Laurie Penny: Johann Hari's final victim?
Milo Yiannopoulos takes no pleasure in a witch-hunt currently brewing on Twitter as the penny finally drops
Last night, a row began to erupt on Twitter that looks set to blossom today into a minor journalistic scandal. The reporters and writers who so successfully tore apart serial plagiarist and liar Johann Hari began to attack Laurie Penny, formerly of the New Statesman and now a columnist for the Independent, where she has assumed some of Hari’s erstwhile column space.
Some of the criticisms they point to strike me as ridiculous. This blog post, for example, takes Penny to task for using material from her columns in a book of collected columns, and it’s more of a whinge about the admittedly high price of her book than it is a fisking of her journalistic methods. (You may find £9.99 for 68 pages outrageous enough to justify comment; certainly a few people on Twitter did.)
Others have greater merit. Penny appears to have accused the New Statesman of altering some of her quotes. Its legal blogger David Allen Green says the Statesman has never altered a quote of his; other journalists say that if her claim is true, she should have insisted on changing them back.
Dig a little deeper into the row and you will find blog posts accusing her of pilfering quotes from other journalists. One blogger says she has fabricated entire events, not just reportage. Further posts highlight her method of writing up interviews, which involves a rather impressively precise memory. One former interviewee has come out to deny she ever gave Penny a quote.
There is also the matter of this Guardian article, in which Penny presents herself as a graduate living in poverty on benefits, despite the fact that her parents are lawyers, she attended a fee-paying school and there are rumours of a generous inheritance keeping her afloat during the period in question.
(She was – though we don’t know how much, if anything, they paid her – Features Editor at The Morning Star between 2008 and 2010, as the footer on this contemporaneous contribution to Liberal Conspiracy indicates.)
In other words, what were previously whispered accusations are now being made in public, and there may be some cases to answer here. I suppose we shall find out, as the blogosphere does its work in the days to come.
Penny, as a far-Left feminist activist and campaigning journalist, is of course wrong about practically everything. But it seems clear to me that, unless some hideous transgression we don’t know about should emerge in the coming days, her crimes cannot be compared to Hari’s. Yet she is being pursued with no less vigour. Why? I think I have some idea – and no, it isn’t because she’s a woman.
You see, Johann Hari never apologised for his foul behaviour. He wrote two pathetically self-regarding and weaselly statements, neither of which satisfied even people on his own side of the political fence, but he has not once apologised to Cristina Odone or Nick Cohen, to name but two of the victims of his campaign of damaging pseudonymous libel, for what he, writing as “David Rose”, did to them.
Many honest and hard-working journalists, who have seen their profession trashed in recent months with a constant stream of revelations about News International and at the hands of the Leveson Inquiry, were justifiably furious. Their anger was exacerbated by the Independent’s failure to properly punish the flabby fabulist for reducing the newspaper to a laughing stock.
And so the mob, incandescent with rage and baying for justice, is looking for a pressure valve, and I think Penny, who, it is being said in journalistic circles, is most likely guilty of little more than a bit of laziness and perhaps some light massaging of quotations, is about to incur their wrath. Because the Left refused to acknowledge the extent of Johann Hari’s wrongdoing, those who pursued him are looking for blood elsewhere. That she has a rather fanciful prose style, redolent of Hari’s own purple stylings, probably doesn’t help.
But, unlike Hari, Penny does not appear to deserve such treatment. Obviously, I loathe everything the woman writes, but she’s a nice, middle-class girl whose schtick happens to be Left, where mine is Right. She’s entirely unlike nasty pieces of work such as Johann Hari or the New Statesman’s Mehdi Hasan, who likes to say to Muslim audiences that non-Muslims “live like animals” when he thinks no-one is looking.
Much will depend on Penny’s management of this crisis: if she refuses to acknowledge her mistakes or tries too vigorously to cast the blame elsewhere, she will be done for. She must also resist the temptation to spin a line about reporting as “subjective activism”, or some such nonsense: it won’t wash.
My hope is that the sharks currently circling her remember that she is yet to be proved guilty of anything remotely approaching Hari’s repulsive antics on Wikipedia. (Nor has she yet been identified as the author of any racist gay incest porn.) Penny clearly does not deserve to be dumped in the same box as Hari, whose wrongdoings were infinitely more serious, and they would do well to concentrate their venom on Johann.
Anyway, let me offer Laurie Penny one piece of advice. The evidence against you doesn’t look particularly damning, yet. But if you do have something to confess, for God’s sake do it now. Hari didn’t have the guts to come clean – he still hasn’t done so – and that, as much as any of David Rose’s unpleasant smears, is what has destroyed his career.
Milo Yiannopoulos is a journalist and broadcaster who writes and speaks about technology, media, business, society, religion and celebrity culture. Follow him on Twitter at @Nero. This article originally appeared at The Kernel and is reproduced with permission
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