Saturday, 9 July 2011
In September 2011, the columnist Johann Hari admitted to being "David Rose", an internet alias he had used in an systemic exercise over many years to dishonestly promote his own reputation and to maliciously smear those with whom he disagreed. I write about this admission, and the role of the post below, here and here.
I have now been asked by some people with the name "David Rose" to make it clear to anyone coming across this blogpost (by Google or otherwise) that the post below does not relate to anyone actually named David Rose. In particular, I am happy to point out that "David Rose" is not the David Rose who is Assistant News Editor of The Times, or the David Rose, formerly of the Guardian, Observer and BBC, and who currently writes for the Mail on Sunday and Vanity Fair, or the David Rose currently studying at Cambridge University. Nor is it any of the many other David Roses identified below.
However, I have kept the references to these David Roses below, as they are part of the fascinating story which unfolds in the post and then in the comments; for this post and the comments comprise the extraordinary story of the unmasking of "David Rose".
My friend Nick Cohen wrote an intriguing diary at this week's Spectator. It is now online and worth reading in full.
It features a curious figure called 'David r from Meth Productions’ - who is introduced as follows:
I learned that Johann Hari was a journalist who was better at attention-seeking than truth-telling when a small American journal asked me to reply to his review of What’s Left, a book of mine on the dark forces in liberal-left politics. I looked at it and was astonished. It was not that he disliked my ideas — he was entitled to disagree — but that he had attacked a book I had not written. He pretended that I believed the West had been right to support Saddam Hussein while he was gassing the Kurds when I had said the opposite. He made up stories about my parents, good people he had never met, to show me in a bad light. Every second paragraph contained a howler. Well, I thought, get a book wrong and the text will confound you. I typed out the passages that proved that he was at best an incompetent reviewer and filed my reply. ‘Get out of that,’ I muttered as I hit the send button.
I thought no more about it until I looked at my entry on Wikipedia. As well as learning that I was a probable alcoholic, a hypocrite and a supporter of Sarah Palin, I noticed that all reviews of my work were missing except Hari’s effort. Far from saying that he had made wild allegations and I had responded by quoting from the book, a writer working under the pseudonym ‘David r from Meth Productions’ suggested that I had made wild allegations while Hari ‘had offered quotes from Cohen which he argued backed up his claims’.
Cohen adds that Cristina Odone was also subjected to this "David r":
She was a ‘homophobe’ and an ‘anti-Semite’, the site alleged, and such a disastrous journalist that the Catholic Herald had fired her. Her husband, Edward Lucas, went online to defend her reputation, but ‘David r from Meth Productions’ tried to stop him. Mr ‘r’ gave the same treatment to Francis Wheen, Andrew Roberts and Niall Ferguson after they had spats with Hari. It didn’t stop there. Lucas noticed that anonymous editors had inserted Hari’s views on a wide range of people and issues into the relevant Wikipedia pages, while Hari himself had a glowing Wikipedia profile — until the scandal broke, that is — much of it written by ‘David r’.
Cohen then concludes:
Because Wikipedia lets contributors write anonymously, it cannot tell its readers if ‘David r’ is Johann Hari, or a fan of Hari’s with detailed knowledge of his life, or someone with an interest in promoting his career. But just as the effect of Hari’s phoney interviews was to make it seem that he elicited quotes no other journalist could match, so the effect of Wikipedia is to make him seem one of the essential writers of our times. In truth he disgraced himself because he was an ambitious man who might have been a good journalist, but yearned to be a great one, and so tried to summon a talent he could never possess by bragging and scheming.
So who could this "David r" be?
Well here Sourcewatch helps us, for there is a "Talk Page" about some of the edits, which makes very interesting reading.
David tells us:
I proposed the edits, and no, I am not Johann Hari. I know him a bit, we were at university together, and I have done some work on his website. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
He assures us about a libel threat:
I mentioned litigation only to shock you into realsing that your words have consequences; I also made it clear that Johann is a free speech nut and would never sue anyone.
It is all very unfair:
Johann writes almost entirely on left-wing issues from a left-wing perspective. Check out his website. Your impugning of his integrity will be used, I suspect, mainly by Zionist groups and anti-environmentalists in their mailing lists to undermine his writing about Palestine and climate change. (The Private Eye attack began after Johann attacked their homophobia). It's frustrating to see a decent guy who works hard for left-wing causes being pulled down by his own side (using right-wing allegations!) because they disagreed with him on one issue.
The comparison with Jayson Blair is dismissed:
About Jayson Blair. You cannot compare a reporter who fabricated stories, pretended to be places he wasn't etc, to a reporter who repeated a very widely circulated and reported story (the Iraq Pastor thing) which then turned out to be wrong and was corrected when he knew about it. They are not the same thing, and it's bizarre to claim they are.
Anywaya, you have shown you are honourable people and keep up the good work on (bad) journalists
Then on 25 January 2005, one of the Wikipedia editors notices something odd about the IP address of David:
DavidR, you have a curious IP address:
descr: Interoute Telecommunications (UK) Ltd
changed: email@example.com 20040211
person: Franc Tundidor
address: Independent News & Media
address: Independent House
address: 191 Marsh Wall
address: E14 9RS
Now, you wouldnt happen to be working at the Independent, would you? So you too should be "keep up the good work on (bad) journalists" (as you stated above).
