The only criticism I have seen of Johann Hari’s recent silly (dangerously so) article about ‘Muslim homophobia’ has been in blogs:
Guardian journo Gary Younge tweeted that he disagreed with it, but went out of his way to also tweet that Johann Hari was an “important voice & ought to be engaged, as some have, not demonised.”
Engaging proved difficult. Johann’s response to people tweeting criticism at him has either been to ignore it completely or to, in one case, label the person responsible as ‘extremely unintelligent’ and it seems he has blocked many of the critics (including at least one of the authors above).
Some of the attacks on Johann since his article have been quite hysterical. But most that I’ve seen have been reasoned and calm. It’s raised an interesting, but quietly disturbing question about ‘liberal writers’. Johann and many other ‘left’ journalists quite regularly write indignant columns about the ignorance and stupidity of people like Melanie Phillips and Richard Littlejohn. Whether this is helpful or productive is another question, but it’s not something that most people are going to be particularly bothered by because, on the whole, they do seem to be ignorant and stupid.
However, I have not seen a single one of these writers tackle Johann’s article. An article which has since been shown to be based on a completely incorrect assertion and which, as I argued here:
http://howupsetting.tumblr.com/post/3503560578/can-we-talk-about-muslim-homophobia-now (I wrote this before seeing the above blogs so obviously the crime figures bit is moot)
is factually selective, logically muddled and presents an at times almost incoherent argument. I have absolutely no doubt that if a right-wing columnist of a similar profile to Johann had written a factually inaccurate, inflammatory colum about Muslims that there would have been at least a couple of high-profile attacks on it. The absence of this suggests that it’s okay for a liberal writer to write provocative tosh about Muslims, because they’re on ‘our side’ and write good columns about causes close to our hearts such as UK Uncut.
We’re supposed to be better than the right-wing bastards. We’re supposed to have higher standards. Johann is a writer I have long followed and he has written some things that I have admired. His refusal to either acknowledge that his article contained inaccuracies and apologise, or to tackle the criticism head on and explain why he’s right, has greatly reduced my respect for him. People share these articles and people assume that what they’re reading is based on accurate information (the issue of people thinking about such articles critically is another one entirely). They calcify opinions and create false oppositions. They are, as I wrote earlier, deeply irresponsible.
Apparently there’s ANOTHER ‘kiss-in’ at the John Snow tonight. It seems there are a lot of people willing to be mobilised against ‘homophobia’ without spending even a cursory amount of time investigating the origins of their ‘outrage’ and the actions they’re signing up to. The more I read about it, the more I am convinced that there was no homophobia in what happened (a summary explanation which I posted elsewhere is below.)
The surge in ‘Twitter outrage’ in the past year or so is incredibly bizarre. It only ever seems to reach a superficial level and rests entirely on a very narrow ‘liberal’ identity of self derived from identity politics. The ‘promised land’ seems to be a place where we can all live without offence rather than achieving any real equality (a significant, substantive equality which recognises class structures and economic power as primary, not who we have sex with.) I’m not sure if it’s pushing people to express opinions on things that they think little about or if it’s just giving a platform to people who have never tended to do this. Either way, it’s a bit dumb. I’ve said it before – for all the shouting about ‘equality’ that certain people do, their entire sense of identity would be lost forever if people *really* stopped giving a shit about people being gay.
Re: the ‘incident’ (it was in response to someone demanding further action so I’m tackling their points):
I’m afraid this is a perfect example of what I said when I wrote about people being outraged without actually bothering to check the details of what they’re outraged about! The version of events that has taken hold (a gay couple kissed and were forcibly ejected) bears little relation to what we’ve been told: - The info about the complainant is here: http://news.pinkpaper.com/NewsStory/5215/16/04/2011/man-who-sparked-john-snow-furore-claims-couple-were-fondling.aspx
Firstly, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there WAS a complainant. Previously we’d been led to believe that the landlord just took exception, not that a member of the public made a complaint. The complainant’s description of their behaviour tallies with what my friend told me. She said that most people were indeed rolling their eyes and thinking ‘get a room’, but if someone complains then clearly that places pressure on the pub to do something, right?
Secondly, and crucially, you’ll see that both the complainant *and the guy who tweeted when ejected from the pub* acknowledge that they WERE asked to tone it down, and remained in the pub for at least an hour afterwards. If this was a case of bar staff taking offence to gay people, why on earth would they not just eject them immediately?!
Thirdly, in the original story the guys involved said they ‘refused’ a request to moderate their behaviour. They said they told the person who came over to ‘turn around instead’ and ‘took little notice’ and continued to kiss ‘not in a confrontational way, just on the mouth’. That’s a bit different from the version in this story, where they stopped, stayed for an hour and then were randomly ejected.
