Thursday, September 15, 2011

Johann Hari’s latest apology: some thoughts

I’ve written a few articles on this blog about Johann Hari recently. Hari has now, after several months of outright denial and two rather self-serving articles claiming very limited wrongdoing, finally admitted that he is a plagiarist:
I’ve written so many articles over the years laying bare and polemicising against the errors and idiocies of other people. This time, I am writing an article laying bare and polemicising against the errors and idiocies of myself. If you give it out, you have to take it. If you demand high standards of others, you have to be just as damning when you fail to uphold them yourself.’
I’ve been hoping he would do this for some time, so it’s refreshing to see him finally step up to the plate, give a full account of everything he’s done wrong and apologize for it wholeheartedly.

Except... has he?

Hari starts his article with a bold and emotive claim that he is going to lay bare all his failures, but he immediately steps back from doing just that:
I did two wrong and stupid things. The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don’t translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead. At the time, I justified this to myself by saying I was giving the clearest possible representation of what the interviewee thought, in their most considered and clear words.
But I was wrong. An interview isn’t an X-ray of a person’s finest thoughts. It’s a report of an encounter. If you want to add material from elsewhere, there are conventions that let you do that. You write “she has said,” instead of “she says”. You write “as she told the New York Times” or “as she says in her book”, instead of just replacing the garbled chunk she said with the clear chunk she wrote or said elsewhere. If I had asked the many experienced colleagues I have here at The Independent – who have always been very generous with their time – they would have told me that, and they would have explained just how wrong I was. It was arrogant and stupid of me not to ask.’
Sadly, I think Hari has completely missed the point here, or pretended to. First of all, what he describes having done though he avoids using the word is quite simply plagiarism, of the kind that any journalist would usually be sacked for on the spot. But he hasn’t been sacked by The Independent, or chosen to resign. Instead, he’s off to the States for a four-month journalism course, after which he will be welcomed back to his old job.

Secondly, he has by omission minimized what he has done wrong, conveniently not mentioning some of the accusations that he invented episodes in his articles from whole cloth. I think he has chosen instead to admit to only what he feels has been proven beyond any doubt, and is hoping enough people will say Leave him alone now’ that he’ll get away with the much more serious stuff.

But even if he is only guilty of what he now admits to, the arrogant and stupid thing wasn’t neglecting to ask his colleagues about this practice of his – it was arrogant and stupid (and dishonest) to do it at all. It’s not some mysterious journalistic convention’ that you don’t pretend words others have written or said elsewhere were said to you, and you don’t need to ask other journalists about it to be let in on the secret. Anyone over the age of five knows that copying others’ work is wrong.

It also looks like Hari is not going to explain precisely what he did in which articles, and that neither will The Independent. Compare this to the New York Times’ reaction when they discovered what Jayson Blair had been up to: a very thorough investigation and explanation to their readers of what he had done, published in full within a fortnight. You can read it here – and yes, that’s 18 pages. 

In continuing to claim that he was only trying to clarify the positions of some people’ he had interviewed over the years, has Johann Hari really laid bare what he has done? Was this, as he seems to suggest, an occasional pecadillo done through ignorance of obscure journalistic practices, or has he plagiarised on a much greater scale, in many articles, for years? His interviews with Antonio Negri, Gideon Levy, Gareth Thomas, Hugo Chavez, Malalai Joya, George Michael and Ann Leslie all have quotes lifted verbatim or near-verbatim from other sources – and those are just the examples that have been discovered by bloggers and others so far. (None by The Independent, who only opened their investigation once several of these examples came to light.)

In a few of those cases, Hari plagiarized articles that had been written by his subjects. In others, he plagiarized previous interviews with them by other journalists. And in none of the cases does it look like this was something he did simply because his interviewees did not express an occasional point clearly enough: there’s far too much plagiarized material for that to be plausible. Let’s take his interview with George Michael. Here are a few quotes Hari has from Michael:
He leans forward on the virgin-white sofa in his Highgate office and teases open his childhood scars. “It’s only when the kids are in their late twenties that families really face up to what they are. You’ve gone out into the world – you’ve probably got a family of your own – and you’re finally in a position to look back and see if your own family was normal. I suppose enough of the damage your parents have done to you has left you by then too. It was at that age I realised how dysfunctional my childhood was.” 

