, et al; perhaps even Anthony Lane, since is style is to make brilliant writing out of shit fils). When they're about politics or are proper long profiles, I would say the first person is used with great judiciousness. They still have copy editors to enforce such rules too, which is why you will find less errors in a year than you will find in a single daily edition of the Indy.

PS/ot I don't understand the point of the letter about Miranda Sawyer or what she's done here? Furthermore, historically at least, she was always a South, not a North, London person, so that letter is about as coherent as one of NC's Islington Dinner Party references.

6/30/2011 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Do you have a designer lifestyle? Do you know what one is?

6/30/2011 09:24:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

I don't even know what a lifestyle is, if I'm honest about it.

6/30/2011 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

she turned her copy in on time, to length, it was clean -- meaning not full of typos or bad grammar -- and never needed rewriting; it was always well formed

See, this is another thing that baffles me. Who are these people who don't do this? Isn't copy supposed to be delivered on time? Isn't it supposed to be in a presentable state? Isn't a professional writer supposed to possess adequate grammar? Isn't their copy supposed to be of a standard that should not require rewriting?

6/30/2011 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

People who don't turn copy in on time: Hunter S Thompson; Jeffrey Bernard (when unwell).

People who can't spell: A A Gill.

I'm sure there are lots of others. I agree with Justin's point though.

6/30/2011 09:31:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

EHJ,
You will always hear that.
Loads of people don't get their copy in on time - because, say, the story isn't done, the interview didn't happen, or because they are "artists" and lazy. You can't get away with it as a news reporter on a daily, obviously, but for longer pieces, magazines, etc, I'd say only one in every eight individuals is consistently punctual and efficient. The best paid English magazine writer in the States a few years ago would get great interviews and routinely hand in late write-ups twice as long as they were commissioned at, and whine through the editing process even though they'd ignored the brief/word count. They would then be sought out for a superior word rate next issue.

Maybe their grammar and shit should be well-formed, but often it isn't. This didn't used to matter, because subs fixed everything. Now they don't exist, it's more important. But in history, late and imperfect and interesting was often chosen over efficient and spellchecked and on-time and quotidian.

But, like, do you want to stay up all night for 20p a word (or less these days) for a joker who'll mangle it anyway? No you don't. So you make them wait when you have to, and if they don't like it, let them find someone else. They've got loads of pages to fill and no money to fill them with.

6/30/2011 09:35:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

There are still subs, though, aren't there? I mean I know more than one. My impression is that there's many fewer of them, they're a lot more likely to be freelancers than once they were, but they certainly exist.

6/30/2011 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Re fact-checking: I've never worked at a daily, which have different strains and stresses and requirements, but I would says generally subs are NOT paid as a filter against this kind of plagiarism -- we don't have time to read everything possibly relevant, there's a pile of unrelated copy to be processed immediately mounting up on the desk.

Some subs do grow good antenna for the dodgy, but usually in stuff that isn't off the routine map, or stuff they happen to have specialist knowledge about. The entire Negri episode was Hari being hired as gatekeeeper: "Here's another briefly fashionable loon you won't have to bother your head with." The people who already knew or cared enough to spot the problem were either invested outsiders themselves -- and thus ignorable, in classic "Not Serious People" fashion -- or already in step with Hari, in thinking the world was better off knowing nothing of Negri.

My background is the music papers, so I'm a bit defensive on their behalf: I learnt a lot there, and I'm really good at my job. He's right about the parade of lightweights -- that's pretty much how we saw them at the time -- but as I say, young people who can fashion a reasonably well-turned sentence or paragraph, at speed, especially if not from a college background? It was a route up and out, and several ambitious and shrewd people grabbed it.

6/30/2011 09:40:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

organic cheeseboard, I don't really agree about The New Yorker. When pieces are first person heavy, they tend to be humorous, or "personality "pieces (Tina Fey, Steve Martin, Sedaris, et al; perhaps even Anthony Lane, since is style is to make brilliant writing out of shit fils). When they're about politics or are proper long profiles, I would say the first person is used with great judiciousness.

sorry, should have been more precise - in my head my point was similar to yours, ie first person in the New yorker usually works pretty well (though it can sometimes slide into the self-obsessed; a recent piece on George Eliot did just that). I'd also argue that the Elif Batuman/Zadie Smith 'amused bafflement' style is getting increasingly annoying, and the New Yorker is all over it.

PS/ot I don't understand the point of the letter about Miranda Sawyer or what she's done here? Furthermore, historically at least, she was always a South, not a North, London person, so that letter is about as coherent as one of NC's Islington Dinner Party references.

I brought her up primarily as an example of the typical British journalistic movement from music journo to lifestyle journo to opinion journo. I don't thinkl she's the worst example of this, but EJH's letter definitely exposes (even if you think it partakes in) the kind of journalistic cliche that former music journos love - for which see 'celebrity culture' etc too.

I also used a bad example in Mad Mel Phillips, oops. But I'd still argue that Kamm's 'knowledge of his stuff' doesn't really work all that well - it's a bit like asking an amateur football statto to write opinion pieces.

Miranda Sawyer is a lightweight. (Caitlin Moran may not be, but she's the ex of a friend of mine which tends to complicate one's view.)

Part of the reason I brought Moran up was because she was treated with almost equal hostility to Hari in the 90s because of her total lack of struggle in securing work despite not really being all that talented a writer. And for me she's one of the worst for using her not-especially-interesting home life as material (this is before she started writing one of those godawful 'lol @ my home life' columns).

I used to enjoy reading Miranda Swayer in The Face - her style and approach suited it perfectly. But I guess a lot of these people are testament to the music-reviewing biz being a young person's game, maybe a bit like professional sport; and how, just as in football, a talent for playing the young person's game seems to be the main necessity to achieving gigs in management, no matter how poor you are at the latter.

6/30/2011 09:43:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

There are some subs.
The Telegraph's are/were in Australia, working overnight,without the cultural references.
The Comment bits at all the papers still have them. I think the Mail sounds like the paper that has actually stuck by their old levels the most, from what I've heard.
There are subs, but not enough, and you see examples of errors or second-hand net blah on fact often.
For online-only stuff, I would guess from what I've read and indeed written that there's no subbing as such. Subs write more now too - see the whole Guardian sports sub contract kerfuffle a couple of years back - so by definition they sub less, or sub less rigorously. An American factchecker once told me it took him a week to factcheck the average 4000/ish word feature in a now-defunct 'lifestyle' magazine.

It used to be that someone going through a story would ring everybody in it routinely and check names etc. That doesn't happen in that way now.

6/30/2011 09:45:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

professional writer and professional journalist: two completely different things! In a way it's the blurring of these which is at issue.

Justin, go read Harold Evans's Editing and Design, if you never have: it's an eye-opener for the process -- news copy can come in in bits and have to be completely refashioned on the desk by an editor. People can be great at getting the story and terrible at shaping it.