Fourthly, again originally they described their behaviour as nothing more than a ‘peck on the lips’. One of the SUPPORTIVE witnesses described it ‘full-on snogging, but not heavy petting’.
Next - no-one ever suggested that the John Snow had contacted police or requested police remove them. The police involvement (which only seems to appear in some versions of the story) was that when they were arguing with the landlady, a man in the pub identified himself as a police officer, showed a badge and said they had to leave if she asked them to.
Some other points - I’ve no doubt similar things have happened in other Sam Smiths pubs - because similar things happen in pubs across the country. The implication that there is some Sam Smith-wide policy on gay kissing is risible and an insult to all of our intelligence. There are several Sam Smiths pubs in Soho, myself and many other gay friends regularly frequent many of them without incident. And I have seen straight people being asked to leave pubs after kissing before (not Sam Smiths ones, but I’ve never witnessed anyone being ejected from one of them that I can recall.)
Yes, I do think the people involved should know best - but a) there are so many inconsistencies that it’s impossible for any of us to know exactly what happened, least of all those now trying to destroy the pub b) I don’t think just because someone believes they’ve been discriminated against, it means they have been. If you were asked to leave a pub for kissing, of COURSE you’d be angry and indignant, whatever sexuality you are. It doesn’t mean you were asked to leave because you were gay (and indeed gay people get ejected from gay pubs.)
Lastly, yes it’s odd that no-one from the pub has made a statement, but I don’t think this can be used as some damning evidence of guilt. Because really, it snowballed so quickly that if the pub stuck to their guns, said they weren’t homophobic and had every right to eject the pair, the people who turned up to the kiss-in (and countless others) would be demanding their blood. Perhaps an apology would have satisfied everyone, perhaps not, but maybe they don’t feel the need to apologise and are being stubborn. As for Sam Smith, I imagine they feel at arms length from the situation given their heavy presence in Soho without incident and the fact that the landlord makes the rules about who comes in and who stays, not them
I keep reading a lot about the ‘rights’ of individuals to watch whatever they want. Where does this ‘right’ come from? It certainly isn’t a ‘right’ recognised in the European Convention on Human Rights, which states:
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and im-partiality of the judiciary
This being a serious, grown-up document which recognise that there are always competing rights and responsibilities. Such as the responsibility of a filmmaker to acknowledge that the work they create contributes to our culture, and our culture is hugely powerful in shaping our values and our societal mores. Such as the right of everyone to fight against a culture where the brutalisation of women is presented as entertainment for men, as if this has absolutely no effect beyond entertaining the viewer. We don’t need research to look into the effect of culture on people - everyone has at some point been profoundly affected by art. We are moved, elated, inspired, angered, outraged…why then is it such a leap to believe that something with no purpose other than to present sexual brutalisation as entertainment can degrade a viewer?
The BBFC isn’t a perfect body and no-one would argue that it is. But I think only a complete fool would argue for its abolition or for its powers to be reduced. Allowing a free-for-all isn’t a mark of civilisation. Recognising competing rights and responsibilities, and the compelling power of culture to shape us all, is what is civilised.
In a neat follow up to this, the latest example of Johann Hari being a ridiculously poor journalist has provoked a response so in keeping with what I wrote that I could have scripted it. Firstly, a condescending and smug response from Hari . Despite being caught red-handed, he still manages to adopt a tone akin to a teacher scolding some impudent pupils. This, of course, is just the latest of many examples of Hari’s piss poor ‘journalism’ and his complete inability to ever acknowledge when he’s wrong.
Then, the insults . Hari himself likes to dish them out as you can see in some of the above links. He called one (very polite) person who dared to quiz him on his sources “highly unintelligent” and “childlike” and told another they had “no grasp of reality”. Lefty chum Patrick Strudwick sometimes chips in, quite hilariously/pathetically labelling one critic ‘homophobic’ for daring to question Saint Johann. As I mentioned in my previous post, Hari has been the subject of columns in The Guardian excusing his behaviour because he’s a lefty. Now we have Patron Saint of the self-righteous ‘liberal’ mob, Sunny Hundal, calling me a ‘twat’ for pointing out what is patently obvious to everyone else - that so-called lefty ‘journalists’ would not be defending Hari if his views did not reinforce their own world view.
That is why he gets away with it and that is why he is able to be so irredeemably smug in dealing with criticism - he has an army of followers who salivate over his every word because it repeats their own prejudices back to them. These are not people with an interest in thinking about their views - they just want them parroted back to them in an indignant manner so that they can believe they are fighting the good fight. Simple concepts such as facts and ownership only get in the way! Meanwhile, they will keep wanking each other off over the ‘shoddy journalism’ of Daily Mail columnists.
