The Murdochs at the Select Committee: what you missed

July 19, 2011

Committee member: What is your name?

James Murdoch: That’s a very good question, and I intend to answer it in full. I’m afraid I don’t have the full answer to hand at the moment. You must remember that my name is one of a many number of names that I have to remember at any given time. I was given my name soon after my birth in December 1972, but I have no direct knowledge of what name may or may not have been given to myself. News International have set up an internal investigation to ascertain exactly what the name on my birth certificate was, and I am afraid that I am unable to give a fuller answer to that question until that investigation has reported back to me.

Member: What is your favourite colour?

James Murdoch: I do not have any direct knowledge of what colours I prefer to others. I may have given the Committee the impression that I preferred blue to green, but that was a statement given without full knowledge of the facts. When I gave that answer I was relying on assurances given to me by a police investigation, and I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment more at this stage.

Member: What is your quest?

James Murdoch: I have no direct knowledge of that. There is no evidence that I, or anyone else at News International, knew anything about the nature of the quest. We are presently fully engaged with the police to find out exactly what our quest is, and will of course fully co-operate with them in their enquiries to find out this information.

Member: Thank you James Murdoch. You may pass. If I may, I’d like to talk to your father. What is your name?

Rupert Murdoch: I’d just like to say that this is the most humble day of my life.

Member: Thank you for that, sir. Now would you please answer the question?

Rupert Murdoch: (Pause) What?

Member: What is your name?

Rupert Murdoch: (thumps table) I wasn’t told that information by my senior colleagues at News Corp!

Member: What is your favourite colour?

Rupert Murdoch: How was I supposed to know? Thinking about colours only takes up 1% of my time. I had no idea such categorising of colours was going on. I wasn’t told anything about any colours.

Member:  What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Rupert Murdoch: That’s the first I’ve heard of swallows. I wasn’t told anything about the velocity of swallows at the time. Now, of course, I know all about the velocity of unladen swallows. We are co-operating with the police on this matter and any swallows found to have committed any serious crime should face the full force of the law.

Member: I’m afraid that’s the wrong answer.

*trapdoor opens, Rupert Murdoch falls off bridge, only to have his fall broken by a pie-wielding idiot from a prominent group of pie-wielding idiots*

Guest post by God: His resignation statement over phone hacking

July 18, 2011

God called a Press Conference in Heaven today, in which he resigned over his role in the phone hacking scandal. Paperback Rioter reproduces the full text of the statement below. You can read more from God here.

It is with deep regret and a heavy heart that I resign from my position as God and Supreme Being over life on Earth.

I am very proud of my achievements in my role, which I have held for about 5000 years (but who’s counting?). I created the universe. Saw it through some tough times (like the Bodyline controversy). There are many things I will look back proudly on.

However, I must accept responsibility for the phone hacking scandal that happened on my watch.

I can honestly say, though, that I had no idea of the scale of the phone hacking that was going on at News International.

I know I am meant to be an omnipotent being, all-seeing and all-knowing, and therefore it is right to ask me why I had no knowledge of the scale of the abuses at the News of the World and other newspapers. The fact is that the Metropolitan police conducted an investigation and concluded that the phone hacking was merely the work of one rogue reporter. There was no reason for me to disregard their professional opinion.

What I find particularly distressing is the link between myself and Andy Coulson. People keep saying that I should have done more to warn David Cameron about appointing Andy Coulson as his Director of Communications.

Yet I am not sure what more I was supposed to do. I sent three wise men to warn him of the dangers of hiring Coulson. Nick Clegg, Alan Rusbridger and Paddy Ashdown.

All of whom were sent by Me to warn Cameron. But he took no heed of My warnings. I accept My responsibility, but it seems that Cameron does not accept his.

Nevertheless, I must accept my role in this affair and must therefore reluctantly resign. I do not wish to comment on the rumours that a News International paper hacked into my voicemail.

Hackgate: When Life Imitates Yes, Minister

July 17, 2011

Events are unfolding too quickly for them to be written about. At the moment all I can think to do is to post this from Yes, Minister. It’s from The Whiskey Priest. If you don’t have it on DVD I’m sure you can find some dark corner of the internet where you can watch it:

Bernard Woolley: So what do we believe in?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: At this moment, Bernard, we believe in stopping the minister from informing the Prime Minister.
Bernard Woolley: But why?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Because once the Prime Minister knows, there will have to be an enquiry, like Watergate. The investigation of a trivial break-in led to one ghastly revelation after another and finally the downfall of a President. The golden rule is: Don’t lift lids off cans of worms. Everything is connected to everything else. Who said that?
Bernard Woolley: The Cabinet Secretary?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Nearly right. Actually, it was Lenin.

Paperback Rioter’s exclusive interview with just about everybody who has something to say about Johann Hari

June 29, 2011

Paperback Rioter has had a quiet few weeks. Today, I can finally reveal what has been happening in that time. I’ve been travelling the country interviewing journalists, bloggers and activists for this post on the Johann Hari plagiarism scandal.

