In 2008, the British Orwell Prize embarrassed itself by awarding its honor to Johann Hari. Hari was subsequently exposed as a plagiarist and liar, and his prize was vacated. But even without that later exposure, the prize committee had abundant reason to have placed its award elsewhere, as Jonathan Foreman detailed in a powerful piece in Commentary.
Still, it is worth wondering why, even given the looser journalistic culture in the UK, Hari was able to lie and cheat for so long and why his career is even now on hold rather than definitely over. Partly it is a matter of ideology. If he had been a journalist of the right, the Guardian and the BBC would have instantly assigned teams to go through his past work and his activities on the Internet. Instead, they left it to the blogs or implied that Hari was being persecuted for minor errors. It may also have had something to do with the fear he sometimes inspired thanks to the viciousness of his columns and his obsessive pursuit of his enemies on the Internet (Hari was an adroit early adopter of online social networks).
The main reason was almost certainly that Hari was so very, very good at expressing and justifying the prejudices expressed around North London dinner tables that he made them sound not only reasonable but noble. This was particularly so when it came to America and Israel.
Now in 2012, the Orwell prize committee has a chance to redeem itself. On the list of nominees this year is Douglas Murray, a writer who—intellectually and morally—represents the very opposite of everything ugly and wrong in Johann Hari. What a welcome symbol of self-correction it would be if Murray were to win outright.