Every magazine I've ever worked at has had some specialist area we have to cover, where the main expert who will write for our pay, who knows his/her stuff but is either a hopeless stylist or a pathological deadline surfer. Because magazine space has to be planned, you can decide to stop covering this territory altogether -- which may be politically problematic -- or finding another writer, which may take time, or to put up with and handle what you have. The page can't be blank.

6/30/2011 09:48:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Subs write more now too - see the whole Guardian sports sub contract kerfuffle a couple of years back

I'd be interested to know more about that, since I used to know a guy who both subbed for them and wrote sports pieces. (Still does as far as I know.)

6/30/2011 09:48:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

ps I do get the lifestyle> politics issue, sorry for being dumb.

But I think it's part of a wider thing all just centred on the ludicrous, wider concept of the Personality Columnist - whether it's an ancient or modern Burchill or an Aaro, it's this British press fetishisation of the ability to generate an extreme opinion over any expertise, right? It's the "I'm a Decider" approach to a complex world. It's great when you're writing in some shitty punk fanzine but when you're in the paper of record talking out of your underinformed arse, yes, I agree, it's depressing. But hasn't it always been?

6/30/2011 09:49:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure what Cian means by saying Hari "tends to make him the centre of anything he writes". An example would be helpful. Personally, while I've tended to agree with his views, I've always found Hari to be someone who exaggerates for effect. CC compares Taibbi favourably against UK journalists, but I feel similar feelings towards him as Hari. I feel also that Taibbi is exaggerating for effect.

James Delingpole was a music journo? I have trouble even picturing him listening to music. But at a push I'd say his problem is too much Wagner.

Off-topic, but I wonder how many HP commenters would agree with all this:

http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2011/06/islam-and-islamophobia-little-manifesto.html

6/30/2011 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

You can't have too much Wagner

6/30/2011 10:05:00 AM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

D**in*p*le, a man I guess I would grudgingly piss on were he on fire in front of me, was a bit of a (wannabe?) raver, if his comments on the Spaced fan documentary are to be believed.

His problem isn't too much Wagner, his problem is BACAI, or possibly BACA everything.

By the way, did anyone point out upthread that Licence Revoked was to have been the title of Dalton's 2nd film as Bond? Always thought that one was under-rated.

6/30/2011 10:23:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

but as I say, young people who can fashion a reasonably well-turned sentence or paragraph, at speed, especially if not from a college background?

That's a very interesting point. Contra EJH, I think music papers are potentially a much better training ground than regional news, because something like the old NME or Melody Maker has the property (which the Financial Times also has) that a considerable proportion of its readership know a hell of a lot about the specific subject matter that it's writing about, and often care a hell of a lot about the details. So one might regard the prose style of a Paul Morley or Steven Wells or whoever as risible, but you can be pretty sure that if they say that "The Moon In June" appeared on Captain Caveman and the Boneshakers' third album when it was actually on the second, someone is going to pick them up.

Which makes it v difficult I suppose, as it is pretty much by definition impossible to be "an old, experienced hand" if the subject matter is "today's music scene", with odd exceptions for Tim Westwood types. And so you're reliant for your information on people who are really really likely to have maturity issues. When you think about it that way, it's a wonder these things come out at all.

6/30/2011 11:23:00 AM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Delingpole's problem is just BAC full stop.

Re the extent to which the subs at the Indie are responsible, I don't see how this this is a failure of "fact checking" as such - we are talking about supposed quotes from an interview, would they be expected to routinely check them against the interviewer's notes or tapes?

Unless his subjects complained that they were misrepresented I don't see why the Indie would suspect any problem. AFAIK there haven't been such complaints, which if not excusing Hari's actions at least provides slight mitigation. I can certainly think of journalists who are guilty of complete misrepresentation of sources' views whose careers seem to be unaffected.

6/30/2011 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

So one might regard the prose style of a Paul Morley or Steven Wells or whoever as risible, but you can be pretty sure that if they say that "The Moon In June" appeared on Captain Caveman and the Boneshakers' third album when it was actually on the second, someone is going to pick them up.

The trouble is, though, that they know nothing else. Which is one reason why Morley has been able to get away with it for quite so long.

6/30/2011 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Yes, I think there's a very real -- and very fascinating -- issue surrounding specialists hired as generalists: I'm very much in favour of both, and of more cross-disciplinary commentary than there is -- since specialist precision always risks capture by the interests of the territory, where it's avant-rock or hedge funds, it's enormously valuable to have counter-perspectival discussion sometimes. And many readers are in effect generalists, and need writers "on their side", as well as experts telling them what to think. But it's easy to see how this becomes a wilderness of mirrors and bullshit.

6/30/2011 12:31:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

See also this: Steven Poole comment.

I don't know if I quite meant to blame subs for not spotting Hari's penchant for lifting quotes. It's rather that I blame the Independent as a whole (and especially the editors) for not making what was unacceptable clear.

I think there is a parallel with universities. I can't expect Sarah to spot every example of plagiarism, but her students know that it's wrong, they know that they might be caught, and they don't expect the university to defend them if they are.

6/30/2011 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

"where" = "whether"

Hope no one is treating this thread as a job application for subbing work. Still, t's well known that almost no writers can edit their own work accurate.

6/30/2011 12:34:00 PM  
Anonymous andrew adams said...

Yes fair enough CC, I would expect the Indie to have proper guidelines for its writers. And Hari should have instinctively known it was wrong. I'm sure there is a legitmate level of "tidying up" of a subject's words, most interviewers seem to manage to work within acceptable limits and don't feel the need to do what he did.

6/30/2011 12:38:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

For me one of the main bits of 'training' that music journalism gives writers is the training of writing enthusiastically about new bands and movements even if they're obviously utter bollocks. Trains the journos to provide dubious justifications and to 'set the agenda'.

I think the 'writing for a readership of anoraks' thing was true to an extent of the NME etc when I was reading them in the 90s, but it's a lot less true now.

professional writer and professional journalist: two completely different things! In a way it's the blurring of these which is at issue.

This is certainly a problem with a few of the peopel this blog watches; chief among them (for me) is Martin Bright, who's by all accounts a pretty good editor but not especially good at opinion writing.

I know from experience that some Guardian online editors do sub stuff quite carefully. But that's because the sub/commissioning divide has broken down there too...

6/30/2011 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

I know from experience that some Guardian online editors do sub stuff quite carefully.

Back in the days when I posted stuff on Comment is Free, it was quite fastidiously edited and I must say it was rather exhilarating to see my blocks of undifferentiated text divided up into sentences! and paragraphs! I suspect it still is, simply on the basis that some of the people who write for it are such obvious and massive morons that it's a bit suspicious to see them expressing themselves in clear and literate English.

