Philip Whiteley's Blog

June 29, 2011

It’s not OK to lie

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 5:47 pm

One of my first editors, Drew Clode, used to instil in me the discipline of being very precise about the context, date and time of a quote, as well as the accuracy. So I am shocked that Johann Hari pinched quotes from other people’s written text to place in his ‘interviews’, and that he does not appear to have been trained not to, or think that there is anything wrong with the practice. If it tells the ‘bigger truth’, or more clearly articulates a cause, it is supposed to be OK.

This is dangerous, if only for the obvious reason that some people’s views change over time. I think it also highlights a malaise that is virulent on the British left; the feeling that ‘it’s OK to lie’ if your campaign is just. I have crossed verbal swords in social media with people who refuse even to acknowledge scandals at NHS hospitals, such as Stafford and Maidstone, as they fear that this would weaken anti-cuts campaigns.

Hari’s editor, Simon Kelner, makes the extraordinary defence in The Guardian that his critics are ‘politically motivated’. Disagreeing with the politics of the whistle-blower is sufficient to discount the complaint, in the self-satisfied bubble of centre-left journalism.

I first became aware of the tendency towards cover-up and agitprop 20 years ago when I visited Nicaragua at the end of the civil war, and discovered that some of the things said by trendy vicars and Guardian columnists about the conflict were straight lies. The biggest was that the Contra fighters were foreign mercenaries paid by the US, and had little or no support in the country. Completely untrue: I met many who were Nicaraguan peasants who had been injured in the fighting. When the left-wing Sandinista government lost the election, British lefties dropped the campaign for the embarrassment it had become, and switched their support to the Palestinians. I treat with the greatest scepticism anything that Hari et al have to say about that conflict.

It isn’t OK to lie, or mislead, or misquote, or quote out of context, or plagiarise. The way in which you campaign is at least as important as the content of the campaign – and very often more so. Politics is behavioural.

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