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September 24, 2015
So what does the Cameron-pig incident actually tell us?
One you get over the visceral horror of the image – the Prime Minister sticking his dick in a dead pig’s mouth – one starts to wonder what it means. Beyond Cameron forever being seen as “a bit gross”, does it speak in any way to his political ability? I think, in a way, it does – though not necessarily the way you might expect. Here’s some of the “defenses” I’ve seen used of Cameron:
A man’s sexual proclivities are none of our business
See this one is true. Even though necrophilia is illegal, and beastiality is illegal, if you do both at once it’s not actually a crime. Nor should it be, really – if we’re allowed to eat it then defiling it sexually doesn’t seem much worse. It’s just… sorta gross. The thing is, we’ve all done things in the bedroom others would consider weird or even gross. And the media, Twitter, et al would have reported this with just as much glee had it been revealed that he ever did anything remotely kinky. And that would piss me off.
But then, this isn’t about sex is it…
“It was just a silly student dare”
And this is where I start to worry. I was a student. On occasion, I was dared to do stupid things. Occasionally I did. We got up to all sorts of “wacky behaviour” – y’know, like stealing traffic cones or climbing a thing you’re not meant to climb. But I can, hand on heart, honestly tell you, that were I, or anyone I hung out with at university, dared to get our cock out and stick it in a dead pig’s mouth, the response would be a clear and undebatable “fuck off”.
And that’s a worry, isn’t it? If we accept there was nothing sexual about it, that Cameron got no pleasure from doing it, then the conclusion has to be: he didn’t want to do it. And yet, he (allegedly) did it. Isn’t that a problem? That he didn’t have the backbone to stand up to a bunch of bullies asking him to put his cock in a dead pig’s mouth? Much was made before the election about how Milliband just wasn’t “tough enough” to be PM. That if he was in a room with Putin, he would just fold. That might well be true. So now instead we have a PM, who, in a room with a bunch of friends, was convinced to stick his knob in a pig’s mouth. And yes, he was drunk. Best hope Putin doesn’t offer him any Vodka before the negotiations.
[On the other hand, if we’re going to governed by a Tory, maybe I’d prefer being governed by the one that got bullied rather than the ones who did the bullying.]
“But we all do stupid things when we’re young, don’t we”
Generally, yes we do. But perhaps more telling is a variation on this:
“If there’s a dead pig’s head in the room, someone is going to stick their cock in it”
That might well be true. I wouldn’t know. Neither would most of the country. Because most of us have never been to a party where there happened to be a dead pig, especially not as a poor student, and even if in our later years we’ve been to a hog roast, we’ve never been to one where it would be appropriate or permissable to even take one’s todger out, let alone put it in to the food.
And that’s why Cameron wouldn’t win another election. It’s somewhat of a moot point, as he won’t be running again, but the problem for most people won’t be the initial disgust at what he did, it’ll be them asking themselves “how does that even happen?” We, the “not-rich”, comprehend things like the Bullingdon Club in abstract terms. It’s where rich students make “trouble”, smash up “things”, burn £50 notes infront of “beggars” (who even the middle and working class tend to look down on). This brings the nature of those rich, domineering institutions right home in a way the abstract ideas about them never did. In a sentence it explains graphically the level of decadence in which our PM lived. That he could go somewhere as a student, where there happened to be a dead pig, and that people would get their cocks out and violate said pig. And it’d all be fun and games. It marks him and his experiences out as truly alien to 99% of the electorate. It’s like not being able to eat a fucking sandwich.
The electorate need one of two things in a PM. They need to believe that they’re “one of us”, have had similar experiences and are relatable. Or they need them to be so far above us, so unflappable and statesmanlike so as to appear perfect. Milliband had neither: he was a bit nerdy and awkward, which would be okay, but rather than embrace it he ran from it trying to be the statesman figure instead, and ended up in the middle ground which was useless. Likewise this one story both destroys any attempt Cameron makes to be above the fray, while also ruining any chance he has to be seen as “one of the people”.
All academic of course, at least until someone offers Lord Ashcroft a lot of money for information on George Osborne’s initiation.