6/30/2011 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I imagine subscribers to Railway Modeller, of whom I know at least one, are even more knowledgeable about their field than are the readers of the NME (in their accumulated wisdom). But it is strange, only contributors to the latter periodical ever seem to turn up in the Sundays a few years later writing about their home repairs, their pregnancies, and the collapse into quasi-totalitarianism of the contemporary Left.

6/30/2011 12:52:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

re Poole on Hari on Zizek: there is a truculent punky part of me that does still feel if people write in a deliberately rococo or recherche or otherwise provocative and difficult way, they can't whine when they get misunderstood

part of the function of ordinary-bloke journalism is as a flag and a filter to stuff that's still poorly articulated on a popular level, whether it's science or economics or high philosophy: if you choose to shut people out then it's your look-out when they act like they've been shut out

This doesn't apply to any abstruse topic that's important to ME, obviously: with that, you should all go read a book and catch up with the experts when you're qualified.

6/30/2011 12:53:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Your name? Paul Morley.

Your profession? Public intellectual.

Your specialist subject? Roland Barthes.


I doubt he'd get into double figures to be honest.

6/30/2011 12:56:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Your name? Jon Savage.

Your profession? Getting away with it for nearly forty fucking years now.

Your specialist subject? How every major social and political change in late twentieth century Britain was actually caused by a band playing some gig at which I was personally present.

6/30/2011 01:03:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Your name? Butt-head, hur hur hur

Your profession? Typical NME Reader, hur hur

Your specialist subject? Captain Caveman and the Boneshakers' third album, hur hur hur hur hur

6/30/2011 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Well, Savage's book on the Pistols has a lot of really interesting material on contract law as it relates to musicians and record labels, which I've never seen so clearly explained elsewhere. And I really enjoyed "Teenage" as well, which admittedly covers 1875-1945, when he wasn't attending gigs: there's just a lot of useful material gathered in it. But I know you loathe him, so I'll just say I don't. My general reponse to your thesis is "Up to a point, Lord Justin", but it's my background and emotional history and obviously I'm biased.

6/30/2011 01:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

I'm not sure what Cian means by saying Hari "tends to make him the centre of anything he writes". An example would be helpful. Personally, while I've tended to agree with his views, I've always found Hari to be someone who exaggerates for effect. CC compares Taibbi favourably against UK journalists, but I feel similar feelings towards him as Hari. I feel also that Taibbi is exaggerating for effect.

Rolling Stone employs pretty fastdidious fact checkers, so I doubt he's exaggerating the facts, or quotes. Also one of his targets helped bring down New York's state attorney; so if he was light on the facts I think we'd know about it now. He may have many faults, but that's probably not one of them.

Taibbi does the gonzo thing, but he's also quite clear when he's doing it. His tour bus stuff, for example. I don't particularly remember him injecting himself into the stuff on Goldman's for example. Whereas with Hari, there always seems to be something creeping in. Being either some cute moralising, or cute phrases that break down the third wall ('dear reader' I remember seeing in one article), or some personal anecdote that subtly makes him the hero. Though I cheerfully admit I'm very biased here. I'm still reeling from the neo-nazi sex seduction (later recycled as an anti-semitic socialist) that seemed intended as investigative journalism ('dear reader, I slept with him'. If ever a man deserved a good kicking for style, that was one).

The thing about Taibbi, is that he's first and foremost an investigative journalist. He knows how to chase down a story and what makes a good story. He has the old fashioned skills to make and maintain contacts. He also knows how to find people to help him understand stuff he doesn't, and seems to have good instincts for when he's out of his depth. Combine that with the fact that he writes very well (funny, coins great phrases and makes complex difficult subjects comprehensible to ordinary mortals). So yeah he has loads of faults, is a caveman on sexual politics and the less said about his personal antics in Russia the better; but he's also a great journalist. Which Hari isn't.

6/30/2011 01:18:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Among the things I disliked about Savage's Pistols book - which does admittedly tell an exciting story, not held back by any excessive reliance on understatement - was the accumulation of "look at me, I've read this!" quotes at the start of every chapter.

His "Ian Curtis and his chums regenerated Manchester" script to that Joy Division film was pretty risible, too.

6/30/2011 01:20:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Germane to the last thread, but off-topic for this one:
Sarah AB:
I resented being picked up on this by stalkers from my left who had never commented on anything else I had written about the Roma.
Again, I think a misunderstanding of the word "stalker". When someone has spent the last year accusing me of being a Rwandan genocide denier on every HP thread I've commented on in the last year, that's stalking, and you've never once objected to it, or had any words of criticism for the perpetrator. When you express your understanding for "Roma-scepticism", it is not stalking for Witchsmeller Pursuivant and myself to come onto the same thread to point out that you are enabling racism.
Also on the same thread a couple of comments up a reference to the time Aaro had to apologise for one of Michael Ezra's comments (from a blog where Ezra recently made an intimidatory reference to that commentators' profession in a reminder of how McCarthyite the HP project is).
This morning Ezra is talking on HP of the "Eichmanns" of the SWP attending a "hate-fest".

My apologies for any distraction from the main business of the thread.

6/30/2011 01:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

I'm young enough that I'd heard about the Sex Pistols and the Clash long before I heard any of their music. It didn't live up to the over-inflated reputation when I finally did hear it. It was quite a shock a few years later to hear stuff like the Fall, the Slits, Raincoats, Wire, The Pop Group, etc - and to realise that exciting, interesting original stuff did come out of that period. It just wasn't the stuff that people liked to bore on about. I guess a useful lesson to learn about life generally.

So yeah, Jon Savage. Don't be ridiculous mate.

6/30/2011 01:30:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I like Taibbi a lot (though that Supreme Court gag is a big mistake) and whatever he got up to pesonally in Russia, I think the experience of actually being there must have helped hugely in developing both his journalism and his outlook. So he could see that what was happening economically was a disaster for large numbers of actual human beings, while just about all we were getting in the mainstream was another-McDonald's-opens-in-Moscow stories. This can't but have helped cultivate his evident contempt for the sort of journalism he's competing with.

6/30/2011 01:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

whatever he got up to pesonally in Russia

To be clear I have nothing but respect for his serious journalistic work with the Exile which I used to read obsessively.

The stuff on women/prostitutes on the other hand... Less said the better. But I don't think you could remove that (or stupid stunts like the Supreme Court thing he does on his blog) are probably part of the same package that makes him so accessible to mainstream America.

And yes I agree, I think it made him not just a better journalist, but also allowed him (and Ames) to get a pretty clear perspective on what was happening in the US.

6/30/2011 02:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Steven said...

It's surely ridiculous to say that one needs some kind of journalistic "ethics training" to know that lying is wrong.

FWIW I wouldn't blame subs for not picking up on this stuff: it's not their job.

6/30/2011 02:42:00 PM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Taibbi's problems are very different from Hari's and as far as I can see are institutional in nature rather than personal. The Goldman Sachs piece was excellent - it really did get photocopied and passed round trading floors and lots of people in the industry agreed that it was telling some important home truths. Subsequent pieces have had a lot less time and effort spent on them (presumably because of the demands of a monthly slot) and it shows.