First I met with the writer of Deterritorial Suppport Group, who were the first to expose Hari’s idiosyncratic interview technique a few weeks ago. They compared Hari’s interview with Italian communist Toni Negri with a book written by Anne Dufourmentelle called “Negri on Negri”.

DSG found that Hari had copied and pasted quotes from Dufourmentelle’s book and inserted them into his own interview with Negri, complete with atmospheric descriptions of the interview.

For instance, here’s Johann Hari on the subject of memory:

And here’s Dufourmentelle on the same subject, pp. 100-101:

Johann on crime:

Whilst here’s the Dufourmentelle book on crime, p. 25

I met with the writer of the piece in a Brighton pub. Over a pint of the local bitter, I asked what the significance of this was. After taking a sip of their beer, he replied:

It’s rather ironic that an article whose main premise is that Negri negates a “truthful memory”, essentially attempting to fabricate history to fit his own political agenda, seems to be based upon an encounter in the ICA which is almost entirely fabricated.

Is it really that serious? After all, Hari is quoting Negri accurately. He’s not being misquoted here, is he?

My interviewee sighs.

To take Negri’s answers to entirely different questions, and recontextualise them around Hari’s agenda, which involves the sustenance of the very systems of power that falsely accused and imprisoned Negri for decades of his life as a political prisoner in Italy, seems especially disingenuous.

DSG’s post was picked up upon by journalist Brian Whelan. He also found that Hari had been copying and pasting quotes, in an interview with Gideon Levy.

I met up with Brian to discuss his findings, which were the catalyst for the story gaining greater traction. I asked him what exactly Johann Hari seemed to be doing with his interview.

He appears to be passing off copy-pasted text from Levy’s writings in Haaretz and interviews with other hacks as an exclusive interview. Also, Hari seems to be freely creating mash-up quotes out of disparate statements levy has made over the years. This is definitely not the practice of an award winning hack.

After pausing to drink his coffee, Whelan fixes me with a stare. “If the Indy really did send him to Scotland for these quotes I think Hari’s editor needs to sit him down for a chat.”

I met with Johann in an Islington coffee shop to discuss these accusations. He was very honest about what he had been doing in his articles. Sipping a latte, Hari explains that

Occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech. It’s a way of making sure the reader understands the point that, say, Gideon Levy wants to make as clearly as possible, while retaining the directness of the interview.

Surely this is dishonest? You can’t just copy and paste from another reporter’s interview, and pretend you got those quotes, can you?

Since my interviews are intellectual portraits that I hope explain how a person thinks, it seemed the most thorough way of doing it.

That’s not an interview, is it, because it’s not an accurate portrayal of what was said? Here Hari became quite animated.

After doing what must be over fifty interviews, none of my interviewees have ever said they had been misquoted, even when they feel I’ve been very harsh on them in other ways.

I’m a bit bemused to find one blogger considers this “plagiarism”. Who’s being plagiarized? Plagiarism is passing off somebody else’s intellectual work as your own – whereas I’m always making it clear that (say) Gideon Levy’s thought is Gideon Levy’s thought.

These are comments echoed by Guardian Science writer Ben Goldacre, who said to me in a telephone conversation that “it’s not plagiarism, but it was a bit unstylish”.

However, very few mainstream journalists seem to share the view that what Hari did was acceptable. I spoke to New Statesman journalist Guy Walters, who has also written about Hari’s lifting of quotations, at the magazine’s offices in Old Marylebone Road and asked for his views.

This is straightforward dishonest reporting. Hugo Chavez never said those words to Mr Hari. He said them to Mr Anderson. And Lally Weymouth.

Now that Johann Hari has apologised, does he think the story will end there? He shakes his head, ruefully. “This one, like phone hacking, is going to run and run.”

I put Hari’s remarks to Esther Addley, a senior news writer at the Guardian, at the paper’s offices in Kings Place. In an outraged tone, she said,

I’m astonished by that response. It’s dishonest, pure and simple. I know of no journalist I respect who considers this ‘normal practice’. I consider it indefensible.

Another blogger I spoke to, at Fleet Street Blues, said that the remarks said much about Hari’s interviewing technique.

The main art of being an interviewer is to be skilled at eliciting the right quotes from your subject. If Johann Hari wants to write ‘intellectual portraits’, he should go and write fiction. Do his editors really know that the copy they’re printing is essentially made up?

Hari also said to me that one of the main reasons he used quotes from another source was to tidy up what a writer was said.

If somebody interviewed me and asked my views of Martin Amis, instead of quoting me as saying “Um, I think, you know, he got the figures for, uh, how many Muslims there are in Europe upside down”, they could quote instead what I’d written more cogently about him a month before, as a more accurate representation of my thoughts.

This defence cut no ice with Jamie Smith, a journalism blogger and Wannabe Hack:

Other journos have said they tidy up quotes from interviews. Yep, that’s standard practice. But it’s totally different to what Hari has done in his columns. He’s falsified situations, painted a picture in the reader’s mind of an occurrence that never happened.

