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Monday 4 July 2011

The Dirty Pursuit Of Hari

I have read very little of Johann Hari’s work. In fact, I cannot recall having read anything by him recently. He was therefore off my radar until his habit of inserting quotes from elsewhere into his interviews caused a furore to kick off last week. So I had no strong opinion on the case – until some of the condemnation veered into the realms of forthright vindictiveness.

Hari won the Orwell Prize for political journalism back in 2008, and there is now a campaign – led by Paul Staines at the Guido Fawkes blog, someone unlikely to be on the Orwell shortlist any time soon – to try and strip him of the award. As with anything coming out of the Fawkes blog, the methods used do not need to meet any recognised evidential standard.

The campaign started last Tuesday, after the Fawkes blog had declared Hari to be a “fraud”. Soon afterwards came the first urging of the Media Standards Trust (MST) to strip Hari of the 2008 Orwell Prize. The following day there was the assertion that Hari had breached the PCC code, though the inconvenient fact that papers like the Daily Mail, with which Staines and his tame gofer Henry Cole do business, run a coach and horses through that code on a daily basis was not allowed to enter.

More “nudging” of the MST came last Thursday, with the risible suggestion that any scrutiny of Hari’s 2008 submission should be farmed out to the wider public: another thought that is not allowed to enter is that the lynch mob mentality can work against its proponents as well as for them. But those waiting for the Fawkes blog to take the biscuit in customary style have had to wait until yesterday.

Because here was another smoking gun: someone who had been on a train from Clapham Junction to Gatwick Airport last Friday might have been sitting near Helena Kennedy. That’s it? Well, yes it is, but this is also someone who is on the MST. But, so what? All that the Fawkes blog has is a suggestion that Helena Kennedy might have been discussing Hari on her mobile – if it was her on the train.

In fact, the Fawkes blog’s informant not only did not see the “posh Scot” – and so could not say whether or not it was Helena Kennedy – but admits that she at no time mentioned Hari personally. The mobile phone conversation “seemed to fit”. Thus the standard of evidence deemed admissible by the Staines and Cole kangaroo court.

If the less than dynamic duo were the ones on the sharp end of the witch-hunt, they would be the first to cry foul over any attempt at a nudge-and-wink stitch-up. The MST will make their decision on Johann Hari and the 2008 Orwell Prize, and they will do it without Staines and Cole.

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