6/30/2011 02:44:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Yeah his recent piece on Bachman was dire. His stuff on the tea party tends to be quite lazy, also.

6/30/2011 02:51:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Funny, a lot of people were touting the Bachmann piece around as if it were Mailer on Ali-Foreman. I didn't think it was dire, but it didn't seem to me that he was stretching himself at all.

6/30/2011 02:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

[skidmarx - I haven't really fully engaged with that objection that keeps on being raised against you. I have noted that quite a few people who seem reasonable seem to find your views objectionable, and I have felt the same sometimes. I have, in fact, considered asking that particular poster to stop bringing up this particular matter and just stick to the topic - I'll try to look into it properly next time it comes up - I have been told off, more than once by HP commenters, for being too chatty with you by the way!]

6/30/2011 04:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Waterloo Sunset said...

Declaration of bias: I am currently doing a degree in music journalism.

I'm unconvinced by the suggestion that a music journalist is less likely to be a decent general journalist than someone who worked their way up on a local paper. Although I will accept that someone whose background is gonzo may be more likely to do better at opinion/magazine type pieces then news.

Counterexamples.

Charlie Brooker. (Although that would fit my point about gonzo backgrounds and he technically started as a computer games writer).

Jon Ronson. He does gonzo, but unlike a lot of Hunter S Thompson imitators he does it well.

John Harris. Who is not only a decent journalist, but one of the very few members of Guardian staff who understands that news sometimes happens north of the Watford Gap.

Swells (RIP). One of the best writers in any genre, period.

6/30/2011 05:19:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

RIP, but somebody I absolutely loathed as a writer. Whereas, interestingly and perhaps relevantly, though I like John Harris, all the pop music writers I come across hate him.

6/30/2011 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

(I assume this is because he doesn't have any pretensions to be cool and can write a coherent sentence, but when I put this to them, they get terribly upset.)

6/30/2011 08:53:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Christ

6/30/2011 09:45:00 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

I liked Caitlin Moran when she was fronting a weird after-the-pubs-shut programme on C4 in 1992, and I confess that I still do. But I have stopped saying it'd be nice to see her getting more work.

6/30/2011 10:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Brownie said...

Phil,

A certain HP blogger knows Caitlin Moran very well. I've heard, but can't confirm, that her politics are decidedly 'Decent'.

I tihnk CM is genuinely funny and as the Standard observed today revieing the book Justin has just linked to, she manages this without trying to rip men to shreds. Which is a refreshing change.

6/30/2011 11:38:00 PM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

Cian, ejh: I found Taibbi's Bachmann piece had some decent bits of detail and a few nice turns of phrase, but he indulged in a few metaphors that he would have ridiculed in, say, the Gospels of Airmiles. It felt like he spotted the need to be Taibbi-esque at some points, and so went over the top in a stilted way.

I can't be bothered to pay to get through the Times paywall, or whatever the damn things called, so am agnostic on CM. On twitter she seems an entertaining enough presence.

Any love (or loathing) for Ben Thompson? Picked up a book of his "intellectual portraits" 2nd-hand, a few years back, and was amused to see him undercut one of the usual stock ingredients of a Portishead interview, by dint of actually talking to their singer rather than writing about her enigmatism. Enigmaticity. Whatever.

7/01/2011 12:21:00 AM  
Anonymous peter said...

I think what a sub's job is has changed. Once, as I said, they would ring the people in the piece. Not just make some prose readable. If I were to find myself editing a piece in any sense, I would look at some Wikipedia links and crossreference some quotations, and frankly in the process of checking things, it soon becomes apparent who's borrowing things. (A writer taking his/her three examples, or general arc, from Wikipedia seems to me almost as bad, in its narrowing of the universe and opportunities for enquiry, debate, rigour, etc. This happens a lot.)

Music journalism is psychologically corrosive. A friend of mine thinks nobody over 25 should be allowed to do it. Pitchfork, the US website, was the high-point of this adjective-strewn, precious sentimentality. Through it, a succession of reactionary and derivative rock bands get recast as genii that only really clever and sensitive and progressive people appreciate. It's teen self-absorption presented through a veneer of 'academic' argument.

I would assume you are right about Moran's politiques from the mutual friends I know and their mutual friends too. People who live on Twitter obviously seem to find it quite natural to shore their world up with like-minded people who thumbs down bad Daily Mail people and thumbs up great new music!!

I find it quite tedious to slag off a Barthes or a whoever though. Morley aside, this site is largely about those pretension-averse, commonsense champions who hate cheese eating Frenchies and their postmodern jabber and well, I like all that shit, if not the ageing music journos' wearing of it as a badge (Greil Marcus' fault, prolly). I think it's no more poisionous than, say, the general Anglo-Saxon journalistic Orwell fetish, with its short sentences and Platonic puritanism about language and its bile disguised as objectivity.

7/01/2011 05:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine subscribers to Railway Modeller, of whom I know at least one, are even more knowledgeable about their field than are the readers of the NME (in their accumulated wisdom). But it is strange, only contributors to the latter periodical ever seem to turn up in the Sundays a few years later writing about their home repairs, their pregnancies, and the collapse into quasi-totalitarianism of the contemporary Left.

Ah, but you see, all a publication like "Railway Modeller" is fit for is laughing at on HIGNFY.

Thesis: satire is most usually a symptom of impotence.

7/01/2011 05:04:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Basically nobody makes a living out of railway modelling (not even J Hornby, which went bust several times), but music is a large industry.

On twitter she seems an entertaining enough presence.

An entertaining enough presence, but she also seems like exactly the kind of clever-dumb type who would be impressed by arguments of the calibre "if democracy is good for us, we should bring it to the women of Afghanistan", or who might be persuaded to believe that Oliver Kamm is an economist.

7/01/2011 06:08:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

In 2007, we wrote a post about JH's review of Cohen's 'What's Left?' in which we suggested Hari was developing a reputation for making things up.

Sorry to rehash this, but this summary jars with my recollection a little. My memory is hazy, but I do seem to remember that Hari's review was particularly mild in its criticism of Cohen's wonky masturpiece, far fairer than it deserved for its many errors and dubious arguments.

IIRC, it restricted itself to pointing out that the entire Decent project were still bleating about George Galloway - in 2007! - while the wars they cheered on turned into abject, murderous disasters, and by noting that perhaps anyone with a functioning brain should've smelt a rat on the Bush administration's ropey claims of a Great Crusade For Non-Self-Interested Freedom. All of which was and still is spot on.

I think Cohen responded with a stupendously bitchy FU-Buddy article filled with weak-arsed nitpicking over minor details in Hari's piece. Then HP put up a mealy-mouthed No, you smell post on Hari's tendency to invention. I don't recall either actually attempting to take on Hari's critique in any way, since that would've involved some unpleasant and unedifying self-analysis. So, smeary bitching it was.