August 19, 2015
Dear The Labour Party,
Hi guys! I know you’re having your election at the moment so must be very busy, but just wanted to drop you a line to just make sure you were aware of something. I’ve always voted Labour. I’m politically on the left, and generally I like you guys. I’ll probably be voting for you in 2020! But I want you to know, regardless of who you elect as leader, you do not have my vote.
I like you, you’re probably the party I’m most aligned with politically, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get my vote by default. You’ll have to earn it. You’ll have to do something. You don’t have to be perfect (who is!) and I get that to win an election, you’re also going to have to do things to appeal to those in the middle who maybe voted Tory last time round (the little buggers). I do get that. But if you focus entirely on them and ignore me, then you won’t get my vote.
Despite a second Tory term, politics is exciting at the moment. The Greens made huge gains and while they have their problems, they’re an option. And y’know, I do okay. I’m actually better off under the Tories! I don’t vote Labour for my own benefit, I do it because I genuinely believe we should be helping out those less fortunate than us. But faced with a choice between Tory and Tory-lite… part of me thinks maybe we should just commit to something, y’know?
And in your own party, Jeremy Corbyn looks great. I’m not going to tell you who to elect – that’s your business. Some of my friends have upped and joined you in order to vote for him, they like him so much. That’s not me. I just don’t feel that way about you, sorry.
Still, Corbyn has been making noises that would get my vote, but I’m sure some of your other guys would too. They just haven’t explained how yet. But don’t forget, no matter who you decide is best for you, if you want my vote, you’re going to have to try. You’re going to have be a Labour party I want to vote for. If you don’t, you won’t get it.
I’m not being mean, this isn’t blackmail, I just wanted you to know this now, because your election thing has had a lot of people talking about how to get Tory voters back. Not about how you’re going to keep people like me. I don’t want you waking up the day after polling day in 2020 and going “WTF guys?” because I didn’t vote for you and you were sure I would. So I just figured I’d say something now.
Anyway, have a good election-thingy, hope you have fun!
A life-time Labour voter.
August 03, 2015
I like Jeremy Corbyn. But I’m also not an idiot. I can perfectly well comprehend the argument against the Labour party electing him leader. He’s a gamble. The rest are not. The others will make minor gains from the Tories, which will be enough to oust them from their majority, and SNP-willing, put Labour back in power, albeit in an uneasy, difficult coalition.
Corbyn is a roll of the dice. I believe he’s the only candidate capable of winning an outright majority in 2020. I also believe he’s the only candidate capable of actually losing Labour seats. So on that evidence, it’s too risky, right?
Except there is no real risk. The next election is five years away. If Labour elect him as leader (and give him a genuine chance, or at least don’t actively undermine him), they can spend a few years watching what happens. If he crashes and burns, oust him and put someone new in. Hell, Corbyn is the one person standing in this election that would step down of his own accord if it looked like he had no shot at an election.
The reason he was on the ballot in the first place is a bunch of Labour MPs supported him in order to broaden the conversation during the process, and incorporate a greater variety of views. They didn’t expect him to win. And that’s actually sound thinking, but it’s thinking you can apply further – why not do it on a national scale, broaden the debate nationwide for a couple of years, show what a true alternative looks like and see if anyone might be interested in voting for it.
Yes, there will be some damage, that’s a couple of years that you’re not building up the media profile of a fresh new face, and yes, it might put off a few people for good. But honestly, if you’re one of the other leadership candidates and you’re worried two years isn’t enough to overturn a Tory majority of six then you really shouldn’t be here.
The irony is, of course, that the only reason this approach is possible is because of Cameron’s Fixed-term Parliament act. Without that, a Tory majority this small, watching a recently elected leader crash and burn, might well call an early election in order to strengthen their numbers while they had the chance. That’s no longer an option.
May 06, 2015
One thing I’ve found odd this entire election is the Tories attempting to blame the recession on Labour, and take credit for the recovery themselves. While we can influence a little the impacts of both, this was a worldwide recession, and we account for 3.9% of the world economy. If we look at that in terms of alcohol content, the idea that Labour were responsible for the crash is as realistic as running my car on Stella.
