Dirty Hari

“Uh huh, I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking does this article contain six lies or only five?”

Drowned out by Hackgate this summer was another spectacular story of media self-immolation. Johann Hari, columnist at the Independent, winner of the prestigious Orwell Prize, regular on Newsnight Review, and darling of the left was caught stuffing his columns with lies.

It began in June when a blogger noticed that some of the quotes given by Hari’s interviewees were identical to quotes which had previously appeared in those interviewees published works. Hari defended the charge, saying that “When you interview a writer – especially but not only when English isn’t their first language – they will sometimes make a point that sounds clear when you hear it, but turns out to be incomprehensible or confusing on the page. In those instances, I have sometimes substituted a passage they have written or said more clearly elsewhere on the same subject for what they said to me so the reader understands their point as clearly as possible” He called any allegation of plagiarism “totally false”

But, ironically for a man who praised the power of social media, Hari was about to be hoist on his own digital petard. Twitter exploded with tweeters jumping on a bandwagon bearing the hashtag ‘#interviewswithhari’ which presented the hack as some sort of journalistic Zelig.

“‘Stop!’ he cried, pointing to the brass-framed clock above his desk, ‘Hammertime’” read one tweet. “After discussing my evidence with him. he stroked his thick beard, looked up, and then loudly exclaimed ‘GORDON’S ALIVE’?” read another. “He sensed my malaise” read a third “‘Young man’, he murmured, fingering his leather jacket ruminatively, ‘there’s no need to feel down’”.

A left wing journalist can survive many things. You can survive being caught lying in the service of a greater truth,as Hari tried to make out he was. But one thing you cannot survive when your entire shtick is seriousness is having the piss ripped out of you. As soon as he became a joke Hari was finished.

The story rumbled on from there getting worse at every turn. It took a weird turn when it emerged Hari had been posting lies about his opponents on their Wikipedia pages under an alias. It took an unsavoury turn when it emerged that the same alias had been used for other purposes. The outcome was that, on September 15th, Hari published a second apology covering lots of things he’d denied in his first one, handed his Orwell Prize back before it could be embarrassingly stripped from him, and went on four months leave from the Indy to get some training in journalism, a job he’s been doing for ten years.

Hari’s behaviour has been outrageous even by the standards of the newspaper trade. But it can’t have come as a surprise. Particularly not if, like me, you are a fan of Clint Eastwood and had read Hari’s 2009 article for the Independent titled ‘Clint Eastwood shows how America is changing’

Reviewing his 2009 classic ‘Gran Torino’ Hari looked back over Eastwood’s career. According to Hari Eastwood “caught the tail-end of the uncomplicated Us vs Them cowboy flicks where the Indians were evil, scalping savages who had to be destroyed by the white heroes. The films were gorgeous, romantic accounts of a genocide, told adoringly from the perspective of the genocidaires”

I’d love to know which film Hari is talking about here, he doesn’t tell us. Eastwood’s first big screen westerns were the ‘Dollars’ trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns made in Italy by Sergio Leone. In these films Eastwood played the famous Man With No Name who was only out for himself and whose occasional acts of kindness were few and often executed grudgingly or with an ulterior motive. ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ (1964), ‘For a Few Dollars More’ (1965) and the epic ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ (1966) were all about grubby scrambles for cash by grubby men in grubby settings. They were utterly amoral films and Native Americans didn’t feature in the trilogy once.

Hari somehow conflates these carnivals of moral ambivalence with the films of John Wayne, writing “The attitude of the genre was typified by John Wayne’s jeer…” Absolutely nothing about Eastwood’s westerns can be typified by anything from John Wayne whose westerns were totally different. For example, Wayne turned down the role Gary Cooper played in ‘High Noon’ (1952) because he disliked that the townspeople abandoned the Sheriff and that he threw his badge away in disgust at the end. When the movie became a hit Wayne responded by making ‘Rio Bravo’ (1959) where the townspeople come to the Sheriff’s aid.

Compare this to Eastwood’s movies. The inhabitants of Lago in ‘High Plains Drifter’ (1973) are such a craven bunch that they stood by and watched the town’s old Sheriff brutally whipped to death. When Eastwood’s mysterious stranger arrives in the town and wreaks havoc it is presented as a richly deserved comeuppance. And at the end of Eastwood’s most famous movie, ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971), the disgruntled policeman ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan throws his badge away in disgust. John Wayne turned down that role too.