Then, the lawyers and Private Eye and so on. The entire affair was hugely entertaining from my point of view, since everyone involved came out of it looking absolutely terrible.

Maybe this is why you see so very few Decents auditing their past pronouncements - because even the tamest attempt at honest accounting inevitably ends up in violent pissfights, messy divorces and bitter recriminations.

7/01/2011 06:22:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

I should say that I don't have any problem with Roland Barthes, or any other "difficult" writer per se: it's that I'm often unconvinced that the people who drop Barthes references into their work as if they were sprinkling hundreds and thousands actually understand any of it (the "as a badge" stuff) and that I'm unimpressed with people who are impressed by this.

Friday morning quiz: without looking it up, guess how many times the word "stuff" appears in this comments box.

7/01/2011 06:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Hellblazer,

Taibbi's piece on Bachmann basically cribbed from online blogs, the best I could tell. There were several far more pertinent things that he missed about her, and her rise (there's a whiff of corruption that surrounds her). Also he insulted her home town, despite never having been there; because if he had he'd have known it wasn't anything like that.

Anything Taibbi does on the right, or Republicanish areas, tends to be broad-brush, filled with annoying inaccuracies and is dripping with contempt. Its lazy, its bad journalism and its bad politics.

And don't get me wrong, Bachmann's an idiot. But she's an idiot who has a career because people like Taibbi ridiculed her.

7/01/2011 07:16:00 AM  
Blogger cian said...

I remember Ben Thompson's pieces for the Wire being fairly decent. Simon Reynolds is a good writer, mostly. He's able to find the significance of something like rave, without having to turn it into something that affects all culture (unlike Jon Savage).

More generally I think the existence of the Wire, for example, shows that it is perfectly possible for grown men (and occasionally women) to write intelligently about rock music. Its just not possible to do it you're responding to a PR cycle. But then that's true of a lot of things. I've known people who worked for Empire and ended up hating film.

7/01/2011 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

Cian, thanks for the details.

And don't get me wrong, Bachmann's an idiot. But she's an idiot who has a career because people like Taibbi ridiculed her.

Which, ironically, is meant to be the hook for his piece, if I read correctly. "They support her because they think we're jerks", or words to that effect.

(Captcha: "dionizes", which is presumably someone trying to address the God of Wine after having indulged in too much it.)

7/01/2011 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

"Of it." Buggrit. Need more tea.

7/01/2011 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

But she's an idiot who has a career because people like Taibbi ridiculed her.

I'm not sure "because" is quite the word. It's probably true that people like her are going to be ridiculed by people like him, and that will just add to their appeal among their supporters: but that's not why they have these supporters.

I'll say something in favour of Taibbi on Bachmann/Palin: when other people have just sniggered, he's always also said look, these people are dangerous. Instead of saying "heh, we hope Palin gets the nomination, becase the Republicans will lose", he's aware that it's not so simple, and they might actually win.

And come to that, sometimes ridicule is a useful political technique.

7/01/2011 07:38:00 AM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

On Taibbi sneering and not understanding etc., I can't think of another US journo who has put as much time into hands-on, personal experience research amongst the Republican faithful than Taibbi. He's a snickering smartarse of the first water, but he's spent a lot of time working for the Florida Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, at Jesus Camp events and so on.

It may all be a bit Common-People-Oh-Plebs-I-Understand-Your-Loony-Enthusiasms* for some but I'd say Taibbi has made a thousand times more effort on research here than anyone else.

Plus, I'm not feeling this Oh it is so counterproductive to laugh at Bachmann and her ilk stuff. The woman is a lunatic and her supporters are ardent suckers - pretending that this isn't the case because, like, that would upset them, is insane.

I struggle to accept the idea that it's imperative to respect stupid bullshit in order to avoid antagonising stupid bullshitters. It's reminiscent of an abused wife telling her pals He's a good man, he's just a bit misunderstood, is all.

*So was Mencken on the Scopes trial, but HLM was still right.

7/01/2011 07:52:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

That Moran book you link to EJH has been playing on my mind ofr a while, and specifically with regard to this thread, since it sums up so much of what's wrong with the 'former music journo', er, career path. From the excertps I've read, it's just a book about how great Caitlin Moran is and how since she's a woman, whatever she does is feminist, or something. I've no problem with her cobbling together her columns about herself and selling them as a book, but claiming it as a work of genuiney feminst writing is just insulting. She might well be ;genuinely funny' but she's specifically marketing her book as something more than a lol-tastic navel-gaze.

I also have a bit of a problem with Simon Reynolds in this regard; he's good enough on music, but as soon as he starts to look outwards, it all goes wrong, and he's prone to going against the grain for the sake of it (thus in energy flash he decides not to discuss any avant-garde drum n bass for the sole reason that it's been lazily stereotyped as 'intelligent').

we can surely do better in terms of public intellectuals - and that's genuinely how they style themselves, no matter how self-effacing they are, and it's genuinely how they're being styled - than Reynolds and Moran?

John Harris is good in the Guardian, but his book could have been brilliant - linking britpop and new labour - and ended up being a bit of a fudge. He was also a pretty shonky editor of select - but thinking about it, that might actually be linked to why he's now a decent political journo.

7/01/2011 08:11:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that Taibbi's being accused here of a number of things which stick more to Ames. On the other hand, when it comes to actual detail, Ames appears reliable. 1990s Russia was a hard school: I wonder how long Hari (or indeed, me, or 90% of the writers I know) would have lasted there? Levine appears to be a useful journo, too. Taibbi, Levine, Ames, Dolan - quite impressive. Limonov, not so much.

DD: "Basically nobody makes a living out of railway modelling" - no. Check out Ian Carter's highly entertaining work of history and sociology 'British Railway Enthusiasm' for more detail. It has graphs and stuff. You would, in any case, appreciate the chapter devoted to the class and language politics of the Welsh Highland Railway fiascos.

Chris Williams

7/01/2011 08:21:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's possible to bring this discussion around to the nominal subject of this blog and observe that Aaro, though I neither like nor agree with him, does have a reasonable claim to the post he occupies on the basis of experience and acquaintance with the issues and people he discusses. He doesn't come either from the rightwing Oxford contrarian school of writing, i.e. who cares what's true as long as it winds up the lefties, or from the pop music school of writing provocative pieces to make a name for yourself and the furiously networking your way through London.

That's not entirely true, of course, since Aaro is something of a courtier, but what I mean is, you don't look at him and think "how the fuck do you come to be there?" in the way that you might with a few names mentioned on this thread. He writes about politics because he's lived his life in politics, not because he did "match me" for wankers like James Brown or Dylan Jones.

7/01/2011 08:35:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

Thanks very much Chris, that sounds fascinating. I still think that the data will show that Beyonce is bigger than 000-gauge, but then I didn't previously to finding out believe that art galleries are more popular than football so I am prepared to be surprised.