But the Tories are perpetuating this idea that letting Labour in is dangerous, as under them, the economy might crash again. Weirdly, they’re right. The fact is, the economy of the entire world is in a delicate state of recovery right now, and a second crash is certainly possible. And if the world economy tanks, it’s taking us with it, regardless of whether it’s Cameron or Milliband in Downing Street.
And that is what the Tories are afraid of. They know another crash might not be likely but is certainly possible. Now, you may say there’s very little difference between Labour and Tory economic plans, and you’d be right. Neither will make great shakes either way. But that’s the plan now. That’s the plan for recovery. What happens if we do crash? What if we end up in a Greece-like situation but with no EU bail-out available? How will we cope in that crisis?
It’s in a crisis like that you will see the true difference in the parties. What emergency fixes would Milliband consider? 90% top-tax rate? A raid on the bank accounts of the richest? Perhaps. One thing is for certain: those won’t be policy that a Tory cabinet even consider. They’ll first be looking at 30% VAT and a 25% basic tax rate.
And that’s why they’re afraid. It’s not about which party might ruin our economic recovery. It’s about who’ll be in power if the plans that both parties are mostly agreed on don’t work. It’s about who will bear the actual cost of a genuine economic emergency, should it occur.
May 05, 2015
There’s a lot going on with this election, a lot of questions and suggestions as to how or if to use your vote tactically, about coalition agreements, about confidence and supply and so on. They’re all focused on how you, using your vote, can best get the result you want.
But an assumption has been made, by pretty much every party on the campaign trail, about what the ‘result you want’ is. Namely, the ‘result you want’ is the Government that will do the most for you. You may well read that and think it’s self-evident, and wonder what I’m going on about, and that, is very much the problem.
Let’s be frank: there’s nothing wrong with voting purely in your own self-interest, and if someone wants to do that, then I’m not going to complain. What I have a problem with is the the notion that anyone may want to vote for different reasons has been roundly ignored, by the media and those standing for election.
The vast majority of us do things on a regular basis that are not in our self-interest. We donate to charities. We volunteer. We take care of our friends and family when they’re suffering. And so on. There are some people that do none of that, that care for no-one but themselves. But I’m happy to live in a world where those people are in a minority.
Why then, is the assumption being made that everyone wants to use their vote to benefit themselves, and not in a more altruistic fashion? Why is this entire election about what you get rather that what we can give?
I know people who have a problem with immigration. It’s easy to dismiss them as backwards racists or such. Indeed, that’s what most left-wing columnists do. Or talk about some nebulous numbers about how immigration is a net benefit to the economy or such. Taking that approach to people who live in areas where immigration levels have been high, and has changed the culture of the community and environment in a way they don’t like is pointless. And when you’re in an area with either little immigration, or one where your environment is changing in a way you do like, it’s an easy approach to take.
But I haven’t seen a single person make the argument that, while they understand the personal effects it might have on that individual, there are huge improvements to the lives of those who, by pure accident of birth, were born elsewhere, come to our country in search of a better life, and we offer them that. I was going to write “proudly offer” right there, but I’m not sure we have any pride in it anymore. No-one is making the argument to them that, “yes, voting UKIP might marginally help you (but they can’t turn back what’s already happened), but it’ll hugely hurt a tonne of other human beings”.
Likewise I found myself utterly depressed by the Green copyright fiasco. Regardless of the truths or otherwise behind the policy, the number of creative liberals, many of whom I respected, suddenly declared they couldn’t possibly vote Green any more because of the negative financial impact it would have on them directly (with no though given to the huge benefit it could have for everyone else) showed up the fact that, while it nice they were going to vote Green, they were only doing so in their own self-interest. Let’s face it: it’s easy to vote for a party that is promising to give you and your interests more money. Green is an easy call if you’re an artist and they’re promising more arts funding. And again, it’s fine to vote in your own self-interest. But pretending you’re doing it to help everyone else out is disingenuous.
