When the world was reporting on Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in New York, Johann Hari was writing about the rape of developing countries by the IMF and the subsequent death and suffering of millions. When the newspapers put Will and Kate on their front pages he didn’t follow suit with applause. And before the New York legislation for gay marriage lost its popular position in trending topics on Twitter to #interviewsbyhari he could have been pleased that some of his writing could have helped to bring this important change in society to pass.
Hari has written some very important pieces which don’t sit comfortably with daily news and has equally made prominent mistakes such as supporting the war in Iraq, a subject for which he is still apologising.
He is branded as a leftie, gay, columnist who rose to fame too young and is now paying the price for some sloppy techniques, see Fleet Street Blues for an explanation of what has happened.
“I think it’s born of the arrogance that in this case goes with his relative inexperience,” said a national newspaper journalist who advised Hari as he was making his way at The Independent. “Johann was a national newspaper columnist at the age of 23. While he’s never done the daily grind (which would have beaten such an error out of him), he has done a lot of good work along the way.
“It pains me that the credibility of that work has now been called in to question. He should have known better. But there again, we’ve all fucked up. And we learn from those mistakes. Unfortunately, Johann is going to have to learn this particular lesson in the public eye”.
The particular lessons are about Hari’s interviewing and writing up techniques, about which Hari said:
“When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing – and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.”
The topic gained incredible interest on Twitter and #interviewsbyhari included some creative results which serve as an example of how his technique appears to function:
I asked Piaf if she had any regrets. She tilted her head towards me in defiance and said, “Non, je ne regrette rien”
“Quotes are some of the most vital weapons in a journalist’s armoury, but I think they are often overused. Bland quotes add nothing to a story. Conversely, great quotes used well can bring a story to life. And there lies the problem, that it can often be a difficult task getting those killer quotes,” says Martin Booth, editor of Bristol Culture.
Getting the good quotes is a measure of success and it’s easier to cheat or cut corners but when a lot of eyes are on you and waiting for you to screw up there isn’t much room for doing so.
There are still millions, if not billions, of people suffering and dying in the world because of corporate and state agendas. Being sloppy gives others ammunition to ignore dissident voices and there is just too much at stake at the moment.
For a live example of the effects of the IMF’s methods, about which Hari wrote, tune in to the news tonight to see how the Greeks are responding to the austerity measures the government is forced to impose in order to get financial help.
With Hari’s help, men are not now limited to marrying women or vice versa but there’s one thing about public life that hasn’t yet changed: Caesar’s wife must still not only be above suspicion but must also appear to be so, as the saying goes.
It won’t be of much comfort to know that in this case it could be Caesar’s husband, if his actions don’t let him stay in his privileged position of power.