Sure, all art including film is subjective and some will hate what another loves. But this is not a difference of interpretation but an error of content. It is quite simply impossible to characterise the westerns of Clint Eastwood in the way that Hari does. So Hari either has seen them and is misrepresenting them, or he hasn’t seen them in which case why is he pontificating about them?

This brings us to the crux of Hari’s argument; he hates ‘Dirty Harry’. “Dirty Harry is an old-style cop, fond of beating and torturing confessions out of suspects” Hari says before, entirely predictably, quoting Pauline Kael’s old charge that the film is “fascist”, something she said about all Eastwood’s movies and ‘Straw Dogs’ the same year.

Hari summarises the film thus; “He sets out to catch the killer – but at every turn he is emasculated by insane liberal regulations. The new laws prevent him from breaking into homes without a warrant, committing torture, or harassing suspects. Appalled, Harry spits: ‘That man has rights? The law is crazy!’”

Except he doesn’t say that anywhere in the movie. But he does say something similar.

The set-up is that a 14 year old girl, Ann Mary Deacon, has been kidnapped, raped, and buried alive with a few hours oxygen. The Police receive the ransom note accompanied by a tooth pulled out with a pair of pliers. Callahan agrees to take the ransom to the kidnapper, a serial killer named Scorpio who has already shot three people.

When Callahan reaches the ransom drop he learns that Scorpio is going to kill him, take the money, and leave the girl to die. Luckily Callahan’s partner shows up. In the ensuing shootout Scorpio escapes but not before Callahan has plunged a knife into his leg.

The chase is now on as Callahan tries to find the girl before her oxygen runs out. Callahan tracks Scorpio to his flat and finds the rifle used in the previous murders. He finds the fleeing Scorpio and stops him with a bullet in the leg. Scorpio refuses to tell Callahan where the girl is buried, demanding his lawyer instead. With time running out Callahan grinds his boot into the gunshot wound and gets the information. When the girl is found she is already dead.

That’s the context, now the quote. The following day Callahan is summoned by the DA.

District Attorney: I’ve just been looking over your arrest report. A very unusual piece of Police work. Really amazing

Callahan: Yeah, well I had some luck

DA: You’re lucky I’m not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder

Callahan: What?

DA: Where the hell does it say you’ve got a right to kick down doors? Torture suspects? Deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must’ve heard of the Fourth Amendment? What I’m saying is that man had rights.

Callahan: Well I’m all broken up about that man’s rights

DA: You should be. I’ve got news for you Callahan; as soon as he’s well enough to leave the hospital he walks

Callahan: What are you talking about?

DA: He’s free

Callahan: You mean you’re letting him go?

DA: We have to, we can’t try him

Callahan: And why’s that?

DA: Because I’m not wasting a half a million dollars of the taxpayers money on a trial we can’t possibly win. The problem is we don’t have any evidence

Callahan: (Indicating the recovered rifle) Evidence? What the hell do you call that?

DA: I call it nothing, zero.

Callahan: Are trying to tell me that ballistics can’t match the bullet up to this rifle?

DA: It does not matter what ballistics can do. This rifle might make a nice souvenir, but it’s inadmissible as evidence

Callahan: Who says that?

DA: It’s the law

Callahan: Well then the law’s crazy

Again, in a subjective art form you can make the argument that ‘Dirty Harry’ is fascist. But there is nothing subjective about making up quotes to bolster the argument. You come back to Hari’s apology. To Hari it is self-evident that the movie is fascist but Callahan doesn’t quite say anything fascist enough in the movie to make the case as clearly as Hari would want. So he “substituted a passage”, or quote, he had made up himself. This was Hari’s downfall. He got caught out doing it with Gideon Levy and Hugo Chavez and he did it with Dirty Harry.

I have no better idea whether Hari saw the first ‘Dirty Harry’ sequel ‘Magnum Force’ than I do whether he saw any of the Leone westerns. If he did he might have taken a little advice from Dirty Harry Callahan; “A man’s got to know his limitations”

This article first appeared at Middlebrow Magazine

Johann Hari – The Milli Vanilli of journalism

Girl you know it’s true…or maybe it isn’t

Toby Young used to be annoying for a living. These days, with Young returned from New York, he proves as adept at annoying people as ever, the lefties hate the free school he has helped set up in west London. As a wise man once said to me, the left loves diversity in everything except thought.