So what do I want people to do? Simple. Before you make your final choice about who you’re going to vote for, stop and asking yourself how you want to use your vote. Do you want to vote in your own self-interest, or do you want to use that vote for the benefit of other people. It’s an important question to consider, doubly so as it’s clear that no-one in the media or the parties you’re voting for want you to do so. And if, in the final reckoning, you choose to vote in your own self-interest, then own it. Don’t pretend you’re doing everyone else a favour, and don’t pretend that you actual believe in Tory trickle-down-wealth nonsense. And do that in the knowledge that you could have voted differently, and you did have a choice. You just had to put other people first.
September 13, 2013
There was an interesting moment in the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury this year, the ‘beating heart of the festival’ where they mix music with political talks and generally have a good time while pushing a solid message.
Billy Bragg curates the whole thing, and he was on stage and talking about the sad passing of anti-nuclear activist Crispin Aubrey, someone who had been heavily involved in the festival since the very start. It went something like this:
“He was a huge campaigner against the proliferation of nuclear armaments around the world”
Huge cheers from the crowd.
“And he campaigned against the expansion of nuclear power in the UK”
A few people cheer. Mostly an awkward silence.
In the UK right now, there’s a new Left. But they’re a Left born out of practicality, rather that principal. We know nuclear power isn’t great, but we also know that the previous generations ignored renewables while gorging themselves on coal and oil, and that it’s now just too late for a renewables-only approach. Or a nuclear-only approach. We’re quite aware that we’re screwed unless we get both of them sorted pretty sharpish. That’s the only feasible option on the table. In our hearts we’d love to run the country on solar and wind but we’ve yet to see a concrete, workable proposal on how that can be done with the timescale we have right now.
And so this week the privatisation of the Royal Mail has been in the news. Here is the Billy Hayes article being bandied about by the likes of Billy Bragg and the rest of the old Left.
Standfirst: “Privatising Royal Mail will destroy a cherished institution. The Labour party must commit to renationalise it”
First paragraph: “So the government is pressing ahead with flogging off our national assets. This time it’s Royal Mail, one of the country’s oldest and most cherished institutions, and which a Sunday Times poll last weekend showed 70% of the public don’t want privatised. What a disgraceful betrayal of the British public.”
You can read the rest if you want but short of small mention of working conditions, it’s more of a same. It’s philosophical, ideological arguments with no talk of the actual practical implications. And ideologically, I’m on board. I’d rather our infrastructure be owned by us than by the government. Practically, I just don’t care. We’re of a generation that sees posting letters as an anachronistic luxury. We’re of a generation who find it hilarious that the Royal Mail are struggling when they insist on delivery to every house in the country six days a week. Because if something is urgent we call, text or email someone. If important documents need sending, we use Special Delivery which needs to be taken to the post office, paid a fiver for, and uses mostly different infrastructure anyway. If regular first class post was dropped to three times a week, we wouldn’t notice. If it was reduced to once a week, we wouldn’t mind. And before anyone tells me we have to protect the poorest in society, you can get a cheap mobile phone for less than a book of 12 first class stamps.
And yes, some of the older generation still like to send letters and it’d be nice to keep doing that. But at some point the postal service, as it is right now, really did move from necessity to luxury. We’d rather have it than not, but there are far more important things to worry about. And when you look around the internet you find the likes of Laurie Penny quiet on the issue, while angry people call up Radio 2 phone-ins to complain about it.
Yet it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the media and the press are all over this Royal Mail privatisation story. Yet they were eerily quiet about the backdoor privatisation of the NHS. Apparently the right of everyone to send and receive letters is more important than the right of everyone to be treated for deadly illnesses.
Back at Glastonbury Billy Bragg is complaining. Apparently people keep asking him “why aren’t there as many political bands as there were in the 60s and 80s?” and apparently the answer is, “It’s people first. If young people go out there and start marching then people will start writing songs about what you’re aspiring to. It doesn’t work the other way around. Martin Luther King didn’t march on Washington because Bob Dylan wrote The Times They Are A Changin’, it’s the other way around.”
It’s a cute soundbite, but shows how out of touch the Old Left really are. In the 60s and the 80s marching was very much the only platform, the only way to make a noise and get heard. There’s not as much of that as there used to be, but now there’s the internet. Activism is no longer limited geography and physical possibility. There are 100s of leftist blogs that have a huge audience and are a great platform for our views. I genuinely don’t think that left wing activism has ever been so strong in our history. But the likes of Bragg don’t get that. We’re not marching, so it must be in decline. We’re making our points with social media because we can’t be bothered to march.