7/01/2011 08:38:00 AM  
Blogger Bruschettaboy said...

He writes about politics because he's lived his life in politics

Not sure about this - he was an NUS President, but his working life was in broadcasting middle management, followed by journalism. And he totally did "match me" for John Birt and Peter Jay, who are not wankers like Brown and Jones, but ... well.

7/01/2011 08:42:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

It's a fair point about Birt, I stand corrected.

But I'll take Aaro's political knowledge over Miranda Sawyer's any day-

7/01/2011 08:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Brownie said...

that art galleries are more popular than football

But they're not. Not really.

I've got a mate who constantly trots out that crap about fishing being more popular than football, as if comparing the number of fishing licences issued each year with the number of players on the roster of FA affiliated clubs is remotely sensible.

7/01/2011 09:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the 'rightwing' redudant in the 'Oxford contrarian' MO? I've always thought that AJP Taylor was a beautiful example of this particular genre, and that there's nothing necessarily rightwing about it - although it's easier to swing right given a general academic background that swings leftish. Which might explain why Taylor, in a rightish academe, tacked 'left'.

Chris Williams

7/01/2011 09:07:00 AM  
Anonymous belle le triste said...

Since I was editor of the Wire during the time it was running pieces by Ben Thompson, I am going to bow out of this conversation, semi-gratified (thx cian). I have strong opinions on most of the writers mentioned, but an editor's ideas emerge from commissioning and juxtaposition -- and sometimes, if they're lucky and deadlines are kind, from what they actually end up running.

7/01/2011 10:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Witchsmeller Pursuivant said...

I resented being picked up on this by stalkers from my left who had never commented on anything else I had written about the Roma.

Wow , so I'm a stalker for pointing out, on one thread, the unpleasant connotations of Sarah's putrid coinage of the word "Roma-sceptic"?

Make that two now, I suppose.

7/01/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Peter

Pitchfork, the US website, was the high-point of this adjective-strewn, precious sentimentality. Through it, a succession of reactionary and derivative rock bands get recast as genii that only really clever and sensitive and progressive people appreciate. It's teen self-absorption presented through a veneer of 'academic' argument.

I can't disagree with any of that. But they also reviewed a Jet album by linking to a YouTube of a monkey drinking its own piss. I'm prepared to forgive them much for that.

7/01/2011 01:59:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Has anyone (Justin?) not seen Ed Miliband's disastrous interview?

This is the interviewer's account. At least he had a proper career path:

But it isn’t until our shot has been checked by all three press officers – all peering into our viewfinder and offering helpful advice about framing and depth of field (a term they turned out not to understand, as my cameraman Peter Lloyd-Williams triumphantly established) that we turn to the topic: `What questions are you going to ask?’
I hate being asked that. Partly, because it is none of their business. But mostly, if I am honest, because I don’t really know. I don’t have an interview `technique’, and this lack of technique has been honed constantly since my earliest days of not using it at the Bermondsey News. Its absence never troubled me until yesterday. You see, getting a `grab’ for a television report is a simple enough business. You say the first thing that comes into your head. The interviewee responds with the first thing that comes into his head. And you take it from there. Almost like, well, a conversation.
But when your interviewee has only one answer, and repeats it back to you whatever you say, things go downhill very fast.


I can imagine Ed haters (like Nick and, I think, Brownie) staying up well past one and drinking more double Macallans than they ought after seeing that.

More Hari to get back to topic. Bet Ed Miliband wishes Johan Hari had interviewed him. "What do you think of the strikes? Are they right?" "These postmodernists are all the same, aren't they? Derrida, Zizek. They're Stalinsts [etc]."

7/01/2011 02:09:00 PM  
OpenID yorksranter said...

A certain HP blogger knows Caitlin Moran very well. I've heard, but can't confirm, that her politics are decidedly 'Decent'.

Well, someone who's a Decent but has the decency to shut up about it has already made progress.

On broad issues of journalism, I would say that people underestimate:

1) The vital importance of editing
2) The difficulty of editing
3) The difficulty of writing clean copy

A lot of people find it very hard indeed to write at any nontrivial pace without generating typos or mangling syntax. It almost seems to be a different skill from writing anything that's actually good because quite a few people will produce copy littered with errors that turns out to be genuinely sharp once cleaned up for publication.

I don't know what's wrong with the deadline surfers though.

7/01/2011 02:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Brownie said...

Jumping Jesus Christ on a bike, I'd heard the interview was bad but that's insane.

7/01/2011 04:24:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Johann at Harry's Place has an interesting take on the Armin Miewes cannabilism case currently underway in Germany.From.
Unfortunately no trace of the original can be found.

7/01/2011 07:06:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Un-?

7/01/2011 07:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

This, re Malalai Joya (ChCh's link), gets weirder and weirder. Was Hari such a hopeless interviewer that he looked in despair at his notes and totally threw caution to the winds? Or does he really not see the difference between an interview and the synopsis of a book? The "citizen journalist" is about as baseless an idea as the "paperless office". However the internet has bloggers, some of who know quite a bit about a subject and have read books on it. He was bound to come up against someone reading his interview, scratching their heads - "Eh? I've read all this before somewhere." and a little googling and page turning and you're there. A blog piece goes viral.

So - did he think he wouldn't get caught? Or did he think that it wasn't a crime against journalism but "research" or a new form of journalism like gonzo journalism - the "intellectual portrait". Or is he off his head?

7/01/2011 07:23:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Re: Hari, I imagine it started like pinching from your employers - you do it once, and nobody notices. Do it twice for the same result, and you get cocky. Two years down the line, the cops are charging you with ripping off twenty grand.

This, from work experience in the court, rather than personal experience of course. I imagine the first time he did it, he was a bit worried - after that, he either assumed everybody did it, or that he'd never get caught.

7/01/2011 07:53:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Jesus that interview is surreal. Is he a robot?

7/01/2011 07:55:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

Re: Hari, I imagine it started like pinching from your employers - you do it once, and nobody notices. Do it twice for the same result, and you get cocky. Two years down the line, the cops are charging you with ripping off twenty grand.

(Remembering shamefacedly when I was basically taking the piss and rightly hauled up for it) - that sounds about right. Goes for adultery, I suppose, or too much blogging at work. . .

7/01/2011 08:04:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

I imagine the first time he did it, he was a bit worried - after that, he either assumed everybody did it, or that he'd never get caught

Yes, quite.

Thing is, it's vey hard to get our heads round the idea that what we think is obviously not all right is what other people think is all right.

7/01/2011 08:29:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Well, exactly. Remember the answer your Mum always had to But everyone else was doing it! when you got caught doing something you shouldn't?

Let's hear it for Mums. They've got their heads proper screwed on.

7/01/2011 08:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Witchsmeller Pursuivant said...

Regarding Miliband's interview, I'll have to echo Brownie and cian; it's absolutely incredible. I showed it to an apolitical striking NUT member, who thought it must be some kind of mash-up to make him look stupid.

