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 - - turns into a 'far-left' socialist with black girlfriend -

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.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Off-Topic at Large

I'd just like to say, and this should come as no surprise that I agree with old Aaro[1] on lots of things. One such is his position on assisted dying. But I'll come back to Aaro in a bit.

Nick is largely right on Syria. Bashar al-Assad is an appalling dictator. Forgive me for raising a liberal orthodoxy, but I rather like Obama, and besides, I worry that when one attacks a prominent black (ethnic, etc) politician one attracts support from quarters one really rather ought not to welcome, rather as flies are attracted to shit. What is the difference between attacking Obama and attacking Bush? Obama's critics seem to know very little about their own politics and history. Anyway, if we're knocking pols for cuddling up to Syria, there are some closer to home who deserve a kicking first. I know that comes across a bit, "Shut up already, you can't criticise Barack because -- racists!" but this sort of error of taste is endemic to the White House, regardless of the beliefs of the President. When did the US last criticise Saudi Arabia, which is the only country in the world which bans women from driving. Yes, it's those pictures again.

I am disappointed by Obama. But not that disappointed, because I didn't expect too much.

This nudges us onto what I currently think is one of the crucial differences between Decency and Indecency. Professor Norm has a dig at Simon Jenkins' "monocausal theory of war" (it's not monocausal; and it's not a theory of all war, but never mind). Roughly, I think Decents believe that politics is motivated chiefly by morality and principle, and we (using the term loosely) rather more cynically believe (I could say 'observe') that money accounts for an awful lot of the variation in principle. The Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace thesis is not new, and I'm pretty sure Orwell had something similar in mind when he came up with "War is Peace." It fits the facts a lot better than the "Tony Blair and George W Bush are really caring guys with big hearts" alternative. (See also Arms to Iraq. "Bread first, then ethics", as Comrade Brecht had it.)

Many of you will already have seen Christopher Hitchens' rather splendid Mamet review. I was going to talk about Mamet anyway, because he somehow came up in the comments last week. Here are some other gems. LA Times; James Wolcott in Vanity Fair; John Lloyd in the FT; the AV club; Washington Post; and the closest thing to a good review I've seen, The Wall Street Journal.

To make this on-topic, is Mamet's change of mind in anyway similar to David Aaronovitch? (I don't think Dave is brain dead, BTW.)

Slightly bizarrely, David Mamet (whom no one ever accused of elegant variation) used the term secret knowledge for a different book only last year. This is so Pseud's Corner, that I have to quote it:

In the near future, when inflation has rendered the dollar valueless, this artifact may very well become if not the, at least a medium of exchange. In the worst case, if we are reduced to Living In Caves, you can use it for Kindling.

Even better, the comments are all of the "read my script" variety. Over to Harlan Ellison whose writing of the Star Trek with Joan Collins is, IMHO, worth more than Mamet's entire oeuvre.

[1] I'm using "old" in "The Catcher in the Rye" sense, not being gerontophobic.

Monday, June 13, 2011

When everything jarred

Nick's piece berating liberals for religious (this time Hindu) intolerance What price freedom of expression now? at least has the merit of being a shorter rehash of his The Hounding of M. F. Husain in Standpoint.

In many ways, it's not bad. Something of a blip on Nick's recent run of relatively good form, perhaps, but a long way from the depths of undirected anger he has got away with.

The bad bits:

Hindu nationalists accused Husain of being a pornographer and blasphemer. They wrecked galleries that showed his work, ransacked his home in Mumbai and threatened him with prosecution for one reason only: that he was born into a Muslim family almost 100 years ago.

One reason only? Surely their (admittedly bad) reasons were that he was "a pornographer and blasphemer"? Nick seems to want to argue that this kind of persecution of artists motivated by racial or sectarian hatred; yet it's usually artists (Salman Rushdie for example) who have some tenuous commonality with their critics who are targeted. This sort of thing is usually about crushing dissent (or even though) in one's own side.

The law was happy to egg them on. While America's founders wisely protected freedoms of speech, the press and religious conscience with the first amendment in 1791, India's founders kept and expanded the censorship laws of the British empire in 1947.

Ah yes, America, home of the free.

