I’ve been following with amazement the fall from grace of one of the more vicious columnist in British anti-Israel journalism. Johann Hari, a skillful and effective vilifier of Israel, has departed in disgrace from Britain’s leftwing daily, The Independent, after publishing a lengthy apology for committing plagiarism, fabulation, and other severe breaches of ethics (he was found to have routinely smeared people he didn’t like while glorifying himself on the Internet, using fictitious characters and pseudonyms).
Hari’s meteoric rise to fame (straight from university) was surpassed only by his recent rapid decline. In the end he just narrowly managed to return his journalism award before it was taken from him.
For those of you unfamiliar with Johann Hari, here is a selection of quotes from his columns about Israel:
“Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”
“Everyone now knows the Israeli navy committed a machine-gun massacre on a ship in international waters that was carrying humanitarian aid for the blockaded people of Gaza”
“When the [Goldstone] Report was published, authored by a Jewish judge, it proved to be a meticulous and accurate documentation of what happened”
“In theory… Livni should be in a strong position to understand nationalist ‘terrorists’ who have planted bombs on buses and in cafés – because she was raised by them.”
“Israel''s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wrote in 1937: ‘The Arabs will have to go, but one needs an opportune moment for making it happen, such as a war.’” [Historian Benny Morris called Hari’s ‘quote’ “an invention, pure and simple, either by Hari or by whomever he is quoting….”]
Hari fumed at the illumination of his bias. When criticized for his repeated vilification of Israel, he wrote: “there is a campaign to smear anybody who tries to describe the plight of the Palestinian people. It is an attempt to intimidate and silence – and to a large degree, it works.” He then evoked the famous retort to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt of the 1950s: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Except that Hari directed his rebuke at Alan Dershowitz and the media monitoring website Honest Reporting, as well as at others who had condemned his frequent tirades, and highlighted his many embellishments and departures from fact.
But this had been going on for years, so what changed? How did Hari fall so unexpectedly into disrepute?
As suspicion about Hari’s bizarre alter ego evolved, his attempts to explain away his behavior led only to renewed interest in earlier allegations of fabrications and inaccuracies, and especially in his reports from Iraq, which he used to help rationalize his original support of the Iraq war. But it is only in the past several months that evidence against him really began to mount, to the point where his suspected journalistic misdeeds began to seem irrefutable. At that point his denials ceased, and his exit became inevitable.
Hari’s lengthy and well-publicized apology, when it finally came, contained an admission of plagiarism and some nasty unethical behavior mostly against his own colleagues. But it was also full of explanations and excuses, and it ended with an impassioned plea to his readers to give him a second chance after he completes “a period of retraining”.
The reaction to the apology was mixed. Richard Seymour in The Guardian responded with: “any temptation I had to feel sorry for him evaporated when I read his self-serving apology”, while Roy Greenslade in the same paper stated that “the sinner has repented” and expressed his “earnest hope” that Hari would make a comeback.
The Telegraph’s Tom Chivers, who had liked Hari’s writings and politics, summarized Hari’s journalistic prospects thus:
“The question is whether anything he writes can ever, now, be trusted. I argue that it can''t. His actions were so false that it will forever leave a question mark, to say the least, over his journalism. He''s a clever man and will find something else to do (he''s already shown a talent for fiction writing, many have suggested). But it shouldn''t be journalism.”
So what, then, is the Israeli angle to this extraordinary story? Actually, there is none, other than the fact that there is now one less journalist bashing Israel, at least for a while. And while there is perhaps a sliver of shadenfreude in the pro-Israel camp (it might be forgiven if there is), all in all, there has been little or no mention of the fall of Johann Hari in the Israel media, just, I might add, as there had never been much about him before.
There is a postscript to this story, and it has to do, not so much with Johann Hari, as with his newspaper. Let me quote veteran journalist, Walter Bagehot, from The Economist:
“I have also been depressed to see a chorus of well-known journalists leap to Mr Hari''s defence, arguing that what he did was silly or foolish, but is not really his fault. … Now he [Hari] is admitting to wrong-doing and apologising, but only after getting caught, years later. I have met too many journalists like that, and their flaw was not one of training. At the risk of being pompous, it was one of character. The Independent''s editor, Chris Blackhurst, announces today that there is ‘no doubting [Mr Hari''s] talent as a columnist and we are hoping to see him back in the not too distant future.’ What does that say about British journalism?”