He doesn’t get it. Most of them don’t. We’re doing things different, better, to how they did things and they don’t understand that. They want to save the Royal Mail, not for practical reasons, but because it’s a British Institution. They want us to march, not tweet, because it creates a greater spectacle, not because it reaches more people. They want to achieve the same things they’ve always wanted to achieve despite the world moving on without them
And if you’re of Bragg’s generation, that’s an easy thing to do. You get to campaign against nuclear power from an idealistic standpoint because by the time the oil runs out, you’ll be dead. Meanwhile our generation are staring down the barrel of a gun, worrying less about creating some wonderful utopian society and more about just ensuring we have any sort of fair and workable society in fifty years’ time.
We don’t have the luxury of their ideology. We’re the realists of the Left. And we’re trying to make sure our generation isn’t utterly fucked.
June 12, 2013
While we’re in ranty mood: The Sun’s Page 3 turned up again today in Parliament, as Caroline Lucas went from an awesome, incendiary, subversive protest by wearing a t-shirt calling for it to be banned in the House of Commons, to covering up and asking if the government would please help her ban it. Which seemed a bit like shouting “wanker” at a policeman before asking him to help catch the guy that ran off with your phone but anyway…
Page 3 is a horrid thing, but the reason I dislike it isn’t the reason a lot of people give. But I think it may be the reason a lot of people actually find it more uncomfortable than the likes of Loaded or Zoo. See when Page 3 launched, and for most of the 90s too, it was simple. “Here’s a hot girl, you can see her boobs, isn’t that great?” and I like boobs, and I like hot women, and I like seeing hot women’s boobs. I don’t really need it to be in a newspaper but it’s no big deal. Occasionally there’d be a bit of text about the girl, often with a double-entendre but it was playful and fun.
These days, not so much. The caption has been replaced with a joke. It’s the same joke every day. Here is Kelly from Daventry today:
KELLY is not surprised at the huge backlog of migration cases. She said: “It’s such a complex body. As 20th century author GK Chesterton once said, ‘Large organisation is loose organisation. Nay it would be almost as true to say that organisation is always disorganisation’.”
Haha! Hilarious isn’t it! Because she’s a girl with her boobs out, so she couldn’t possibly have read Chesterton or have an interesting opinion on immigration. So funny.
Now obviously you can make the argument here that I’m the sexist one, that those opinions are legit and written by the model herself. And that by saying it’s a joke I’m the misogynist. You could make that argument, if you wanted to defend The Sun. Thing is, even if the opinions are legit, even if The Sun aren’t purposefully joking about topless models being dumb (note: they are), with the best of intentions it’s still a shockingly patronising “Naked girls can be smart and have opinions too! Who knew?”. I mean The Sun has a Sports section too but they don’t feel the need to ask Wayne Rooney for his opinion on the issues of the day at the end of a match report.
And that is my problem with Page 3: it’s not a woman appearing topless in a national newspaper that demeans her. She’s hot, she has great breasts, people enjoy looking at them. Maybe she’s also an amazing mother, maybe she’s a particle physicist, maybe she’s the best salesperson in her job, maybe she raises tons of money for charity every year. Maybe she’s none of those. Maybe she commits benefit fraud. Maybe she’s a violent alcoholic. Maybe she hits her kids. It doesn’t matter. She’s on Page 3 that day for one reason: because she’s hot. That doesn’t mean that’s all she is. But it’s okay for that to be all she is in that context on that day. Now, if the only presence of women in the entire paper is with their boobs out (Hello, Sunday Sport!) then there’s a problem as that’s presenting a very skewed world view. And it’s been a while since I read The Sun, but I can certainly believe there’s an inherent, uncomfortable tone of sexism throughout the paper in general. But that’s not a problem solved by removing Page 3.
Because Page 3 is at its least offensive when it isn’t trying to be more than it is. When it’s just ‘hot naked girl’. Once you try and add context, comments, made-up quotes, then it becomes a problem. Because then the question becomes “Well why does this woman need to have her boobs out to tell us about immigration?” and there’s no good answer to that.
