Once upon a time there was a globe-trotting star journalist who found himself caught up in a series of self-glorifying fabrications and acts of plagiarism, prompting embarrassed (and embarrassing) apologies and censure. So whatever happened to Johann Hari?
After a longish collaboration with vapid actor-cum-political commentator Russell Brand, Hari has brought out a new book, entitled Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, published by Bloomsbury USA. To pre-empt criticism, he has included nearly 60 pages of notes, reportedly posted audio files of each of the book's interviews online, and given interviews in which, well, he's not going to blame his problems on addiction, it's just that….
He'd been prescribed the antidepressant Seroxat at 17 and, barring one or two brief breaks, had been taking it ever since. Now, with Provigil, Hari was thrilled to discover, "you can do even more work, and be constantly processing information, and sleep only four hours a night". He began buying the drug on the internet – and for a while it worked. But when he tried to stop taking it, he failed. "When you're prone to depression, there can be a strong temptation, or there was for me anyway, to try to accelerate through it – to speed up, to kind of outrun the feelings of depression and I did that for years.
"But this is totally unrelated to the things I did wrong journalistically," he says quickly. "This is really important. I did those things before and during the use of this drug. So I want to make it clear that I'm not in any way attributing anything I did to that drug use. They are totally separate things." […]
He stopped taking both Provigil and Seroxat one week after leaving the Independent, but can't be sure what withdrawal was like because, "It's hard to separate the challenge of stopping those drugs from the wider challenge of what was happening at that time." I ask if he would place himself in the 10% vulnerable to addiction, and he says, "Probably at that point, yes. Not now, because I've changed the way I live so much that I wouldn't put myself in that category any more."
Much more Gollum-style back-and-forth in the whole interview.
You can choose to believe Hari's self-depiction and reported output or not (I choose the latter, having once published a piece of his whose central interview I suspect was made up). But what I think you really shouldn't do, if you are a news organization, is present a review of the book—or even, in some cases, an excerpt—without letting readers know that the author has serially and spectacularly made stuff up, and has been challenged on his latest work as well.
Yet a startling number of publications have done just that. Politico Magazine ran a long excerpt with nary a peep about Hari's well-documented troubles. So did The Huffington Post, In These Times, the San Francisco Bay View, and Boing Boing. Reviews that didn't see fit to mention Hari's problems with veracity ran in The Christian Science Monitor, Baltimore City Paper, and Boston Globe, for starters.
There are exactly two possibile explanations for this oversight: Either they didn't know, or they didn't care. So perk up, Brian Williams! If you wait long enough, and maybe choose the right subject for a book, some of America's journalistic institutions are waiting for you with open arms.