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  • Plagiarism, Sock Puppets and Wikipedia September 18, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback

    Here follows one of those contemporary japes which may have escaped the attention of Beach’s non-British readers: excuse the lack of history, bizarreness there is though a plenty.

    The story so far: Johann Hari, gifted English journalist jobbing for the rather boring but worthwhile Independent has been caught taking quotations from other authors and inserting them into his interviews. In a bid for survival he wrote this off as normal practice and a question of improving the irregularities of spoken English (!): an explanation that Beachcombing found about a third convincing but probably not a sackable offence. However, that is not all… It transpires that Johann also set up a sock puppet to rewrite his own entry on Wikipedia: naughty but again not something to lose your job over. Then far more alarmingly, he rewrote his enemies’ Wikipedia pages: ‘drunk’, ‘anti-semite’ etc. There was  something too about gay incest porn that Beach, a prude at the best of times, is just going to mention and then pass rapidly over.

    Now some background, again for non British readers. JH comes from that part of the British political spectrum that might be described as the ‘thinking left’. Of course, every part of the political spectrum has its characteristic faults and the ‘thinking left’ is extraordinarily conceited and self satisfied. Not something that characterizes the centrist technocrats to their right or the unionized dockers and miners to their left. But then, again, everyone has their vices: Beachcombing eats his children’s goldfish when they’ve gone to bed. What do you do?

    Beach likes studies in human nature so when this story floated into the mainstream he slurped up every detail . On many levels there was pity for JH, who was being humiliated so very publicly. Yes, he deserved it but Wikipedia attacks and gay porn… Well, it was a horrible laying bare of a human soul. It’s one thing to see someone hung publicly, another to see the dying man’s viscera as he’s quartered.

    However, being a bit of a romantic Beach also wondered if there wasn’t going to be an interesting ‘narrative’ here. After being taught a nasty lesson JH would remake himself. He was young, he had talent and his most annoying vice, his insufferable holier-than-thou tone had surely been punctured for good. He might drift to interesting places and do worthwhile things: certainly, the kid knows how to write.

    There were rumours about depression: a good sign, the tectonic plates were shifting… Beachcombing, who must confess to unpleasant teeth-grinding political tendencies, took for granted that JH was never going to vote ‘well’. But at least he would mellow into an interesting writer. And slowly – the Independent would never keep him on obviously! – he’d make his way back into journalism and represent an important part of the general public. Everyone deserves their shot at redemption.

    But not a bit of it. The Independent – a paper that Beach will not be buying in the foreseeable future – has just let JH off with a slap on the wrist. And JH has written an insufferable apology for his misdemeanors: an object lesson in how not to say sorry. The plate tectonics have not shifted apart. They have rather scrunched together and sent up a mountain range. JH emerges unscathed, his superego a ball of mercury on a varnished table.

    In this apology JH took more time over his syntax than the content: not a very good sign when you are saying ‘excuse me’, a time when rough edges mean something. He also is constantly slapping himself on the back: he rose too fast in journalism (presumably because he’s so good), he had to correct his interviewee’s words (presumably because his were better than theirs) and he smarms around some obviously false stuff about this colleagues at the newspaper, many of whom are rightly furious. But far worse than that, here is a human being who refused to remake himself when invited to do so.

    Any parallels to this case? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Beach recalls Jayson Blair in the US. The parallels are instructive.

    PS Beach has just read a brilliant piece on JH in ‘Bagehot”s Economist column.

    PPS. An early version of the present post went up over at Anna Raccoon‘s beach-house.

    ***

    18 Sept 2011: Thanks to NI who has written in with a comparison to the South African youth politician Julius Malema. Beach has spent the last half hour reading about this ‘force of nature’ and he certainly falls into the ‘insufferable’ survivor category. Thanks again NI!