I think when people claim Page 3 is ‘playful’ or ‘innocent’ that’s what they’re getting at really. Those current captions aside, it used be “What’s this girl here for?” “For men to enjoy looking at.” That’s an honesty people find appealing, because you go to the Daily Mail website and there’s a sidebar full of women in various states of undress with flimsy justifications written for why it’s important we see holiday snaps of Tamara Rutland in a bikini or Britney’s latest nipple slip and you ask “Why?” and it’s “People want to hear about celebrities!”. We turn on the TV and there’s adverts with women in nothing more than underwear and you ask the “Why?” question and it’s “To sell you shampoo”. You open a woman’s magazine and there’s Photoshop’d photos of stick thin models in lingerie and you ask “Why?” and it’s “To make sure you keep buying our magazine for diet tips”.
I’m not really defending Page 3, I don’t give a crap about it really, it’s not like it’s hard to find tits on the internet regardless, but I struggle at understanding how Page 3 is any way worse than those examples in the previous paragraph. Surely if anything, you go after those first? The Mail especially seems to have far more boobs in it than The Sun, but because they belong to celebrities, are often taken without consent, and appear on different pages every day, it gets away with it.
April 14, 2013
I’m not going to talk at length about the whole Thatcher business, suffice to say the reaction and back and forth on social media has been quite interesting.
But then 1000s of people go out and buy “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” on iTunes, and the BBC has a very public fit over whether it should play it or not. Some have said the BBC is caught in a tough position: play it and be deemed distasteful or not play it and be deemed censorious.
But had the BBC wanted to keep it’s nose clean, they should have just played it. Because it’s not whether you play it or not, it’s how you play it. People have gone out and bought it just waiting for that moment on the chart show to see how it gets acknowledged.
For the BBC, therefore, all they need do is brief the host to just play the thing without comment, joke, or underhand reference: “And at number two here’s a classic number from The Wizard of Oz”. All those tuning in to see what the BBC say let out a sigh, see nothing interesting has happened, and the thing is done. There’s no clip to go viral or anything like that. It’d be a non-story.
Instead the BBC made a big song and dance over “will we play it or not?” in the end deciding not to play it in the chart show, but play a clip of it in part of a news story. I can’t think of a worse possible choice. Firstly you annoy one bunch of people by not playing it, then you annoy the other bunch even more by explicitly linking it to Thatcher in a news story, making everyone aware of the context and giving voice to the movement that you were trying to avoid engaging in the first place. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard and benefits no-one.
When the BBC banned “Smack My Bitch Up” by The Prodigy many years ago, they played a lyric-less version on the chart show. They didn’t then run a news story where the host read out all of the lyrics to the song to explain why they didn’t play it in the first place.
October 04, 2011
I’m not normally one to defend the Mail, but this story going around that they pre-wrote two versions of the Amanda Knox verdict story, and then published the wrong one, set off some alarm bells.
If you haven’t seen it, the background is here
Writing two stories isn’t so bad, running the wrong one is a horrible mistake to make, especially when it has details and quotes that are obviously made up as they could not possibly have happened.
I can see a reporter writing the two outlines, then leaving it with some work experience kid or junior reporter to stay on the desk all night and just “fix the details” when the actual verdict is reached. We can’t know for sure that the intention was ever to publish the story as it was. Take this bit:
“As Knox realized the enormity of what judge Hellman was saying she sank into her chair sobbing uncontrollably while her family and friends hugged each other in tears.”
This didn’t happen, but maybe it was just a way of writing an instruction to whoever was going to run the final piece to make a note Knox’s and her family’s reaction. Or maybe I’m being generous. We can’t possibly know as none of this ever happened, and they didn’t mean to publish the story anyway. So we can’t prove any sort of intent.
Or can we?
It stands to reason that if a ‘guilty’ story was pre-written with false quotes and observations, then the ‘not guilty’ story as run should also have false quotes and observations, which would be actually verifiable.
And this is where it gets a little wonky.
