Six years ago, an American hack took a mouthful of horse sperm for publishing articles that pissed us off, the last one claiming that Moscow had no homeless problem since the homeless here didn't try washing his Western car windshield at stoplights the way they do in New York City.
You'd think that Moscow's foreign journalists would have learned a hard lesson: Although the eXile is broke and forever on the verge of death, we're still dangerous in the way that a wounded stray is dangerous, always eager to take a big infected bite out of any asshole who dares try to steal the last piece of maggot-infested meat we've got by our side.
For the most part, journalists here have been playing it smart, ignoring our paper, leaving us and our spoiled meat alone. They're still lazy hacks, but we're so bored by it all we only occasionally bother to bare an infected, chipped fang. Too much wasted energy. So there we sit, curled up by the construction yard fence next to our chewed-up bone, rarely bothering to bark at a Peter Finn strolling past with another Putin-Is-A-Nazi story, or at Newsweek as they toss a Russia-Is-The-Weakest-Nation-On-Earth rock over our heads, or at the Economist who whistles a Russian-Threat-So-Serious-It-Makes-Al Qaeda-Look- Like-The-Salvation-Army tune our way...
We don't bother barking, because it rarely gets us anything, and all we want is to keep chewing on our old bone.
Luke Harding's casting photo for "Love, Actually"
But a guy named Luke Harding walked by us last week, and he stole our fucking bone. No one, not even the worst hack, had ever done that to us in our 10 years of existence.
Harding is Moscow's bureau chief for The Guardian, one of the largest English-language news outlets in the world. And he seems to have a knack for publishing articles whose content and lead paragraphs look suspiciously similar, in the cloning sense of the word, to articles published by Kevin O'Flynn of The Moscow Times. In fact, Harding's articles are so regularly similar to O'Flynn's that some of his colleagues have begun accusing him of using a fake "Luke Harding" pen-name in order to milk two checks for each article. The only thing that makes Harding seem real is his photo: a blue-eyed blond with a pinkish complexion and a half-confused expression which, if it were a bumper sticker, would read, "I'd rather be in a romantic comedy."
Last week, Luke Harding came and took our bone. Emails from eXile readers starting pouring in, claiming that one of our articles, "Jews: Where Are They Now?" had been lifted, at times almost word-for-word, by Harding. Our article was published in May; Harding's "The richer they come" was published in the Guardian on July 2.
It was so blatant that one blogger out of England even took the time to lay out his case against Harding, titled "Fucking biters!" which opened with this Ginsberg-esque howl:
"Remember how I was saying The Guardian is the greatest newspaper in the world? While I still am not backing down from that statement, I am very disappointed. Their newest Moscow correspondent, Luke Harding, is a fucking plagiarist. Let me say that one more time for the benefit of Google searchers. Luke Harding is a plagiarist. Plagiarist Luke Harding. Plagiarist. Luke Harding. Luke Harding. Plagiarist."
The blogger even went through the trouble of citing the most damning bits of evidence:
The eXile: "Thanks to anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, Jews were restricted in their ability to assimilate and rise up
in society, so those who wanted to get ahead were forced into the margins. That meant that while ethnic Slavs dominated all the best career slots in the highly bureaucratized Soviet society, Jews dominated the black market economy. After the collapse of communism, the black market became legalized as free-market capitalism."
Luke Harding: "That fact is incontestablebut it is the result not of some grand conspiracy, but of the way the Soviet Union restricted Jews' ability to assimilate and rise up in society. While ethnic Slavs dominated all the best career slots in the highly bureaucratised official society, Jews who wanted to get ahead were forced into the black market economy. When communism collapsed and the black market was legalised as free market capitalism, the Jewish entrepreneurs had a head start."
The eXile: "Putin is an old KGB hand, and the KGB is notorious as a pale, Slavs-only club."
Luke Harding: "Putin's previous employer was the KGB, a notorious Slavs-only club."
For the blogger, it was an life-shattering experience every bit as transformational as Jack Lemmon's moment in the film Missing. "...[I]t's a FUCKING COPY-AND-PASTE JOB...But do English-language journalists bite translated copy all of the time and nobody knows?"
Yes, Virginia, there is a Hackburglar.
But thanks to you, readers, we at The eXile managed to come out of our post-party stupor and "take appropriate measures." We are fighting this.
What, we thought, could possibly teach Harding and his colleagues not to steal our goddamn bone? We've tried humiliation. We've tried logic, argument, rhetoric, invective. We've tried horse sperm. None of them worked. The hacks just keep on hackin'.
We thought long and hard, and decided that the only way to resolve this was to do it the White Man's way: demand that the Guardian pay us for our work, and that they get control over their Moscow correspondent, who seems to view Moscow the way Joe Pesci's character in Casino looked at Las Vegas.
This past Monday, we took our case to his Bosses. We emailed Luke's editor, David Munk, our complaint along with an invoice for 500 pounds sterling, which was seriously lowballing, not even half of what we were owed; but we figured it was a friendly gesture on our part.
As we went to print this past Wednesday, Munk still hadn't answered. So we sent a follow-up email expressing our serious disappointment, along with a new invoice demanding 1000 pounds sterling plus VAT. Then we called him. His secretary nervously answered that he was seriously busy with production since it was the "end of the day," and she didn't think he'd take our call.
"Does he know who you are?" she asked patronizingly.
"I'm not sure; maybe, maybe not," we answered, fully patronized.
Within seconds, a breathless Munk took the phone. He chastised us for our letter - "I don't think threatening us with lawsuits or libel is going to help" - but then informed us that the matter had been passed to the Guardian's ombudsman, Siobhain Butterworth. "She will decide the matter and make her recommendation," Munk told us in a deeply peeved tone of voice.
Munk wouldn't say how long it would take for Butterworth to decide the case. So we'll just have to wait.
Meanwhile, we at The eXile have decided that if justice is served and the Guardian pays us our fee, that we will donate 10% of the money to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit that deals with intellectual property rights issues.
To be continued...