Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Punishment Beating

 "You wanna fuck with me?  Okay.  You wanna play rough?  Okay.  Say hello to my little friend!" - Tony Montana
Back in the hot summer of 2007, while dreams of liberal democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan were crashing down in blood and flames, there was a little-noted yet highly entertaining spat between Johann Hari and Nick Cohen, two of the pro-war left's leading lights.

The short version goes like this - Hari used his review of Nick Cohen's dreadful book What's Left? [1} to launch a mild and finger-waggy attack upon the totality of Cohen's writings on The War On Terror and the Awful, Terrorist Loving Libruls, and to point out the glaring contradictions in Cohen's post-2001 work. Hari plainly saw this as his opportunity to burn his boats with the Decent Left writ large, which had long since become a running journalistic joke, and he grasped the moment with vigour.

In response [2], Nick penned a lengthy, dummy-spitting declaration that Hari's points didn't relate to statements made in Nick's book, which was largely true.  Nick had, in fact, made most of his jaw-droppingly dense assertions on Neoconservatism, Kissinger etc. in his Observer columns or in pieces for print and online magazines.

As a spectacle, it was utterly hilarious - the most ridiculous pair of British journalism's preening fighting cocks frantically scratching each other to ribbons; strutting, crowing and pecking, with Hari incapable of admitting that he was reviewing Nick himself and Cohen furiously pretending that, because his wacky statements didn't appear in his book, Hari was somehow misrepresenting his proclamations.

Both of them came off like prize tits, in short, and more or less the entire Decent set piled in on Cohen's side, resulting in maximum comedy as Hari issued a libel threat [3] and Nick's pals herded nervously together around him, bleating and baahing with what they hoped would be sufficient volume to drown out Hari's mostly accurate criticisms.

And then, years of nothing - Hari became the Independent's pompous, right-on Boy Wonder and Nick continued to file his highly tendentious assaults on Liberaldom for, like, cheering on terrorists to mutilate women, man, and making TV shows that were insufficiently belligerent towards Jihadism.

But then, Johann Hari was caught out [4]  splicing old quotes into his interviews and passing them off on his own, and was engulfed in a Twitter-wave of richly-deserved mockery.  Exposed as a fraudster, Hari issued some half-hearted mea culpas and kept his head down, hoping it would all blow over.

A vain hope, for in some darkened corner of his own Oval Office, Nick had long been poring over his Enemies List with Nixonian determination, waiting patiently for his moment of glorious retribution against the elitist bums and hippies...

...And siezing his chance once his old foe Hari lay injured and prostrate upon the field of battle, Nick grabbed his trusty shootin' iron and charged in to bravely finish off the wounded [5].  Johann Hari, he declared - or at least someone who appears to know him personally - has been making malicious, defamatory and self-serving edits to Wikipedia! 

What in tarnation...!?! Circle the wagons, boys! cried Nick's buddies [6] - We got us a hard fight on our hands!  Everybody, to Google for an intensive internet search! 

I see no need to investigate these allegations in any depth at all - let's just assume that they're true, and go on from there.  Others may disagree but to me, malicious Wikipedia edits are right up there with "mild cursing" or "running with scissors" on my list of "Behaviours That I Could Not Give a Fuck About".

Let me give you an explanatory example.  Back in 2006, Yankee blogger Glenn Greenwald was repeatedly accused of this kind of internet "sock-puppetry" - making self-aggrandising comments using a pseudonym  - in an epic, three-week orgy of wingnut outrage, prompting one of the most deranged of wingnut blogs to ask whether it was "The Worst Blog Scandal Ever?" [7]

You remember The Worst Blog Scandal Ever, right?  Oh, you don't?  I wonder why that could be.  Perhaps it's because it was really one of the lamest, most inconsequential scandals ever.  Malicious editing and sock-puppetry are dishonest and weasling; they're nasty and defamatory.  What they're not is very interesting, or scandalous enough to be worth much in the way of time or effort.

Let me put it this way.  During the week when the Guardian - a paper that Nick and his pals have spent years dumping oceans of shit over - rocked the foundations of the world's most powerful media empire, shut down a criminal enterprise and brought a genuine scandal of public interest to the front doors of Number 10 and the Metropolitan Police...

...A small but determined bunch of angry berks were engaged in the honourable task of helping one of the nation's most ridiculous hacks wreak his pissy vengeance upon a nationally-discredited twerp for the crime of penning a mildly critical and dishonest book review, years ago.