In 1920 after the US magazine The Little Review serialised a passage of the book dealing with the main character masturbating, a group called the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who objected to the book's content, took action to attempt to keep the book out of the United States. At a trial in 1921 the magazine was declared obscene and, as a result, Ulysses was banned in the United States.


This sort of thing doesn't happen in secular states like France. Oh wait.

In the obituaries for Husain, one could detect a certain tension. Here was a magnificent artist of global stature and yet his obituarists felt the need to explain who exactly he was.

Isn't this what obituarists do for everyone?

The best tribute Britain could give Husain would be for the Royal Academy to organise a major retrospective of his art and include in the exhibition the supposedly offensive works, so viewers can realise how confected the charges of his accusers were. For that to happen, the police would need to break with precedent and promise to protect freedom of expression from its enemies.

Er ...

In 2006, Hindu nationalists forced the closure of a Husain exhibition in London.

And ...

But our shallowness is not the only reason for Husain's obscurity. He is a marked man. Any gallery that shows his work runs a risk. London's Serpentine Gallery included a selection of his paintings in a wider exhibition of contemporary Indian art in 2008. Strange though it once would have seemed, its staff deserved praise for their bravery as well as their good taste.

Cohen in Standpoint. So either there was no threat by 2008 or the police protected the gallery. What is the problem here? And what is this about precedent? The police protected Rushdie.

I'm all for freedom of expression, and Nick's case is helped by a nutter in the comments. So this is certainly one of his better efforts, but I wish someone would read his stuff before it's committed to print

Saturday, June 11, 2011

John Lloyd Has Some Advice For His Fellow Decents

Here's John Lloyd, in the FT, reviewing Owen Jones's new book, Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class (which sounds excellent, and which I'm keen to read):

[Jones] starts, mistakenly, with a middle-class dinner party at which a guest had said: “It’s sad Woolworth’s is closing. Where will all the chavs buy their Christmas presents?” This is a mistake because the middle-class dinner party is both an easy cliché and unattributable. If we’re going down the road of cultural denigration, we should start on firmer ground.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Bilderberg" is a really nice word to say

Try it. Bilderberg Bilderberg Bilderberg. Various researchers and profs make the sensible point that although Alex Jones is a tool, the entire point of the Bilderberg Group is that it meets in secret, it's made up of powerful people, and it's meant to discuss matters related to the running of the world. (ie, it's Davos without the pud-knockers, hangers on and self-publicists). But not our Aaro, from him it's chortle all the way.

A rather strange view of the world Dave has - he seems to think it's literally laughable and certainly childish to believe that politicians and businessmen control the things that they are paid and elected to control. Everything happens randomly, you see - everything important is just a cock-up on someone's part. Is this just psychological self-defence against the consequences of the Iraq War, or is this really Aaro's mature and considered view of the way the world works? It would make sense I suppose - would explain why, over the time we've covered him, his column has gone from comment and analysis of politics and world affairs, to basically just scolding his readers for not believing the right things. Bit of a depressing way to live your life though.

Gosh, this is almost like Aaronovitch Watching, isn't it? I feel all nostalgic.

Monday, June 06, 2011

The Armchair Generalist

While Nick is probably right about Simon Schama, his Standpoint tv column is bizarre even for him. As far as I can tell, he regards television as a means of gaining insight into contemporary Britain (the world) and to this end he selects one programme per month and bases a sermon on the approaching end times on it. I also think his premise is wrong: confident, secure, happy people are those most receptive to surprising facts. What Nick sees as somehow blinding us to reality is the greatest gift that I possess.

I don't know much about football, but the (ahem!) English press seem to have been exaggerating Sepp Blatter's bad qualities, as if we were preparing to go to war with him. I'm pretty sure FIFA is corrupt, in a similar way at least to the way that the IOC is, and Formula 1 is and all these sport-in-the-service-of-advertising gravy trains are. Discuss this how you like.

As for this one (thanks to Conventrian), he lost me at 'embraced' that all purpose, meaningless word which no Decent attack is complete without.[1]

[1] This is a handshake, not an embrace. Discuss. This is an embrace. One of these people really is a mass murderer and a dictator. The other should be ashamed; perhaps his supporters will be on his behalf.