All I can see, however, is contempt. For the journalist, whom for Ed is literally not there; he could ask him anything and get the same reply. For the media, as a supposed check of accountability in a liberal democracy. For the electorate, who clearly cannot be trusted to absorb anything but Ed's predigested bullet points. And for the unions, who pay to allow his party to exist; but receive nothing but cowardice and platitudes.

As the leader of the Labour party and, woe betide us, the Opposition, shouldn't Miliband be putting forward proposals for which he will actually come out and support the unions in their quest to protect their living standards? Could any Labour-supporting commenters hypothesise an actual situation where a union is justified in striking, rather than merely having a theoretical right to strike?

Lumping him in with Hari, and not having had the benefit of an Oxbridge education, may I ask those who have what it is they do there to instill such self-certainty unhindered by any regard to external norms?

7/01/2011 10:19:00 PM  
Anonymous dd said...

Thing is, it's vey hard to get our heads round the idea that what we think is obviously not all right is what other people think is all right.


This is why I'm so surprisingly lacking in diffidence with respect to my own profession - I've actually seen the difference here between the profession of equity analysis pre- and post- the dot com bust. It was the most exquisitely humiliating experience for the profession, but I really think we emerged better for it - all of our little practices and fiddles suddenly had to be justified to the wider public, people like Henry Blodget and Jack Grubman ended up with serious penalties, and new rules were agreed. Since I was never one of the "inside" types (I did, and still do, all my work by reading published financial statements a little closer than the competition), all the "Insiders"' money basically came from me and people like me, and so I was wholly glad to see the profession cleaned up. I still wonder if, one day, political journalism is going to have the same kind of experience and get regulated for "access" and similar. I really hope it does (this should probably be a proper post and one day will be).

7/01/2011 10:41:00 PM  
Anonymous PLaneshift said...

"Thing is, it's vey hard to get our heads round the idea that what we think is obviously not all right is what other people think is all right."

But in fairness to Hari, there are howlers every day in the UK press. Indeed there are several blogs dedicated to exposing these howlers as well, and who never end up as the source of scandals and items on broadcast news. One is tempted to say that Hari only faces a public rebuke because he is also left wing. To name one example, Littlejohn does far worse every week. At least Johann hasn't made something up that means minority groups are going to get beaten up this evening.

As for whether having a 'proper' grounding in journalism would have prevented this. I think there is a naivety behind this. Today's journalists simply get a grounding of working unpaid (to exclude people without family finance), followed by a few years of using the copy and paste function by day, and drinking in the right bars by night. The lucky ones will eventually get to do actual real journalism, provided they say things that don't offend the proprietors or advertisers.

The crime of making things up will only ever get you fired if what you make up is harmful to the interests of those with the means to take legal action. By all means make up all sorts of nonsense about asylum seekers, people claiming benefits etc. Which is what the real scandal of british journalism is here, not that a journalist was a bit dishonest about what was said in an interview, and instead used a clearer extract from a written article to convey what the person's view is.

7/01/2011 11:06:00 PM  
Anonymous hellblazer said...

One is tempted to say that Hari only faces a public rebuke because he is also left wing.

One is tempted to observe that now we see the violence inherent in the system.

Which is what the real scandal of british journalism is here, not that a journalist was a bit dishonest about what was said in an interview, and instead used a clearer extract from a written article to convey what the person's view is.

Oh, FFS. Just reread the last third of the sentence to yourself, please? Yes, a bunch of people gunning for JH are arseholes. Yes, high profile journos have gotten away with mendacity and intellectual dishonesty. No, this does not mean I have any f**king time for this "use of other words to clarify, nay beautify, nay enhance, nay convey the more essential truth of, what they meant to say" bullshit.

7/01/2011 11:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What HB said. It's _because_ we're the underdogs that we need the truth. Truth serves the workers: bullshit serves the owners.

Chris Williams

7/02/2011 12:19:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

may I ask those who have what it is they do there to instill such self-certainty unhindered by any regard to external norms?

I can't answer this as well as I'd like, because my experience of the place was very different and had the opposite effect. But I think the answer is Success. You're all, or nearly all, bright, arrogant kids who have always been top of the class. You come to this world-famous place and you're surrounded with, and make friends and contacts with, similar people. You have this great future ahead of you, everybody is always telling you you're great, not least you and your chums who are always saying it to one another. And indeed, at the end of the Oxbridge experience lots of you do get on the fast train to Success.

None of which gives you any cause to have any intellectual self-doubt or to consider any criticism you might get as being drawn from any well other than the one marked Jealousy. What you do, and the way you do it, is right. And because you're so talented and all, other people may well think you are. Until it's too late.

One is tempted to say that Hari only faces a public rebuke because he is also left wing.

Depends what you mean by "only". If you mean "if he were on the Right, he wouldn't be under any pressure" then I'm damned sure you're right. But if you mean "he hasn't actually done anything wrong and it's all about his politics", then that's very far from being true.

7/02/2011 05:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

As for Schadenfreude, I'm going to be boring and pious and say that I do think laughing & jeering at Johan Hari is precisely the kind of thing I've been banging on about on the other thread.

I was laughing though not jeering. I think a lot of people on the Twitter storm were doing the same. What Hari has done immediately lends itself to spoofing and pastiche. He interviews Hamlet, who puts his arm around his shoulders and says, "Johann, to be or not to be, that is the question." I don't take any satisfaction in his downfall though I've never been a fan. And, as others have pointed out, the "vicious and ignorant"* British press does far worse things and gets away with it.

I think Hari did see himself as not being like, say, Lynn Barber - doing personality interviews. He was interviewing intellectuals, and so therefore was doing "intellectual portraits" - representing their pure thoughts and so on. I've just been reading some interviews with Philip Larkin, where there is no setting the scene - simply the interviewer's questions and Larkin's answers, and they are illuminating if you know Larkin's work - and evidently the interviewers know it as well.

Reading Larkin would be much easier than reading difficult guys like Negri and Zizek and Chomsky, so I can see that it would be hard graft to get a set of reasonable questions.

*I saw that description in the New Statesman. It stuck in my mind.

7/02/2011 08:29:00 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

As I think I've said already, Paul Morley did exactly this on the NME but made it obvious he was doing it. I mean, why wouldn't you? But after reading about the Malalai Joya interview I'm not inclined to accept the "writing what they were thinking, not what they said" defence - that's not what's going on there.

ejh - exactly, which is also why it can be such a dispiriting experience for those people (probably the majority) who miss the train at the end of it. See this & also this (on Douglas Adams's nihilism).

7/02/2011 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

(probably the majority) who miss the train

Mmm. Not sure I agree. But didn't we do this at length on B&T?

7/02/2011 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

By the way, if anybody can find an online account of the legendary Sun interview with Col H Jones' widow, can they post it up here?

