Schadenfreude – The Johann Hari Edition

June 29, 2011

There may be some amongst you who recall a piece of execrable weekend journalism by Johann Hari entitled ‘The Dark Side of Dubai’. It was published in the Independent in 2009 and caused something of a furore in the UAE blogosphere. Most Dubai-based writers accepted that there were (and are) undeniably a lot of problems with Dubai that deserved to be reported on, and that Hari is a very effective writer, if polemic or propaganda are your cup of tea. However, Hari’s article was deeply flawed as a piece of journalism: lacking balance or perspective and filled with jarring stylistic flourishes, sensationalist hyperbole and rhetorical tropes.*

As well as these flaws, a number of Dubai-based bloggers and writers also observed that Hari’s piece contained a number of implausible anecdotes, conveniently apt quotations and exaggerations. Few people were willing to suggest outright fabrication given Hari’s status in the world of journalism, but nagging doubts have stayed with me since then. I am therefore very glad to see that Hari has been caught out recently over his use of quotations and is now facing some very awkward questions over his journalistic conduct.**

I am fully supportive of free speech and the media’s right to investigate; there is certainly plenty about Dubai that can and should be written about. However, if a journalist can actually be bothered, there is more than enough interesting subject matter out there without having to resort to lazy caricature, sensationalism and outright fabrication. It is a pretty damning indictment of the journalistic profession that there have been some journalists lining up to defend Hari’s transgressions and that his rhetorical style has been rewarded with the Orwell Prize for Journalism, particularly given Orwell’s own attitude to language (my emphases):

The inflated style itself is a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

[…]

Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one’s own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin, where it belongs.

Hari has sought to defend his practice but the fact remains that he has been caught out presenting a false picture to his readers to achieve a rhetorical aim. By presenting these quotes with his own dramatised context and tone, he has shown a disregard for accuracy and truth that calls into question the convenient anecdotes and quotes he has previously presented as fact. The only reason that he has been caught out in this instance is because the quotations have been from famous or prominent individuals: he can be even more cavalier with quotes and events that are below the radar and impossible to properly verify.

I am reminded of something Albert Einstein once said to me, as we had lunch together at a charming Bistro in Penge. He put down his glass of Merlot, fixed me with his gaze and said: “Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either”.

* – Brilliantly parodied and dissected by Chris Saul.

** – Links galore as follows: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.


The Federal Ministry

June 24, 2011

With documents all ready I arrive;

A licence is the thing for which I strive.

I’m sent to wait at counter number three.

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

I queue with hope still stirring but I find,

Another piece of paper must be signed,

For which another man I have to see.

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

The man in question proves a tad elusive:

His desk sat in a corner most reclusive.

He looks me up and down quite critically:

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

His manner cannot be described as warm,

Eventually he deigns to sign my form,

For this I must agree to pay a fee.

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

The cashier’s desk is where I must go next.

So off I slowly trudge a trifle vexed.

This is no place to find efficiency.

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

Apparently a stamp is also needed;

Had I really thought that I’d succeeded?

A slave to bureaucratic tyranny -

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

I’m told to visit counter number two:

Forced to join another lengthy queue.

The clerk is playing with his Blackberry.

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

The line is one of crushed and broken spirits

Our patience has been pushed beyond its limits.

We’re baffled by this strange reality.

I’m visiting the Federal Ministry.

-

Bureaucracy at last begins to work

I quickly grab the licence from the clerk

I cling to shreds of tattered dignity

I’m exiting the Federal Ministry.


Richard Williams (Part 2)

September 4, 2010

From Richard’s earlier article from August 10th:

A fresh start would have been nice, and there could have been no better moment. Laurent Blanc knew an opportunity when he saw one, and decided to “suspend” France’s entire World Cup squad for his first match as head coach. Fabio Capello, by contrast, has merely reassembled the remnants of his Rustenburg rabble for what amounts to a lap of dishonour.

