Photo: Chris Graham
Whenever we attempt to bring nuance, a hint of balance and a general lack of stridency to stories involving national security or government surveillance around here, there are always those who call us "establishment" or who otherwise try to push back from the left. Since they know we'll typically laugh off any sourcing of Glenn Greenwald in defense of angry, Occupy-style absolutism on these subjects, there are a handful of other journalists whose work they'll often cite as examples of how hopelessly wrong we are. One of them is Chris Hedges. He's the professional left's most go-to intellectual polemicist who isn't currently working for First Look Media -- a self-righteous and relentlessly combative crusader for ultra-liberal causes who's at times so caustic, even with those whom one would imagine should be his allies, that he makes Greenwald look like a Politico columnist.
Like Greenwald, Hedges sees everything strictly in terms of black-and-white, good-or-evil, with any equivocation from others with regard to his worldview being the result not of honest differences of opinion but of outright unscrupulousness. It's what makes him relentlessly irritating to some, but it's what's of course made him a hero to the far-left. His followers and backers within the hard-left media consider him largely incorruptible. And that's why it's going to be interesting to see what their reaction is over the next 24-to-48 hours is as it begins to seep into the media bloodstream that he's very likely a world-class plagiarist. Put simply, if an exhaustively detailed investigation posted at The New Republic today is to be believed, Hedges is in deep shit.
According to the report by Christopher Ketcham, Chris Hedges has a lengthy, provable history of ripping off other people's work, from Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Matt Katz, to influential cultural critic Neil Postman, to Naomi Klein, to Ernest Hemingway. The examples he provides are almost impossible to ignore and the revelation that frames the report -- that a story Hedges had submitted to Harper's was completely scrubbed by fact-checkers once they realized that it had been plagiarized -- is nothing short of shocking. That the Harper's editors who confronted Hedges with their concerns describe his response as “very unhelpful from the beginning, and very aggressive,” is actually not at all shocking.
Here are just two excerpts from the piece, comparing Katz's work with Hedges's, but there are many more:
It was enough to make Matt Katz fire off this tweet this morning:
Inadvertently cribbing a line or two -- or a thought -- from someone else's work is a hazard that's easy to run into. We live in climate of nearly absolute media saturation these days and if your job is to comb through a lot of it on a daily basis there are things that can get stuck in your head that you later might believe is an original idea, Inception-style. But it doesn't appear at all that that's what Hedges did, at least in the examples Christopher Ketcham provided.
If nothing else, Hedges is going to have to answer some very, very tough questions about his material and his process. It's not the kind of thing he's normally been inclined to do; he often just attacks his critics from a position of self-proclaimed moral authority and leaves it at that. According to the report, many of the outlets that host his work and which have expressed seemingly unshakable faith in him are already dismissing any impugning of his overall work and character, places like Truthdig, Truthout and The Nation. (Interestingly, Ketcham claims he had trouble getting his story printed, with The American Prospect and Salon passing on it.)
It'll be interesting to see what develops with this.
(This piece has been adjusted slightly from its original version. In that final paragraph I had accidentally cited The Atlantic rather than The Nation. Brain fart on my part. Sorry about the error.)