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What is wrong with Chris Hedges?

I was grumbling about Chris Hedges 6 years ago, and every few years after that he seemed to spew more nonsense about atheists again. And then he gave an incoherent, illogical, dishonest talk at UMM last January. He’s been busily undermining his reputation as a journalist for years with babbling drivel.

And now I learn, via Ophelia, that he’s committed the unpardonable sin for a journalist: Chris Hedges is a serial plagiarist. Somehow, I’m not surprised. When I heard him speak, I was convinced he was a lazy hack, and so it’s not unexpected that he’s been stealing other people’s work and presenting it as his own. Perhaps the reason his anti-atheist material has been so much less persuasive than his work in other areas is because, in this case, he’s been reduced to stealing from creationists and far right wing ideologues.

The battle for Hedges’ reputation has begun with a familiar refrain.

Kaufman went on to note the “relative positions in the journalistic community between Salon and Truthdig and between Mr. Ketcham (and his spouse) and Mr. Hedges.” Because of these “relative positions” in the hierarchy of journalism, Kaufman stressed that “the issue of commercial motives cannot be disregarded,” and cited without elaboration “possible personal, economic and commercial gain that would be derived by Salon and Mr. Ketcham from damaging the reputation of Truthdig, Mr. Hedges, the Nation and other competitive publications and authors.” Nowhere in her letter did she address the Postman correction and its implications.

Get that? Hedges and Truthdig are so lofty and prestigious that Ketcham (the fellow who noted the plagiarism) and Salon (which was planning to run the piece, and then backed down) must be doing it for the vast monetary benefit to be gained from criticizing a famous writer. That has to be the only explanation. Integrity doesn’t exist — the only possible reason for criticizing a Big Man has to be for the attention/clicks/money. Sam Harris has done this, too, as have many of the big names in the atheist community — even the same people I’ve argued have been misrepresented by hacks like Hedges. And it’s a bad argument. It doesn’t work that way. Whistleblowers and critics of the power structure do not gain from their efforts, ever.

I though this comment from mesh at Butterflies and Wheels was insightful. They’re taking about Jaclyn Glenn, who has another video out (no, not that stupid one, but a new one that I thought was pretty damned stupid, too).

The last bit is particularly revealing when you consider the frequent charges of attention-whoring for blog hits; you don’t become popular by fighting the status quo, you become popular by promoting it. If such trends are any indication the way to get hits is to rage about the castration agenda of the feminazis, blame everything except attitudes towards women for their treatment in any given circumstance, and laugh at people who receive rape threats. If someone’s a feminist just for the attention they’re doing it horribly, horribly wrong.

You don’t get fame and fortune by disagreeing with a Movement Star, you get it by hitching your wagon to them. Rather than profit, one hopes the reward is for that intangible gain of being right and true.

This is also not about hating on Hedges — I have actually liked his anti-war, anti-authoritarian message, and some of his stuff has been very good and powerful (although now, unfortunately, I have to wonder where he cribbed the good stuff). I was dismayed to see the irrational turn his mind had taken with his anti-atheism writing, and it is dismaying to see worthy ideas tainted by these bad associations.

Comments

  1. says

    On that earlier post about Jaclyn Glenn, I left a half-formed thought about how it seemed like she became popular after taking on Ray Comfort. (Not mentioned was that it was probably more after Ray Comfort struck back that she really became popular.) This is perhaps a good time to finish where I was going with that. And where I was going is that is not impressive. Ray Comfort is essentially “low hanging fruit.” So, that’s somewhat similar to hitching one’s wagon to the Movement Star. Though, in this case, it’s more like the Movement Dunce.

  2. Endorkened says

    Well, it was nice knowing you all. I’m going to hide in the cellar with my stockpile of firearms, non-perishable foodstuffs, and females* of sound breeding stock. Knock three times in my storm door when the sexists and the racists are done calling each other those things.

    *Ferengi! Hew-mons! Latinum! This joke is in no way overused or a cheap gotcha tactic on par with implying that the use of possessive pronouns to indicate personal association is a form of chattel slavery!

  3. lochaber says

    hmm…

    That’s too bad, I rather liked some of the stuff of his that I’ve read, and I attended a speech he gave in the area a couple years back, and thought a lot of what he said made sense.

    I had heard mention of some anti-atheism arguments or something, but just sorta disregarded that aspect/those conversations/books/speeches/whatever. I felt the anti-war, pro-occupy and other messages were more important.

