Thursday, September 15, 2011

Young Johan guilty: now's the time to forgive and forget. And the euro farce - part 656

Forget the euro, forget the trader at the Swiss bank UBS who seems to have decided he can go one better than Baring's Nick Leeson, and forget even that Manchester United scored a crucial away goal last night in their Champions League tie with Benfica. The really big news is that Johan Hari, up until now a darling of the intelligent left-liberal British elite who had all the right attitudes and was gay to boot - always a good sign in a chap for many - has finally been held bang to right. I have mentioned him before. His 'crime' was to embellish his interviews with other great and good folk around the world with quotes from their work. He is also said to have been guilty of plagiarism, but as I have no further details on that score, I shall leave that on the table.

He has published an apology on his website, and his employers have suspended him while he undergoes - it is stressed 'at his own expense' though that really is a weasel detail - four months of 'journalistic retraining'. Sorry, but that is all cobblers. And in an odd sort of way my heart rather goes out to young Johan, as we must still call him, because although he is now 32, he first made his mark as an eight-year-old, calling in print for the public execution of the then Margaret Thatcher and still carries with him the aura of a Wunderkind.

Johan - young Johan - did only one thing wrong: he broke the Eleventh Commandment which states quite unequivocally Thou
Should Not Be Found Out. I am certain that there is a legion of hacks out there, good honest and true men and women, who have never done what young Johan did and either would never consider doing it or, if tempted, stalwartly refused and refuse to give into the temptation. I am equally certain that there is an equal number of hacks out there who, but for the grace of God, are just as guilty of gilding the lily. And I am one.

In all my time as a reporter (not long, actually, six years, after that I tool refuge is the more tranquil waters of sub-editing) and an age ago I never, but never, quoted anyone verbatim. For one thing most people are inarticulate and never, but never, speak in the way we hacks would like them to speak. For another, and more seriously, all too often they would simply not say what we wanted them to say, however often we tried to wheedle it out of them. Young Johan's crime is simple: he didn't cover his arse. He didn't muddy the waters. For one thing, he filched his quotes from the published works of his interviewees, which was simply stupid. What he should have done, what we all did and do, is 'clean up' what we are told. Unless a tape or digital recording is made of an interview, no one ever remembers what they said exactly. The trick, when 'cleaning up', is to keep it truthful. For example, anyone apparently quoting Arthur Scargill as saying 'the Queen, eh, you've just got to love her, isn't she marvellous' would be riding for a fall. But if you quote someone as saying what they are more than likely to have said, and make them sound twice as intelligent and articulate into the bargain, well, everyone is happy and trebles all round. But young Johan didn't do that.

The Schadenfreude on the right will be based on the fact the young Johan has shown himself up to be something of a hypocrite, a man - boy? someone put me straight - who thought nothing of damning to hell all sorts of people for their hypocrisy and attacking all out those whose thought deviated just a centimetre from his own pure ideology. Serves you right, you little cunt, they are all now saying, and young Johan's website apology commits the unforgivable error of trying to reclaim so of his erstwhile purity. He should have said: Look, chaps, I fucked up, I was wrong and I'll never do it again.

This four-month period of 'journalistic re-training' is just so much hooey. Johan should be marched into the editor's office, given a comprehensive bollocking, then sent back to his desk to carry on with his job with the admonition never to do it again and now put the matter behind you. A reconciliation over lunch would not be amiss as the Independent needs him.

What will, of course, be unbearable for the poor chap - and I am not being snide when I write that - is the Schadenfreude of the left, for they will never let him forget what he has done. Ever. Every time he is embraced when arriving at a Camden dinner party of North London's thinkers and carers, that embrace will be more barbed than any nastiness the right might aim at him. For among the left young Hari is now a marked man. He might, in time, regain his credibility generally, but among his peers, among those who respect and admiration he craves, among his friends - for which read deadly rivals - his card is marked from now until kingdom come.

I wish Johan Hari well, for we need a variety of voices, outspoken voices, from both right and the left. Just as we need Peter Hitchens, we need Johan. Just as we need that awful harridan Polly Toynbee, we need Johan. Just as we need such dinosaurs as Simon Heffer, we need Johan. And because we need him, my advice to Johan is: watch your back. But stop being so pious.

. . .

The euro: part 665 - and on it goes. There are continual dire warnings that if Greece defaults, it is curtains for all of us. There are dire warnings that if Greece defaults, the eurozone will break up and it will be curtains for all of us. There are dire warnings that if the eurozone breaks up, that will spell the beginning of the end of the European Union (which would be manna from heaven for various anti-EU dinosaurs around the continent, including Britain's UKIP who are mainly middle-class BNP supporters), and that would be curtains for all of us. Well, as one comments in such situations, up to a point Lord Copp er.
In fact, no one knows what would happen if Greece defaulted. Yes, things would be tough for a while, but quite how tough and for how long is a complete unknown. Certainly, many have much to lose if the euro goes phutt - a great many bankers, a great many politicians and a great many eurocrats. But it seems to me that the time has long come to bite the bullet. Let Greece default. Let it get back on its feet. All that is achieved by buggering on is that come euro armageddon it will be even worse.

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