I’m glad to see that Toby Young shares not just my views on free schools but my dislike for the dreadful Johann Hari, a man so consistently wrong and with such vehemence that you can only conclude it’s not ignorance but dishonesty.

So I was pleased to see Young trumpeting on his blog today just what a cheeky and unprofessional little blighter Hari is. He’s been rumbled passing off collections of quotes from books as interviews with those books’ authors.

Hari spoke out to defend himself

“When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. (I know I write much more clearly than I speak – whenever I read a transcript of what I’ve said, or it always seems less clear and more clotted. I think we’ve all had that sensation in one form or another).

So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech”

I rather liked Elizabeth Flock of the Washington Post’s take on that

“Let’s say you once interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. for a story, but he wasn’t all that articulate about his hopes for racial reconciliation. So you decided to just quote his “I have a dream” line in the story and pretend he told it to you. That’s fine, right?”

Johann Hari is the Milli Vanilli of journalism.*

* Note to Hari, this comes from a comment on Toby Young’s blog post

A history lesson for Johann Hari

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” – Abraham Lincoln’s advice to Johann Hari

“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant”, Ronald Reagan once said, “it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so”. If we forgive the Gipper for his misuse of the ‘L’ word, we can see the truth in his remark. Nowhere do we see it more clearly than in the writings of Johann Hari, a man who doesn’t let his complete ignorance of economics prevent him from spouting off about it.

He was at it again last week when he called the idea that government borrowing of £450 million per day was anything to get worried about ‘The biggest lie in British politics’. He revealed an ignorance of history to match that of economics.

Take Hari’s claim that “As a proportion of GDP, Britain’s national debt has been higher than it is now for 200 of the past 250 years”. He challenges us to “Check it on any graph by any historian”. OK then.

Indeed, you see an awful lot of debt. But if you put in a few historical events you start to get a different picture. Context is everything, as they say.

Starting just before 1700 the British national debt does indeed rise at a fair rate. But consider that, in 1694, the Bank of England had been set up for the sole purpose of funding Britain’s frequent wars against France. So you see a steep rise in the debt to pay for the War of the Spanish Succession (1701 – 1714), the War of the Austrian Succession (1740 – 1748), the Seven Years War (1754 – 1763), the war in America (1775 – 1783) and then the various wars following the French revolution (1793 – 1815). And that’s just the major ones.

Indeed, 1815 and the battle of Waterloo stand out clear as day on the graph with national debt peaking at over 250% of GDP. After that, with the exception of the Crimean war (1853 – 1856) and possibly the Boer war (1899 – 1902), Britain didn’t fight a major war again until 1914. Resting on the twin Cobdenite pillars of peace and economic liberalism the British economy grew and the national debt collapsed.

The story in the twentieth century is similar. Debt rocketed when we went to war in 1914 and again in 1939.

So yes, in the narrow sense Hari is correct, our debt is low compared to 1815 or 1945 and many of the years after those dates. The difference, as some basic history shows, is that back then we had the defeat of tyrants like Louis XIV, Napoleon and Hitler to show for it, now we just have a bloated public sector and engorged welfare state.

This is where the claim made by Hari and others that our debt is not so bad historically is thoroughly disingenuous. There is a world of difference between running up debt to stop the country being conquered by Nazis and running up debt to insulate an already well funded public sector from the effects of a recession which has ravaged the private sector.

It’s not a difference supporters of vast government spending are able to see. Taking their cue from the Spender in Chief, Gordon Brown, they think that any money spent by the government is investment, which is a good thing. But ‘investment’ and ‘government spending’ are not interchangeable terms. Investment has a quite specific meaning; it is capital, usually money, put into an enterprise with the expectation of a return in the future. Thus, government building a road or improving education is investment. Government paying out for public sector workers to retire earlier than their private sector counterparts, for people to live in expensive houses in Kensington, for top rate tax payers to receive Child Benefit or teenagers to download music for their iPods is not investment. It produces no return. It is just spending.

Fortunately this crucial difference is understood better by the man and woman in the street than by many self proclaimed experts. This explains the recent finding of 57% support for at least the coalition’s measures.

We are not fighting a world war so there is no justification for wartime levels of debt and not all government spending is a good thing. This shifty argument is yet another desperate cry from people who still don’t want to give up their belief in visits from the Money Fairy.

This article originally appeared at The Cobden Centre