It seems that Hari’s editor, Simon Kelner, does not share these criticisms. Speaking to him at the newspaper’s office in London, he said that

Johann had suffered enough with the vilification he’s had on Twitter. He wouldn’t face any disciplinary action, apart from being spoken to at great length.

Paperback Rioter will have more on Hari-gate as the story unfolds.


It has been alleged that the interviews I claim took place never actually happened. Some bloggers have suggested that I’ve completely made up meeting the people I claim to have interviewed in this piece. So just to clarify: what I have done is quoted their words as they expressed them in writing, rather than how they expressed it in my non-existent interview with them.

Below is a list of places that I have quoted from. If you think there’s a better way to interview people than simply copy and paste different bits of what they’ve said and pretend they said those things to you, please let me know in the comments.!/bengoldacre/status/85696763125694464

Chris Huhne has got a terrible lion up his end

May 15, 2011

Chris Huhne briefing lobby journalists

Chris Huhne is right in it, if reports in the Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday are to be believed. This is from the Staggers blog on the New Statesman:

Following last week’s story that Huhne asked an associate to accept penalty points he incurred for a speeding offence in 2003, the papers have followed up with the fresh claim that Huhne recently called the person involved to warn them not to talk to the media about it.

In what the MoS grandly dubs a “conspiracy of silence”, Huhne is said to have told the person: “The story they are trying to stand up is that ‘Cabinet Minister persuaded XXX to take points’. The only way they can stand that up is by getting you to talk to them. There is simply no other person who could possibly tell them whether it is true or not.”

The rest of the blog is rather interesting stuff. There’s also a section in which Chris Huhne gives advice to the other party on what to do if they are contacted by journalists:

If called by journalists, Huhne says, you should “Just say, oooh, terribly bad line, terribly sorry, bad reception, I’ll talk to you later — and hang up”.

An excellent idea, and a completely original one, too.

As luck would have it, Paperback Rioter has received a transcript of a secret phone call made from a Sunday Times journalist to Chris Huhne. I have posted the audio onto Youtube here, and below, for the first time, is the full transcript, exclusively on Paperback Rioter:

*Phone is ringing. Chris Huhne answers*

Chris Huhne: Chris Huhne speaking.

Sunday Times Journalist: Hello Chris. I’m just calling about the story that you asked an associate to accept penalty points which you incurred for a speeding offence…

Huhne: No I’m afraid the line’s very clllkkkkkk ppppprrrrrr…

Journalist: Chris Huhne? Chris Huhne, hello?

Huhne: *Scrunches bits of newspaper by the telephone. Then bashes phone on table four times* Schnell schnell kartoffelnkopf!

Journalist: I said there’s a terrible line at my end. Please call me back at once.

Chris Huhne: *blows raspberries down the phone* *Sings* A wandering minstrel wandering reeeeeleeelium. Gale Force Eight. 

*Chris Huhne puts the phone down*

Nick Clegg: Come on, Chris! What was the message? I’m on tenterhooks! Do tell!

Chris Huhne: Well, as far as I could tell, the message was: he’s got a terrible lion up his end, so there’s an advantage to an enema at once.

With such skillful evasion tactics, I remain confident that Chris Huhne will remain in his cabinet post.

Those Tory advertising slogans in full

May 1, 2011

A few days ago I suggested that Winnergate was the start of this government contracting out soundbites by planting subliminal advertising messages for products in the middle of government speeches. Ahem.

Inspired by that blog, some loyal readers who have far too much time on their hands friends of mine have come up with a load more slogans that the coalition can use.

“And this government is cutting corporate tax. To big business, we say, you’re worth it.”

‎”I can’t believe it’s not privatised.”

An Atos healthcare spokesman says, “Need an operation? We’ve got an app for that.”

“Stay at home mothers, they’re ggrreeeatt!”

“And Jeremy Hunt said to Rupert Murdoch, wasssup?!”

“Jeremy Hunt, does exactly what it says on the tin.”

George Osborne said on continuing poor growth figures, “we won’t make a drama out of a crisis.”

The man from Delmonte says Yes (to fairer votes.)

On Baroness Warsi David Cameron said, “a dog is for life not just for Christmas.”

Ashcroft, the world’s local bank.

The Welfare Reform Bill, not everything in black and white makes sense.

Nick Clegg used to believe that good things come to those who wait.

Coalition whipping boys come in 57 varieties.

Birmingham University, reassuringly expensive.

Thanks to Emilie for those. And Ben, of Brum Yes to Fairer Votes, came up with this gem:

“Before you hastily judge our public sector spending cuts, you should compare our plans with the alternatives put forward by those in opposition. Go on, go compare! GO COMPAAAAAAARE!…”

My normblog profile

April 10, 2011

I’m very honoured to have been asked by Norman Geras to answer questions for a normblog profile. You can find my answers here.


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