We’ve got all excited about phone-hacking in the last few weeks and rightly so. In comparison, Johann Hari’s little saga has had relatively little coverage but it is part of the same problem. Politicians are meant to respect the Rule of Law. You have principles about how people go about their business? They apply to you too. I quite like Johann Hari’s writing and his passion, but he’s let the latter get the better of him and, as a result, his work has suffered. Every time I try and cut him some slack there’s another revelation of some appalling journalistic practices which are indefensible. If I’m going to be pissed at Murdoch’s minions, I have to be pissed at Hari too.
The problem is, people love to kick their enemies, but they feel uncomfortable turning the attention to one of their own – it’s as if they feel it weakens their point of view to have one of its exponents taken down. This, to my eyes, undermines their legitimacy. You can’t forgive Cameron for something you’d never have forgiven Gordon Brown; you can’t forgive the Guardian something you wouldn’t forgive the Mail. Yet, a long line of well-known Twitterati lined up to defend him, seemingly willing to overlook his misdeeds for the benefit of the bigger picture. And I’m not naming them here because…
Then there’s another side to it – using ad hominem (i.e. personal) attacks to undermine a point of view. You see this all day long in politics – that person’s point of view is invalid because he used to be a socialist; this MP’s point on unemployment is illegitimate because he has a second home. And the unravelling of Hari’s work has been similar – a lot of the attacks seem motivated by a desire to give him back some of the kickings he’s given other people. Hari has done some brilliant things – watch him tear Richard Littlejohn a new arse – and it’s a shame to think that we have to judge him as either “good” or “bad,” wholly legitimate or wholly illegitimate. Human beings are rarely so easily categorised.
I must admit, as time has gone on and more and more of his work – including his Orwell Prize piece – has been torn down, I feel less like making this point but it needs to be made, irrespective of Hari:
You have to separate the art and the artist.
Just because someone is a total arse, it does not make their work illegitimate. James Brown was a wife-beater but his music is still amazing. Picasso was a misogynist and womaniser but you wouldn’t want to take all his paintings off the walls and disregard him from art history because of it. Just because you love Michael Jackson’s music doesn’t mean you have to defend him as a person – I am constantly baffled as to why people can’t separate the two things. Hari is an idiot but it doesn’t mean everything he’s ever said or done is illegitimate. That will come down to an examination of the facts alone.