Interesting postscript - one of the favourite bugbears of these types is the tendency of the right-wing newspapers to ‘bury’ their corrections and apologies. At the same time as Johann Hari uploaded his risible ‘explanation’ for nicking other people’s quotes and passing them off as an interview, he uploaded an old column from Attitude magazine, making sure that his ‘explanation’ is pushed halfway down the page and isn’t the first thing you see.
BUT HE’S A LEFTY!
The pathetic Johann Hari ‘apology’ is a classic case of framing the debate in your favour. Hari has completely ignored all but the very mildest of the ‘allegations’ against him and, sadly, most mainstream journalists seem to be taking the bait. People keep saying that he has used his interviewees’ ‘writing’ to clarify points. While that is still dishonest, it’s far more defensible than his tactic of lifting quotes from interviews conducted by other journalists. The evidence for this is undeniable. Given that a huge part of interviewing is gaining the trust of an interviewee and encouraging them to coherently explain themselves to you, being unable to do this and lifting portions from an interviewer who has succeeded is plagiarism of their work, pure and simple.
To go further - as I linked to in my post on this yesterday and as has become even clearer in the past 24 hours, he makes things up. He doesn’t ‘borrow quotes’ for an ‘intellectual portrait’, he flatly makes up things that did not happen.
So we have a lying, plagiarising writer with (as already written about on this blog and in many other places) an apparent inability to check basic facts.
But he’s a lefty.
As I mentioned yesterday, the rush of the liberal clique to defend Hari was depressingly predictable. Deborah Jane Orr, Polly Toynbee, Caitlin Morin and Grace Dent all leapt to his defence. Laurie Penny and Sunny Hundal joined Patrick Strudwick in calling Hari’s critics ‘homophobic’. Simon Kelner, editor of The Independent, defended Hari due to the claim that there had been no complaints from his interviewees (yet as seen above, an associate of one of the interviewees clearly complained, and it’s widely known that Noam Chomsky previously complained about made-up quotes in a piece Hari wrote about him). With quite ruthless cunning, Kelner also played up to the prevailing attitude amongst Hari’s defenders in calling the criticism ‘politically motivated’. Again and again I have read the absurd suggestion that the people who care about this are right-wing and ‘have it in’ for Hari because he’s a ‘left-wing’ voice in the media. Again and again I have read comments like Sunny Hundal’s ‘I don’t see why we have to flagellate ourselves’. To these people Hari is ‘one of us’ and so ultimately beyond criticism.
The absurd accusation that people were ‘bullying’ Hari was repeated time and time again, as if ordinary people making fun of the deception of a national journalist (and one who happens to be impossibly self-righteous) was comparable to picking on the weak kid at school. Hari prides himself on being provocative and ‘pushing buttons’. The final paragraph of his ‘About Me’ section on his website consists of a list of attacks and insults he has received due to his work. I doubt he’ll be rushing to add this one.
A point about his apology. I’ve seen people congratulating him on ‘apologising’ and ‘learning’ from this experience and from his readers. When the Negri plagiarism (a very serious case, as Hari uses old quotes to imply that Negri is being evasive when accused of murder) was brought to his attention a few weeks ago, Hari witheringly responded that his ‘accusers’ couldn’t grasp that someone could say the same thing on more than one occasion. That was his ‘explanation’. This apology has only come about because this story has exploded and threatened him. Additionally, his ‘thanks’ to people for pointing out his ‘mistake’ is hilarious given his well-documented tendency to insult and block people who question/criticise his work on Twitter. He also does not allow any comments on his pieces. This is not a man who invites constructive criticism in any sense.
It’s just impossible, once you look at the facts, not to see that he is a poor excuse for a journalist. Agreeing with some of his views does not excuse this. It does, however, mean that many are not willing to listen to the facts.
I have banged on about this for the past day and a bit not because I have a personal problem with Hari but because I think it’s important. I think it’s important that left-wing journalists are held to the same standard we would expect of anyone else (and all of the ‘but right-wing journalists are even worse’ defences are moot - we know they are bad because we are continually pointing out that they are bad). I think it’s important that we do not sweep misdeeds under the carpet because we happen to largely agree with someone or (in the case of the journalists) because someone is our colleague and friend. I think it’s important that our principles are not person-specific. I think it’s important that when someone whom thousands of people clearly trust is shown to be a liar that this is exposed and that trust is destroyed - especially when he uses his unwarranted power to spread lies.
I fully expect this to blow over and Hari to be back writing ‘liberalism-for-dummies’ column by next week. I fully expect people to retweet these by the hundreds. I fully expect the squadron of ‘left’ writers who have leapt to his defence to soon be criticising other public figures for their lack of rigor and critical thought. Still, at least this episode has exposed the deep hypocrisy at the heart of this ‘politics-as-a-lifestyle-choice’ industry.