    I still think Empire of Illusion was a pretty good book, and made some important points.

    oh well…

  4. mesh says

    To even acknowledge that taking on a Big Man is far less lucrative than suggested is giving his non-sequitur far too much credit. Assuming all his critics were indeed just being mean for the monies how would this exonerate him? It parallels the creationist belief that if Darwin presented evolution just to be mischievous then the evidence supporting it somehow becomes void.

  5. David Marjanović says

    Get that? Hedges and Truthdig are so lofty and prestigious that Ketcham (the fellow who noted the plagiarism) and Salon (which was planning to run the piece, and then backed down) must be doing it for the vast monetary benefit to be gained from criticizing a famous writer. That has to be the only explanation. Integrity doesn’t exist — the only possible reason for criticizing a Big Man has to be for the attention/clicks/money.

    Ah, it’s Aëtogate all over again. Plagiators have no integrity, so they project this lack into everyone else.

    Assuming all his critics were indeed just being mean for the monies how would this exonerate him? It parallels the creationist belief that if Darwin presented evolution just to be mischievous then the evidence supporting it somehow becomes void.

    QFT.

  6. culuriel says

    Fan of “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” (seriously, this is an amazing book) here. I was saddened when “I Don’t Believe in Atheists” came out. Imagine if he had written, “I Don’t Believe in Pagans”, or “I Don’t Believe in Hindus”. I guess, since atheism isn’t a religion, theists can be understood if they don’t even bother giving atheists or our doubts any respect. But I didn’t think Hedges was cribbing work, even if most modern god-is-a-feeling-woobie types do repeat each other’s arguments quite a bit. I just hope “War” is really his work, would be a total disappointment if it wasn’t.

  7. says

    Fan of “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” (seriously, this is an amazing book) here.

    I was, too. Some of the observations he makes in it are really brilliant.

    Unfortunately, it turns out, some of them are also lifted from Hemingway. :( When I read the full article about his plagiarisms, I threw my copy of “War is a force…” in the trash.

    Worse, it was clearly deliberate – he shuffled words around in the original plagiarism in the hardback version and then tried to make it more subtle in the paperback version. So it’s not as if he didn’t realize he’d lifted from Hemingway and forgot a citation, it’s more like he realized he hadn’t obscured it enough. From the Nation article:
    Hedges: In combat the abstract words glory, honor, courage often become obscene and empty. They are replaced by the tangible images of war, the names of villages, mountains, roads, dates, and battalions
    Hemingway: Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and dates

    That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though. The examples the article gives of his later plagiarism includes huge swaths that are word-for-word with slight editing (that admittedly sometimes improves them).

    Ugh.

  8. says

    It’s kind of… sad, really.

    Honestly, how damned hard would it have been to throw in a ‘to adapt from Hemingway’ or similar, there?

    I wonder almost if it was just, hell, I knew I’m dirty after lifting others’ first person sources, passing the quotes off as my own… Might was well go all out, clearly I can bully my way through any questions.

    It’s funny, too… I might actually give him the benefit of the doubt that maybe he figured the Hemingway is so well known people would just get allusion, no need to label it… But with all the other stuff, and especially the attempts brazen past editors, umm, no.

    Sad. Right about some stuff. Not real principled. Seems to be going around.

  9. A. Noyd says

    Marcus Ranum (#8)

    with slight editing (that admittedly sometimes improves them).

    Which is most likely an editor’s doing.

  10. inquiringlaurence says

    Damn. The left is generally understood to be a little bit more centered on facts, scientifically supported claims, and reality. This guy was and is an exception, and now he’s discovered to be a plagiarizer?

    *sigh*

  11. erik333 says

    @8 Marcus Ranum

    Fan of “War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning” (seriously, this is an amazing book) here.

    I was, too. Some of the observations he makes in it are really brilliant.

    Unfortunately, it turns out, some of them are also lifted from Hemingway. :( When I read the full article about his plagiarisms, I threw my copy of “War is a force…” in the trash.

    Why would you throw it in the trash? The book itself didn’t change, just your view of the author. If your view of the author was integral to its value, it probably wasn’t very good to begin with.

  12. says

    The book itself didn’t change, just your view of the author

    My understanding of the content and context of the book changed. It’s not that my understanding of the author changed, it’s that I discovered that some of the parts I thought were particularly incisive were from a different book or books and another author or authors.

  13. numerobis says

    Unfortunately, it turns out, some of them are also lifted from Hemingway. :( When I read the full article about his plagiarisms, I threw my copy of “War is a force…” in the trash.

    Why would you throw it in the trash? Surely it belongs in the recycling bin!

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