Here’s the current story in the Mail, that is found here:
It covers the reaction to the verdict as follows:
“Last night, there had been screams in court as the verdict was delivered.
Knox burst into tears and hugged her parents Curt and Edda Mellas – as just feet away the family of Meredith could only look on in amazement.”
But let’s have a look at Google shall we, which still has a search result extract from the original version of the ‘correct’ story that they posted which you might be able to see here:
“Knox, 24, punched the air in delight and screamed yes while her parents Curt and Edda Mellas collapsed in a flood of tears”
So apparently upon hearing the verdict, Amanda Knox must have punched the air, screamed in delight before bursting into tears and jumping on her parents to hug them while they were collapsed on the floor.
The detail of her punching the air doesn’t appear in the current version of the story on the Mail site at all, and it’s a rather odd thing to leave out. If it actually happened. Alas Google doesn’t have last night’s version of the page cached, so we can’t check any other details or quotes, but while it’s less obvious and certainly less funny than them reporting her as being found guilty, I can’t help but feel it’s a much bigger smoking gun in terms of demonstrating the fact that they’d already written and made-up these stories well before they went live last night, and then just fixed them with actual facts earlier this morning.
September 16, 2011
If you haven’t been following it, Independent columnist Johann Hari has apologised for being a Wikipedia vandal, and for using quotes from books or other journalists in his ‘interviews’.
Let’s set aside the Wikipedia thing for a moment. It’s silly and unprofessional but also sort of funny. It kind of makes me like him a bit more as a human-being to be honest. Your mileage may vary on that one.
But the plagiarism thing is another issue entirely. If you’re one of the journalists he nicked stuff from, then you should be very pissed-off. If you’re a journalist, you should be pissed-off on behalf of your fellows that had their stuff stolen. If you’re an editor that employed Hari you should be pissed-off that he misrepresented his work to you. If you were on a panel that gave him an award you should be pissed-off that he basically cheated his way to the prize.
But if you’re a newspaper reader, should you be pissed-off? No. He didn’t cheat you. And what he did was ethically bad and unprofessional, but it wasn’t bad journalism. In fact, it was far better journalism than what many of those throwing stones at him cultivate in their glass houses for a living.
I had a chat with Johann before writing this blog and he told me “An interview isn’t an X-ray of a person’s finest thoughts. It’s a report of an encounter,” before adding of some of his interviewees “I was attempting to represent them more accurately than the limited context of an interview offered. I felt getting across the point they wanted to make was more important than being 100% accurate in the words.”
If you Google that first quote, you’ll see I nicked it from the Independent article I linked earlier. I’m such a bad blogger! But luckily if you Google the second quote you’ll see it doesn’t appear anywhere else on the web at all, and hence it must be legit. Phew!
Except of course, I made the second one up. But if I hadn’t told you, you’d never know. The only person that would know is Johann Hari, as he’d be aware he’d never given me an interview. He’s the only person that can refute my claim that that is an accurate quote. And even if he did, it’s still my word against his. Maybe he said something he regretted and wanted to distance himself from it.
That’s the thing, if you want to cheat in journalism, if you want to make stuff up, then it’s easy. Rather than do that, Hari actually went off and did research to find something his interviewees had actually said and used that instead. That’s plagiarism, which is not okay by a long shot, but as journalism goes it’s actually a pretty good example of accurately representing the subject. It just also makes it a lot easier to get caught.
Two final thoughts: none of Hari’s interviewees complained about being misrepresented in the articles where he ‘cheated’. He did right by them, and so frankly he did right by us, the reader. He didn’t do right by his colleagues from whom he nicked stuff off.
Lastly if you’re reading this thinking “Yes, but it’s not like journalists routinely just make up quotes is it?” the I refer you to this fairly harrowing account of a woman interviewed by the Daily Mail. My favourite bit was her being quote as saying: “But most importantly, I’ve been asked out on more dates in the past three years than in the 20 years I spent in Manchester.”
Her response in the linked article:
“Leaving aside the assertion that had I spent 20 years in Manchester which meant that, using the ages in the article, I would have been 11 when I left my family and moved there (and she’s already stated I grew up in Derbyshire), this was simply not true. It was made up.”