It's impossible not to write about Johann Hari's shenanigans. I held down my fingers but they compulsively crawled to the keyboard. You hear that an award winning writer has smartened up his interviews by replacing what the interviewee said with something he wrote once, or said in a more articulate and aphoristic fashion to another interviewer. You call this producing "an intellectual portrait". As thousands of Twitterers have shown, it is obscenely easy to spoof and piss-take.
In the Reading Room of the British Museum Karl Marx shifts uneasily in his chair. "Carbuncles," he explains to my inquiring and sympathetic gaze. "What are my views on religion?" He draws on his cigar, a spark falls in his beard which starts burning and I pour water from a carafe over him. He wipes his face and gazes on the heap of Blue Books that litter his desk. "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
I imagine Johann Hari on the train from Hull looking glumly at his notes. The great poet had been polite but not forthcoming. What had he said about his childhood? "I didn't enjoy it much." This intellectual portrait was a mere paint by numbers sketch and he would have to fill in the rest. So:-
Larkin gazed out the window, and a faintly wounded expression came across his face:- "They fuck you up, your mum and dad, they do not mean to but they do."
If Hari had fudged statistics – well, which of us can do the maths. If he didn't pore over background material as thoroughly as he should have - that's forgivable for a 1000 word piece. Hari however did something which anyone can see is dishonest. Supporters find excuses for him. It seems he didn't get the regular journalist training and so missed the Ethics and Good Practice module. But what he did falls within primary school play ground morality. You don't say you heard someone say something to you when they didn't, even if it's the sort of thing they would say.
As a columnist Hari is used to scolding wrong-doers for their lapses of judgement and ethics and now the scolded are avenged. Those who have called him a light-weight in the past are full of I-told-you-so. The right are drinking the best vintage Schadenfreude. He's given everyone the chance to suggest that the Zeitgeist told him to blur the difference between "narrative" and "truth", and to deplore the tons of opinion to ounces of reportage that fill the newspapers these days. In blog comments anonymous media navvies complain that Mr Glamour Boy gets the good gigs without the graft, and the big neon name is sent off to cover foreign affairs, transport and the environment, whether he knows anything about them or not.
I would never have broken my neck to read a Hari piece though when I have come across them recently I've thought he has got better and was not as callow and shallow as in his earlier writing years. I was cheering him when on a discussion programme he gave the Roman Catholic church a smacking for their paedophilia cover up, pointing out that no other big organisation would have been allowed to get away with it. He's liberal-left so no doubt I'm on his side most of the time.
But now he's shown he can't be trusted. He'll never be quoted in this town again.
Hari hatches the egg
by Dr. Seuss
You meant what I said
And I said what you meant
And a journalist's faithful
One hundred per cent.