His mother toiled 24/7 at two kids and three jobs, and George remembers her searing, bitter hated at having to work in a chip shop because “she was obsessively clean and she could never get the smell of fish out of her hair or off her skin, no matter how hard she scrubbed.”’
That’s a vivid memory of his mother, articulately expressed. But here’s what George Michael said on camera in an interview for the documentary A Different Story, which had just been released:
Mum and Dad worked in a fish and chip shop along here. My mum said it was the most disgusting period of her life, because you know how clean Mum was. She said you just couldn’t get the smell of the fish out of your hair, off your skin.’
Spot the difference. It’s possible that this is one of those occasions Hari mentions in his latest apology. George Michael could have repeated this about his mother but said it in a more confusing way, and so Hari went back to the documentary. But that would be slightly odd because, as the quote from the documentary shows, George Michael is very capable of giving good unconfusing quotes spontaneously in face-to-face interviews. The lifted quote is not a garbled chunk’. And it seems that several of the quotes in Hari’s interview are taken from ones shown in the documentary.  

A Different Story:
I’m not presuming that cruising is dysfunctional, ’cause I don’t think it is as a gay man. But cruising as George Michael – there’s something vaguely dysfunctional about that!’
Hari’s article:
“I don’t think there’s anything inherently dysfunctional about cottaging – but cottaging as George Michael? Yeah, there’s something pretty dysfunctional about that,” he says, laughing.’
A Different Story:
‘It was like, “Oh my God, I’m a massive star, and I think I may be a poof. What am I going to do? This is not going to end well!”’
Hari’s article:
‘“I am becoming one of the biggest stars in the world and I think I might be a poof. This cannot end well.”’
Either George Michael coincidentally said almost precisely the same things in several previous interviews, but for some unknown reason when he said them to Johann Hari it was in such a garbled way that Hari felt he had to go back and plagiarize the previous interviews. Or Hari is lying in his latest apology, and George Michael didn’t tell him these anecdotes at all, but Hari just took them from the documentary, changing a few words here and there to try to digsuise his plagiarism.

If this had happened in one interview, with only three quotes, the first option might be just about plausible. But the sheer scale of stolen quotes in Hari’s work suggests otherwise. Here’s an excerpt from Jon Lee Anderson’s 2001 interview with Hugo Chavez in the New Yorker:
“It is possible I have something of this . . . tragic sense of life,” he [Chavez] acknowledged. He recalled that on the eve of the 1992 rebellion he had said goodbye to his wife and three children, and led his soldiers out of their barracks. He was the last to leave. After locking the big front gate, he threw away the key. “I realized at that moment that I was saying goodbye to life,” Chávez said. “So it is possible that one has been a bit . . . imbued with that . . . ever since, no?”’
And here’s Hari’s exclusive interview’ with Chavez from 2006:
The spectre haunting Latin America – the spectre of Hugo Chavez – furrows his big, broad brow, pats my knee, and tells me about the night he knew he was going to die. “I will never forget – in the early hours, I said goodbye to my wife and three little children. I kissed them goodbye and blessed them.” He knew in his gut he was not going to survive that long, bloody day in 1992, when he and his allies finally decided to stage a revolution against the old, rotten order loathed by the Venezuelan people. “I realized at that moment that I was saying goodbye to life,” he says, looking away. “So it is possible that, after surviving, one has been a bit... imbued with that sense ever since, no?”’
Are we expected to believe that Hugo Chavez told Johann Hari the same story about the night he knew he was going to die’ as he told the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson five years earlier, but that for some reason he suddenly became so much less articulate when talking to Hari that Hari had no option but to plagiarize Anderson’s article to get a cleaner rendition of it?

This is implausible for several reasons, not least of which the fact that in both Anderson and Hari’s articles the quote in question has ellipses, indicating hesitancy on Chavez’s part. But Hari claims he only did this when he was looking for clean, ungarbled quotes. This raises several questions, none of which Hari addresses in his latest apology. Why is it that his interview subjects express themselves so well when interviewed by others, and yet seem to become so garbled when he speaks to them that he needs to plagiarize other journalists’ work?

And, more importantly, what about Hari’s accounts can we trust? If some of the quotes in his articles are not the words Hugo Chavez or George Michael or Ann Leslie or Malalai Joya said to him, which ones are? How do we know that the bits in between the quotes are accurate? If Hugo Chavez gave Hari a garbled version of the same thing he said to Anderson, did he also look away when doing so, as Hari claims he did? How about the  part when Chavez patted Hari on the knee – did that really happen, or is it simply dramatic effect to heighten the interesting quotes he has stolen? Once you start reading Hari’s interviews and taking away the plagiarized quotes, you realize that there’s very little of substance left to the articles, but much melodramatic looking away, cigarette-smoking and knee-patting from the subjects. The details of body language he uses to surround so many of his plagiarized quotes don’t suggest a writer searching for clarity in order to offer an X-ray of his subjects’ finest thoughts’, but rather one who has deliberately and systematically misled his readers.