Blanc’s action left no one in any doubt that for him this represents the start of a new era in which younger, fresher faces will be given the chance to make an impact. The French public will not mind if they are beaten by Norway in Oslo tomorrow as long as the performance shows commitment and promise, just as the 60,000 or so who will turn up at Wembley would not have minded an indifferent result against Hungary if they felt they were being shown some sort of vision of the future.

September 4th: Blanc selects “a young and largely untested team” and France lose their first qualifier 1-0 at home to Belarus. The players are booed from the pitch and the French media sharpens the knives. This is of course not mentioned in Richard’s article about England’s 4-0 victory over Bulgaria, which instead focused on England’s “familiar failings”.


Guardian/Observer Nonsense

August 11, 2010

I came across some truly asinine Guardian/Observer articles recently that I haven’t had time to critique. Thankfully, some other people have done a very good job of it already.

The first article is Catherine Bennett’s quite worrying attack on the value of choice (I look forward to her next offering: ‘Free Will – Other People Don’t Need It’) and suitable ripostes can be found here and here. The second is a outburst of such loony-lefty post-colonial bilge that I initially thought it was a parody. A good response can be found here.


Some random and totally unrelated facts

August 10, 2010

With the new Premier League season imminent, some facts for your delectation:

UAE Education Budget: Dh 7 billion (GBP 1.2 billion)

World Bank ranking for the UAE education system: 77th out of 132 countries

Abu Dhabi United Group investment in Manchester City: Dh 2.3 billion (GBP 400 million)

Manchester City pre-tax loss in 2008/09 financial year: Dh 535 million (GBP 92.6 million)

Annual Fee for a Non-EU, Full-Boarding Upper Sixth student at Brighton College:* Dh 179,870 (GBP 31,101)

Robinho’s weekly salary: Dh 925,344 (GBP 160,000)

Number of students who could be educated at Brighton College for GBP 400 million: 12,861

(* – Brighton College is a leading co-educational Boarding School in the UK, chosen merely for comparative purposes.)


Find the scapegoat…

June 20, 2010

This is the most sensible article written about the England football team following the Algeria debacle:

Is there a point when you have to stop blaming the manager and start asking if there is anyone out there capable of coaxing this generation of players into succeeding at a major tournament?

As the tide predictably begins to turn against Fabio Capello, you have to wonder, if he can’t, then who can? Just to recap on the calibre of Capello.

He did not lose in his first 58 games as manager of AC Milan and he has won nine league titles in 16 seasons, with AC Milan, Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus. He has won the Champions League and coached to success some of the greatest players ever to have kicked a ball. But with England, even he is stumped.

England are a very average but over-hyped team that has been repeatedly built up and knocked down by the British press in recent years. To hear eminent mediocrities such as Graham Taylor rolled out to criticise Capello’s management, you would think that this was a team of proven world-beaters whose talent was suddenly being squandered. When Capello was appointed, I hoped that the selection of such a proven and successful manager would mean that the British press would stop making excuses for the shortcomings of the players and English football culture: how naive of me.


Four Lions

January 22, 2010

Chris Morris, the man behind The Day Today and Brasseye, has made a ‘jihadist comedy’ film called Four Lions. You can see a sneak preview here.

Morris does not do ‘comfortable’ comedy so this should be interesting. I’ll be intrigued to see how it is received and what, if any, political agenda emerges from the film.


Septic Blatter

December 18, 2009

I never had much time for FIFA or Mr. Blatter, and that was before he started referring to himself in the third person at press conferences:

“I am not a prophet, so I don’t know what will happen after Blatter,” said the Swiss. “But please do not insist on technology. The day you stop a match and the referee takes the two captains to a monitor to see if something is inside, or outside the penalty box is the day the spectators will say no, we are not coming to the game.

“There will be no more discussion, if there’s no more discussion, then there is no more hope. With no more hope, there’s no more life, voila.”

I defy you to watch this video clip of Blatter and not laugh.

 


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