Media Criticism

Maybe Brian Williams Just Needs to Write a Book Denouncing the Drug War?

Politico and other media outlets hound the NBC anchor while giving a pass to serial fabricator Johann Hari.


The shadow knows…. ||| The Guardian
The Guardian

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….

Can't truss it. |||

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.

Politico Magazine last month. ||| Politico

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.

NEXT: Montana Bill Would Ban Some Tight Clothing But Stop Short of Criminalizing Yoga Pants

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Matt,

    For those of us who have no idea who this guy is and really no idea why we should, what are his well documented troubles? I can’t figure it out from this post. And I have no idea who this clown is.

    1. There are hyperlinks in the text.

      Short answer: He’s well-known enough to have won both the Orwell Prize and Gellhorn Prize, two of the UK’s highest journalism honors, and written for a wide swath of top U.S. outlets, and now he’s got a positively reviewed book out on a subject Reason readers care about.

      In 2011 he was caught out plagiarizing other people’s interviews as his own, making up anecdotes and details, and also trashing his critics anonymously on Wikipedia. He treated these transgressions dismissively at first, then coughed up a dissembling, half-hearted apology, before disappearing for a while.

      1. The first paragraph helps explain him

        The second one could describe a wide swath of journalists from the MSM, so specifics help.

      2. Wow. Basically the media has no standards. There is no reason why this guy should have ever gotten another publishing contract. Lots of people can write books. There is no reason to bother publishing a known liar. You only get one chance not to lie.

        No one has a right to be published or a right to a soap box. It drives me nuts that they give such platforms to known liars.

      3. C’mon Matt. Brian was on television. You can’t compare a journalist like Brian Williams so somebody that literally writes stuff.

  2. …without letting readers know that the author has serially and spectacularly made stuff up, and has been challenged on his latest work as well.

    Publications review fictional works all the time.

  3. Our current VP literally plagiarized his life story, and our future first lady prez lied about ducking gunfire on the tarmac.

    Behind every apparent double standard is a rigorously enforced single standard.

    1. Wait, Joe Biden wasn’t the first to climb Everest?

      1. No no, that was Hillary that climbed Everest. Biden did K2.

        1. Biden did K2.

          That would explain a lot, actually. Especially if he OD’d on it.

  4. Maybe he should write a book.Of course, so doing would, of needs, involve the ability to do something more than reading a tel-prompter, which he might or might not be able to do.

  5. my best friend’s ex-wife makes $65 an hour on the computer . She has been without a job for seven months but last month her check was $13740 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this…………..


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.