7/02/2011 10:29:00 AM  
Blogger Phil said...

Probably - I did it at some length in one of those posts, too, so I think it's been well and truly done.

I know I'd be very surprised if you'd heard of any of the other eleven people at my college who did English. Some are mathematicians, some are carpenter's wives - or rather, some are accountants, some work for IBM, and so on. On the other hand, four of us have had books published, which is statistically improbable.

7/02/2011 03:16:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Well, I guess it partly depends on how far you're expecting the train to take you.

(I'm reminded of a discussion I once had on another website with a lad, presumably 18 or 19, who was complaining that - he reckoned - he'd been held back at his comprehensive school. He was posting from his university, which was Oxford or Cambridge, can't remember which, but which did beg the question of how much he reckoned he'd actually been held back and how far he'd been expecting to get. The Sorbonne? Harvard? The Moon?)

7/02/2011 05:30:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

Johann Hari won't ever be forgiven for that mildly critical review of Nick Cohen's shit book, will he?

Every single Decent I follow - even the ones I regard as reasonable people, and there are a couple - has waded in, in tones of massive schadenfreude, with a huge Ha Ha fuck you Johann I'm taking massive pleasure in your disgrace you twat tone.

The really hilarious thing is that Hari has made a tit of himself for this week, and it'll be forgotten soon enough. The rest of 'em have been doing it for a decade and will still be giving us yuks for years. Me, I hope Nick has a go tomorrow, for maximum irony value.

7/02/2011 11:55:00 PM  
Blogger cian said...

Hari's probably still got a career in journalism, but I suspect he's permanently burned a lot of boats on the left. He's going to struggle to be taken seriously, and quite rightly.

I was thinking about this today. Somebody above wrote something about his investigative journalism, and how its a shame that its distracted from that. Well the thing is, I don't trust his investigative journalism, and I probably won't ever again. If he can make something up in one area, why not another? Now maybe if he showed some sense of contrition here; maybe then I'd reconsider it. But so long as he maintains that he's done nothing wrong, why the hell would anyone trust him on anything.

And another thing. The reason Hari struggled in interviews with these people is because he's an intellectual lightweight, and not a very good interviewer. There are people who do very good interviews with intellectuals (Doug Henwood, Chuck Mertz, Sasha Lilley manage radio interviews with them). So essentially what he was doing here was covering up his own incompetence.

On the other hand, practically everyone who works for any newspaper, save possibly the Guardian, is worse. But I hear newspapers are dying anyway, so maybe we should celebrate that instead.

7/03/2011 05:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Pinkie said...

"On the other hand, practically everyone who works for any newspaper, save possibly the Guardian, is worse. But I hear newspapers are dying anyway, so maybe we should celebrate that instead."

Hang on - didn't the Guardian publish a disputed 'interview' with Chomsky? Wasn't the defence that although Chomsky didn't say what he was reported as saying, it was the kind of thing that he has probably said, or might have said, in other circumstances?

And because of that, the dishonest reporter was being unfairly treated for not being honest. (Because not being honest was more true to .... and so it goes. But then that was Chomsky, so ....)

7/03/2011 09:40:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Indeed, having said earlier that the Guardian gets corrections right, it gets a lot of other things wrong.

Peter Preston, Johann Hari and Harry Potter (pedants and subeds may wish to correct 'Harry Potter' to 'Ron Weasley').

The Chomsky thing which I think makes us all UK Chavezistas. (Nice that he then tweets a very dubious statistic.)

7/04/2011 05:21:00 AM  
Blogger ejh said...

Peter Preston writes incredibly badly, I've always thought. Incoherently.

Amazing that he was an editor for so long - and quite a good one, though he would be wise to shut the fuck up when we're discussing journalistic ethics, not just because he doesn't have a clue what he's talking about in this particular instance, but because the name "Sarah Tisdall" will always come to mind when thinking about journalistic ethics and Peter Preston.

7/04/2011 06:09:00 AM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

Bloody hell, that Preston piece is awful.

And, for the life of me, I can't work up a head of steam over Hari's occasional habit (in Indy interviews) of using a cleaned-up pre-written version of his subject's answers rather than a ... you know … more um! … rambling live response.

Oh, ha ha. But that suggests that either PP is thick (we should not discount this) or he's going by Johann Hari's version.

And it's ethically ludicrous. Here's Hari, a brilliant if naive performer. He's first exposed by a blog from DSG.

'A blog from DSG'? I'm sure that since the Guardian has been online since compuserve still issued numbered email addresses that he is aware of all internet traditions too.

Except Hari wasn't first exposed then. Steven Poole may have a claim to that honour, though I understand Private Eye (not a blogger, but one of those things turned out by printing presses) was the first that ever burst Hari's bubble.

I'm less and less impressed by the 'naive' defence. When DA made it, it seemed the generous and tolerant response and vastly more likeable that tut-tutting and schadenfreude. Now that position seems naive itself.

I'm impressed by Matt Wardman here.

To the shame of Simon Kelner, nor has he seemingly ever been competently mentored to grow into one, either.

Quite right. I've never been keen on Peter Preston. As Justin says, he edited the Guardian quite well, but I look back on those days and think that his tenure was a little like the early years of Gordon Brown as Chancellor, riding high on Ken Clarke's greater economic nous. I wonder if Preston just largely inherited a stable of good writers and attracted more with the "Guardian" brand and didn't actually contribute anything.

And seriously? If Preston has contented himself with just Hari's version of events and not even checked out the charges that people are laying against him, that's incompetent.

7/04/2011 03:51:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Was Hari such a hopeless interviewer that he looked in despair at his notes and totally threw caution to the winds?

One of the reasons i never looked into journalism as a profession was that I know I'd be awful at interviewing. On topic for the blog, I'm not convinced it's Aaro's greatest strength as a writer - the instance of him effectively dozing off while interviewing Philippe Sands springs to mind (or was it Clive Stafford Smith?).

7/04/2011 06:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

S AB. Here's your chance. One of your fellow commenters, of good standing I believe, is at this moment smearing 'unbelievable' as an antisemetic liar. All for the vile crime of disagreeing with the party line. Perhaps you should get round to said commenter's constant accusations of 'genocide denial' too. Here's a clue: they don't stand up to scrutiny.

agp

7/04/2011 11:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pinkie, if you can't see the difference between "save possibly the Guardian" and "all the journalists on the Guardian are paragons of moral virtue", then I can't help you I'm afraid. Better is not the same as perfect.

7/05/2011 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

That was me above. Sigh.

7/05/2011 11:58:00 AM  
Anonymous Pinkie said...

"Pinkie, if you can't see the difference between "save possibly the Guardian" and "all the journalists on the Guardian are paragons of moral virtue", then I can't help you I'm afraid."

That's OK, Cian, I wasn't looking for your help, just pointing out that the Guardian isn't as virtuous as it would like to be (seen).

7/05/2011 05:48:00 PM  

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