Let's be clear, here - Hari's career is toast.  Sure, he'll keep picking up a paycheque from the Indy and he'll still be Mr. Liberal Enlightenment Values In Annoyingly Strident Tones on op-ed pages for years, but his integrity is fatally punctured.  All of his enemies are remorseless quote-miners and grudge-bearers, which means Hari will never be able to open his yap again without having great fistfuls of his own ridiculousness shoved down his neck, and quite frankly - good!  Fuck him - As ye sow, so shalt ye reap and etc. and so on.

But let's not kid ourselves that these accusations of crimes against Wikipedia are a principled defence, or a holding to account, or a cleaning of the stables of the Fourth Estate.  It's an act of public vengeance on an uppity ingenue who had the impudence to get above his status and dared to fuck with people he shouldn't; a punishment beating; a Casino-style baseball-batting, long planned and executed with maximum injury in mind.

Well.  I say that Nick and Johann should drop the internet squabbling and settle this the old-fashioned, honourable way - Thunderdome.  They could put it on pay-per-view and make a tasty profit.

Update!  What'd you think of that, huh? What you think, I'm a fuckin' worm like you? I told you, man, I told you! Don't fuck with me!

And with that, Hari is suspended and is probably about to get his jotters.  Me, I hope he's been done in for important stuff - you know, passing off other people's quotes as his own; transgressing the basic rules of his profession and for his stupendous, flatulent pomposity, that kind of thing.

Twitter and Blogger are swarming with comedy ballbags roaring, throwing kung-fu shapes and ordering the Independent to take this Wiki-tampering bullshit seriously.  It's entertaining in its own way, like watching a pack of Chihuahuas furiously trying to fuck a rocking horse.

So it goes with each and every one of these hack-generated, tool-promoted blogspats.  As I've said during  more or less every one of these incidents - the Great Bullshitty Amnesty International Boo-Hoo; that endless series of mendacious, politically-convenient exposes of Gordon Brown's depravity, and so on - people who are caught with their fingers in the till should be given the punt on that basis, and not because a bunch of handbag-clutching, nudge-nudging cybercretins are making demands and sad-faces. 

I can't really see any way back to Serious Journalism for Hari, although I'm sure he'll rock the lifestyle section of some local rag somewhere.  If he's ever willing to revert to his earlier warmongering, hippy-baiting ways and pen endless screeds about the depravity of the left for an audience of lunatic, hate-happy Morlocks, there could even be a slot at the Spectator for him, one of these days.


Note - For brevity, I haven't gone into the sharp detail of the original Hari-Cohen spat at all.  Comments are below, for anyone who feels I've mischaracterised either participant's positions, but be warned - if any commenters show up from Independent IP addresses, there'll be some swift deletions... 


1.  Johann Hari's review of What's Left, 2007.  Particularly mild on its subject, as far as I can see.  Bluntly says that Cohen is well-intentioned, but a bit hypocritical and self-deceiving, which is a lot nicer than I would be.  That said, also very cynically jumps ship from the burning wreckage of HMS Decency as it sinks beneath the lapping waves of its own idiocy and viciousness.  


2. Nick's response, Dissent magazine, 2007.  Nick clearly feels that he's pummelling Hari with the sheer force of his remorseless logic here, but I remain unconvinced, especially given some of the points in Hari's reply.  Nick also calls Hari's behaviour "Maoist", which is nice of him. 


3.  Greenslade on Hari's threat to sue Harry's Place, Guardian.  The point at which the whole affair tipped over from "Entertaining" to "Absolutely hilarious". 


4.  "Johann Hari apologises for error of judgement", Telegraph, 2011.  "Apologises" is one way of putting it, without using the words "Wriggles" or "Cavils". 


5.  Nick Cohen, Spectator, 2011.  Nick's entirely not-personal, non-opportunistic revelations of horrifying Wikipedia vandalism.  Nick's summary of the initial spat is a hoot in its own right.  Ask if you want to know why.


6. Jack of Kent discovers the network and crowdsources for evidence.  JofK seems like an alright sort to me and he's done some excellent work, but I think his mateyness with Nick may have led him to overestimate the importance of blog comments and Wiki-tampering.


7. Hot Air blog, 2006.  That bit about the Worst Blog Scandal Ever, not very interesting but an amusingly hyperbolic example of the form.

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