But David responds:
Yes, I do shifts as a sub at the Indie sometimes (Johann got me this shiftwork, I told you up front he is a friend of mine) - you can all me on the switchboard, call the subs' desk on 02070052000 and ask for David Rose. And, yes, I do watch out for bad journos.
That would explain the IP address.
We also have his surname. His name is David Rose.
There is then a lengthy passage which includes the following:
You disagree with Johann on Iraq. I disagree with him too, as anybody who knows us or works in this office will tell you.
The difference is you accuse him of being a liar with no evidence.
So this David Rose is a Cambridge friend of Hari, and at that time he works at the Independent as a sub on shifts. He is also well-known in the office for his disagreements with Hari.
David Rose is also something to do with Methuselah Productions. It is used as his hotmail address and (in abbreviated form) his Wikipedia address. Unfortunately whatever productions Methuselah Productions produced were not successful, as it has no easily identifiable trace on internet.
Intrigued, I asked another friend of mine - Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads what he could find. He is very good on internet searches and this sort of thing.
[EDIT 20/9/2011 text and edits removed - explanation and background here.]
The email address also pops up for this comment:
I have also worked at the Spectator, Reuters and CNN's website doing subbing. What does that reveal? It's extraordinary that confronted with actual facts, you guys scramble like hyenas for some scrap of personal information to use against me, even going to the point of retreiving sick porn from the web. Whatever makes you feel better...
So the author of this comment is at least that he is aware of some porn connection to the email address. It, of course, does not prove that he wrote it or was in any way aware of it in any detail.
More importantly for our purposes, David Rose tells us more of his subbing career. Not only has he done shifts for the Independent, he also has worked for Spectator, Reuters, and CNN.
Back at Wikipedia, David Rose now has his own user page.
One theme of the page is David's defence of Hari against his critics. For example:
I'll tell you something else that's generally frowned on in wikipedia: inserting lies into entries, blatantly trying to impose your POV on entries of people you hate, imposing your own political bias, insulting real people as sockpuppets...
The last entry of David on that user page is 12 March 2007. It is just after he announces he has emailed something to Hari.
So far, this has been a bit one-sided. It is all about David Rose and the connections he claims with Hari. Nothing so far even shows that Hari is even aware of his devoted champion. David Rose could be some Walter Mitty pretending to know a famous journalist.
But then there is this post by Johann Hari, hosted on his own website.
Referring to the confrontational comments threads which I have quoted above, Hari states:
A friend has just e-mailed me a link to the comments section of the 'Daily Ablution', a blog by right-wing writer Scott Burgess. It's quite amusing. Check it out - it's the first comments box on the page.
Burgess is very fond of writing to left-wing newspapers and demanding corrections in print. Daily journalism written to tight deadlines inevitably involves errors - I make them myself, like everyone else - and all sorts of gadflies can be helpful in pointing them out, even when they have a pretty ugly agendas like Burgess. That's why I'm grateful to him for pointing out an error I made in citing Louis Emmanuel, the hurricane expert, a few weeks ago, for example. As soon as I found out about it I posted a correction, and thanks to him I won't make that mistake again.
But what's so funny is that when Burgess' own factual errors - real whoppers, like citing scientists who say exactly the opposite of what he claims, part of his total illiteracy on the question of global warming - were exposed by Alex Higgins on this website, Burgess posted no corrections. Nothing. Recently David Rose has been writing in his comments box, asking how to contact Burgess' readers' editor to request a correction.
And Burgess has been... totally silent. It has been left to barely-literate posters in his comments box to respond, accusing people like David with real scientific knowledge (a starred first from a degree speicalising in environmental science at Cambridge, and extensive work in Antarctica observing the effects of global warming) of being "stupid" and "twerps."
David is quite right when he says, "If Scott doesn't respond to [Alex Higgins'] fair and accurate critique, then I'm afraid his ability to fact-check and critique others is simply shot to pieces."
Next time you read him trying to fact-check a liberal, remember that he has been proven to have no respect for facts - none - himself.
So David is not just a Cambridge friend and colleague of Hari who has worked at a number of great newspapers as a sub-editor on shifts, he also has a "starred first" from Cambridge and has worked extensively in Antarctica observing the effects of global warming.
It may well be that the "Wikipedia" David Rose is not the same as the "global warming commenter" David Rose. We only have circumstantial evidence. But it is clear that Hari knows at least the latter and that he knows Hari.
In view of the comments of Nick Cohen in the Spectator this week, it would be fascinating to know what this David Rose is up to now. As Hari may still be in touch with him, I have tweeted him to see if he can also put me in touch with his friend David Rose.
At the time of writing, Hari has not got back to me.
(Many thanks to Nick Cohen, Tim Ireland, Guy Walters, and Jeremy Duns in respect of this post. However, this post is entirely my responsibility.)
No purely anonymous comments will be published; always use a name for ease of reference by other commenters. No defmatory comments wil be published.
By Jack of Kent at 17:03