I’ve got a story to tell. Well actually I’ve got two stories to tell. Fuck it. I’ve got a bunch of stories to tell. I’m a regular storyteller. They should employ me to read Jackanory or whatever they call it now.
First up. When I was young. Like 15 years ago or something. My sister and a bunch of her mates went on holiday. It was one of those tawdry booze fuelled Costa Del Sol affairs, the ones you see on “Britain’s teenage wrongs” and other shows that both glorify and denigrate the alcohol soaked culture that we glorify and denigrate ourselves most weekends. Anyway – my sister and mates weren’t like that (no seriously – I’m not saying that just cos it’s my sister). Sure they boozed it up and sunbathed and maybe even hooked up with a few blokes in the wide-eyed and slightly naive world where terms like “snogging” were coined, but they were hardly party animals. Accounts I heard had half the girls spending the whole time out there moaning about missing their boyfriends, how it was too hot and how their party animal neighbors kept them awake when they were trying to sleep.
he sighed angrily and repeated to me “my name is, my name is, my name is S-S-S-S Slim Shady” #interviewswithhari
Anyway this story is as boring as that last paragraph so I’ll cut to the chase. While they were out there they met this journalist doing a feature piece for the Daily Mirror. It was sold to them as a travel-log type piece about girls holidaying abroad. The bargain was that they do a photoshoot and answer a few questions – from which they got to keep some nice professional photos of themselves. Now are alarm bells ringing here anyone? That’s cos we’re all old and jaded and full of hate and bile. This was the 90s – when people were much more trusting don’t forget.
So when they got back my sis was all excited. That excitement was infectious and my mum was telling all our friends, relatives, neighbours, that her beautiful daughter was gonna be in the papers. Oh yeah! She was in the papers all right. A two page centre spread stitch up on “Brit babes abroad” gloating about the bucketloads of sex and booze these girls were up to their necks in, despite their boyfriends waiting faithfully at home like lap dogs. It was horrific. The photographer had managed to slip in some pretty ropey shots of one of the girls (think Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct but safe for the papers) and, the editorial took some bare facts and embellished them in complete fantasy… well not fantasy. More like “what people think happens in these places”. You know the score – mock disgust suppressing a leery gawking underbelly (the daily mail runs a piece like this every month – I’m not joking). Needless to say our mum was mortified. She went to the local newsagent and bought every copy of the Mirror in stock so no-one we knew would read it and burnt them all at the top of the garden.
“I thought I told you, homeboy?” he asked, flicking a speck of dust from his shiny suit. “You can’t touch this.” #interviewswithhari
Fast forward 14 years and here I am. Sat in the office the other month and who should ring me up? Why it’s the Manchester Evening News with a few questions about some press shizzle I put out the day before. Well what could I do but answer his questions. Lovely bloke. Easy interview. Job done. That’s my name up in lights. Page 14, column 4 of the Manchester Evening News circa April 2011. Want an autograph? Fuck off!
Next day I checked out his article. What’s this? The fucker had attributed quotes to me that I hadn’t said. In fact, he’s attributed quotes to me that he’d said but that I hadn’t disagreed with. Well what could I say?
I was delighted. It was perfect. In making up a bunch of shit he’d made the article more interesting, more sensational and more controversial – but he’d also supplied me with a bit of plausible deniability. If the article got picked up on and people complained I could say “I didn’t say that, this tosser made it all up” but equally, in embellishing the story he’d given me more exposure than my own bland musings would ever have supplied.
The second story here is actually just an example. I’ve had loads of stuff like that go down. The press always ring up asking for a quote then, if you give them one they think is boring they’ll just embellish it and make some shit up based on what they think you should be saying.
Fredo and Michael looked at each other, then me, then back at each other, then Michael said “I know it was you, Fredo”. #interviewswithhari
Embellishing interview transcripts is not new or different or scandalous. My sister got stitched up years ago and the Daily Mirror will probably be wondering forever why its circulation spiked in some corner of a british backwater all those years ago. Papers embellish quotes and stories as a matter of course. Whilst I think it’s an awful practice that stinks of lazy and sensational journalism – I’m also aware that journalism is generally lazy and sensational. It is what it is! Journalists are trained to bleed the interest out of any article they publish so that every page is a colourful Rorschach of engaging prose. Equally journalists don’t have time to build up these wonderfully engaging pieces cos they have a deadline to meet. Cutting corners is just par for the course in the cut throat world of the press. Whenever I find myself becoming enamoured of the press I just look at this picture:
It’s amazing. It has everything. It highlights all sorts of issues. It won awards. It was taken by a journalist who did nothing to help a starving child while someone took their food!
The problem I have with Johann Hari is this: On what fucking planet did he think he was gonna get away with copying and pasting stuff from other interviews and writings into his own? I mean. How naive is that? How unimaginative is that? Anything with a paper trail in a world as heavily scrutinised as this is gonna come back to haunt you. He should have actually just made that shit up.
“I’ve got ninety-nine problems” he said, darkly, “but the bitch ain’t one” #interviewswithhari
Embellish quotes – yeah – but do it with stuff that comes from his own brane. Not stuff that is there already for the world to gawp at like some deja vu’d groundhog in a Bill Murray flick. If he’s that confident that Levy, or whoever else he’s trying to make sound less like a stuttering bumbling mumbling Pesci victim and more like a statesmen, won’t bemoan a bit of colour then he could have said anything as long as it made the interviewee sound good! Hari is definitely capable of this. His interviews read like Victorian prose so he can definitely write… why doesn’t he use his own artistic license instead of other people’s?
“No,” he said triumphantly. Clenching his fist, leaning so close a shiver ran up my spine, he spoke. “I am your father” #interviewswithhari
The fury that Hari whipped up on twitter is something of a storm in a teacup. The collective jaw drop of “left leaning liberals” (does this include me? I’m no fucking liberal) is as naive as the rush of abuse/support that flooded in. I mean so what if he’s a nice guy? So what if he leans to the left? He’s a journalist who’s doing his job. For all I know Paul Dacre might be an excellent person with an altruistic and virtuous nature who writes within every journalistic code imaginable (ok too far?) – It doesn’t stop him being the enemy on the front line of media blogging.
Just cos someone isn’t a comic villain of journalism like Littlejohn or Melanie Philips it doesn’t mean they aren’t prone to using the same underhand shit that any journalist adopts. In fact principles go out of the window if you have an agenda to push – whether or not it’s a good or a bad one. If you want to see a paper that preaches fear and sensationalises at every opportunity check out the Socialist Worker.
Principles and ethics belong in an imaginary utopian society where people are nice to each other and no-one lies – but as long as there are Littljohn’s around that will never happen. Journalism is dirty. That’s why people write blogs that endlessly scrutinise and rant about it. Johann Hari is probably quite a good journalist who looks very stupid at the moment. And that’s how it should be. Because if we start taking journalists too seriously, on the left or the right, we might end up believing them, just like the gawpers that media bloggers rail against, instead of taking a critical view of them and keeping their worst excesses in check.
“But what do you really want to be, Johnny?” Pausing, his eyes narrowed. He replied deliberately. “I want to be anarchy” #interviewswithhari
And some of those #interviewswithhari were actually quite funny.