Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Johann Hari redux

The strange thing about the Johann Hari business is that it is an almost perfectly unsurprising scandal. In case you have somehow missed this little storm, Hari is accused of lifting entire quotations from other sources into his interviews, and passing them off as if they had been said to him. This technique has been beautifully mocked on Twitter under the hashtag #interviewsbyhari including such gems as:

He sensed my malaise. "Young man", he murmured, fingering his leather jacket ruminatively, "there's no need to feel down" @MrEugenides

After discussing my evidence with him. he stroked his thick beard, looked up, and then loudly exclaimed 'GORDON'S ALIVE'? @Simon_Pegg

And so on and so on.

He’s responded with a remarkably brazen non-apology apology in today’s Independent where he claims that, really, all he was doing was a little tidying up. (For whatever reason, this article isn’t on the Independent’s website. Guido has, um, cut-and-pasted it onto his site, although at least he doesn’t pretend that he wrote it following an interview with Johann).

This is, obviously, not a desperately serious matter in the grand scheme of things. But it is indicative of Hari’s general modus operandi. The actual quotes he got in the interview (assuming he got any) weren’t good enough to stand up or illustrate the story he wanted to write, so he got other quotations and pretended that they were made to him. He manipulated the truth to write a better article.

This should hardly come as a surprise. I’ve written about Hari’s somewhat misleading attitude to quotations before, when he used a line from an article by Boris Johnson to suggest that he was a panting enthusiast for stag hunting, when the article in question (sadly not online) was actually about how traumatic he found the whole thing, and why he would never go stag hunting again. The same article, incidentally, stated as a fact that the 2007 foot and mouth outbreak was leaked out of an American pharmaceutical lab, a statement of fact that was at that point unconfirmed, and turned out not to be true. In fact, hell, lets just reprise what I wrote last year:

How does he get away with it?  How does Johann Hari hold down a job as a columnist in a broadsheet newspaper when he is so often so flagrantly in breach of the truth?  Whether it’s stating that British GDP fell after abolishing slavery, which it didn’t, claiming that the coalition intends to cut public spending by 20%, when that figure’s actually 4%, asserting that the foot and mouth leak in 2007 came from a US-owned private laboratory, when it was actually from a Government-owned one, or even claiming that the Japanese Prime Minister was attacked and nearly killed by a robot, when, um, he wasn’t, Hari manages to make such blinding (and simple) factual errors in his columns, that it’s hard to knew if he’s just stupid, or if he’s a liar.

Hari, basically, isn’t a journalist. He’s a polemicist. Facts aren’t there to be reported, they’re there to be used to support the argument he wanted to make. If they’re inconvenient, they can be ignored (as when, in supporting protectionism, he wrote the medieval English textile industry out of existence and ignored the entirety of Britain’s free trade period). This is fine (well, ish. It’s what our Polly has been doing for years) for an opinion writer. It’s much less fine for someone claiming to write factual pieces as well. Who, for instance, now believes his claims to have seduced all those butch Islamists and neo-Nazis?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chesterton Beasts

As on so many things, I agree with David Cameron. The Archbishop of Canterbury has every right to express his opinions on topical matters of the day. If the ABC has no right to a pulpit, who does? Equally, however, it is disappointing that someone widely regarded as the most cerebral occupant of Lambeth Palace for many years should have written such an intellectually childish polemic. Take this, just for a start:

Incidentally, this casts some light on the bafflement and indignation that the present government is facing over its proposals for reform in health and education. With remarkable speed, we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted. At the very least, there is an understandable anxiety about what democracy means in such a context.

If Rowan Williams is perplexed by the meaning of a representative democracy, in which he has lived all his life, then clearly reports of his intellect have been grotesquely over-stated. 11 million people voted for the Conservatives, 17 million voted for the constituent parties of the Coalition. This is a new and bewildering definition of no-one.

But, for example, the comprehensive reworking of the Education Act 1944 that is now going forward might well be regarded as a proper matter for open probing in the context of election debates.

Education is a perfectly imbecilic example to use here. The extension of academies and free schools were trailed by the Tories years before the last election and featured prominently in their manifesto. For which 11 million people voted. But even beyond that, has Dr Williams really not noticed that Butler’s Education Act was gutted by Tony Crosland in 1965?

As others have noticed, the clarion call descends rather into a neo-post-modern whimper. Alex’s prize for parsing the meaning of this will, I suspect, go unclaimed:

A democracy going beyond populism or majoritarianism but also beyond a Balkanised focus on the local that fixed in stone a variety of postcode lotteries; a democracy capable of real argument about shared needs and hopes and real generosity: any takers?

But there is a final point to be made. It is entirely right and proper for the ABC to advertise his political views. But the ABC speaks for the Church of England. It would be much less right and proper, therefore, were he to advertise his party political views. And by running Labour party talking points, in the in-house magazine of the Labour party Dr Williams, to say the least, runs the risk of being misinterpreted.

Contender for stupidest Labour MP

There are many good arguments why Tony Blair should not be President of Europe. None of them, it is true, are terribly interesting, because I am more likely to achieve that title than he is. Is anybody surprised, though, that Diane Abbott has hit upon the worst possible?

Blair is proposing an elected president for 350 million people. How could anyone possibly identify with such a figure?

Um, I don’t know. What do you think Barack?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

England Cricket's Golden Age

The thing about Cardiff Test matches, is that you can safely ignore the first four days and tune in only for the final hour or so on the fifth day. That said, it was a breath-taking, unbelievable hour of cricket on Monday. England are playing with an aura around them at the moment, the batting based on solid, unspectacular, reliable and efficient run-scoring from Strauss, Cook, Trott and Bell and the bowling on pace, bounce, swing and spin from four of the best bowlers in world cricket.

I’m with Tanya Aldred though – what sort of lesson is this for the kids? My first real cricketing memory was the score from Headingley being announced over the tannoy at sports day, and a great groan arising from the watching fathers. “Australia have declared at 601 for 7, in reply England are 35 for 1”. That was my childhood. Gooch lbw bowled Alderman 0.

What do we have today? 5 out of the last 7 test matches have resulted in an innings victory. We have the world’s no.2 bowler (and the no.3). We have the world’s no.3 batsman (and the no.5). We’re the world’s no.3 Test side, and a whisker away from the no.2 slot. If we beat India, we will be the world’s no.1. If you’d told all this to my ten year old self, he’d have laughed.

I’m at Lords on Friday, and I’ll be sure to make the most of it while it lasts. Summers like this don’t last forever.

Work work work

Being a City solicitor is hard work. Having an energetic (albeit lovely) 2 year old daughter is hard work. Having a demanding (albeit desperately cute) newborn daughter is also hard work. Moving house is hard work.

Being a City solicitor with an energetic 2 year old and a newborn while also moving house is, how shall I put this?

Posting has been non-existent for, ooh, ages. And that's been most of the reason for it - I'm shattered. There's also a real problem with blogging that I've noticed before: stop for a time, even a short time, and you soon build up a backlog of posts that you really ought to write. The prospect of catching up with this backlog gets ever less tempting - and so the radio silence continues.

I still have the job, and my two perfect, noisy, tiring daughters. But I have at least moved house now. Normal service to be resumed? Lets wait and see.