I fear Johann Hari’s latest apology is, rather like his last two, both manipulative and self-serving. If he is serious about regaining the respect and trust of his readers perhaps he should start by detailing, in The Independent or elsewhere, precisely which articles he did this with, to what extent, and be honest about why he did it. Taken as a whole, the plagiarism that has been discovered so far points to far worse than the occasional theft of prior quotes for the sake of clarity, but instead someone who has plagiarized major parts of many of his interviews, for over a decade. There are also still serious unanswered questions about whether he has fabricated quotes and even entire incidents in his articles on Dubai, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

I think Johann Hari’s latest apology is unconvincing and less than completely honest. He’s still trying to cover his back and minimise what he’s done, but I don’t think it is going to help him in the long term. I think it’s time he stopped dodging the most serious questions about his work and came clean about all of it, with an apology that does more than make himself out to be a naive soul whose only error was to care too much about clarity. His readers, and those whose work he has stolen, deserve a complete and genuinely remorseful account of his actions.


  1. What do I think?

    1. Yesterday was a charade, probably planned over a pleasant lunch between Hari, Kelner, Whittam Smith and Blackwell back in July.

    2. Whittam Smith may well have given Hari the impression that he'd be prepared to gloss over the plagiarism and Wikipedia stuff, but would have to draw the line at fabrication. This would explain the strangest aspect of yesterday's full(ish) and frank(ish) apology: he stands by his CAR piece (insisting that the now-notorious severed heads swinging from ropes business was all true), but even so he felt it necessary to return the Orwell Prize that he won for it.

    3. He returned the prize because he knew full well that he'd be stripped of it otherwise, having been caught fabricating - if not bang to rights, exactly, then at least rather-loud-pop to rights.

    4. The curt announcement from the prize committee yesterday that the award had been received and the matter was now closed was agreed on after the Indy twisted the committee's arm 7-8 weeks ago. If they'd stripped him of the prize, they would have had to explain why, probably in painful (for Hari) detail. Then, with fabrication was back on Whittam Smith's table, he'd have had to fire Hari - the outcome that nobody involved wanted.

    5. Since yesterday, The Independent can no longer be referred to, except in jest, as a "quality newspaper".

  2. Basically I agree with this analysis in particular Hari's apology seems *very* limited, but a few thoughts

    In actual content Hari never misrepresented the views of interviewees, "just" where he got the information from.

    This is not nothing but OTOH it is not full scale deception.

    For me this makes it difficult to condemn outright. What Hari did was wrong. Personally I'm not sure where on the spectrum to place my condemnation Hari.

    Early on in all this either the Independent or Hari himself made the point that none of his interviewees had ever complained about his articles.

    None of this is a defence. What Hari did was wrong but I think there are greater wrongs in the media and this is drawing a substantial amount of fire.

    IMO four months is way too short. Take 3 or 4 years out (others may argue for more - and if they make a good case I may well agree), as a sign of acknowledging the depth and seriousness of the deception, and then come back. Maybe.

  3. Apologies for double post. This is the kind of thing I was thinking of but it took a while to find the link

    This seems to be how much of the press works. Rotten to the core. Eating decent people up and spitting them out. Whose is the greater crime? Hari's or this. Hari is rightly condemned but the above behaviour is so routine it doesn't even merit one word.

    IMO consistency and perspective are required.

  4. Thanks for the comments so far!

    Ann, I don't think plagiarism is mitigated in any way if you don't also twist the words to misrepresent people. But even so, I disagree, because Hari clearly *did* misrepresent people by doing this. Read this article:

    I also think he misrepresented George Michael. In the documentary, Michael is self-mocking and self-aware when he discusses the fact that at the height of his fame he was realizing he was gay. Hari takes the quotes but places it at the opening of his article, which paints Michael as a sad has-been, Club Tropicana closed and its shutters rusting. Here's the quote from the documentary:

    ‘It was like, “Oh my God, I’m a massive star, and I think I may be a poof. What am I going to do? This is not going to end well!”’

    Here's how Hari used it:

    'I am sitting with a melancholic fortysomething Michael to discuss the new, authorised film documentary about him - A Different Story - and it is hard to glimpse the boy in the man. He wipes something wet from his eye and says: "This is the first time in a long time I don't fear the future." He is telling me a strange story about standing at the top of the world - a story where he walks on stage before a billion people and privately panics: "I am becoming one of the biggest stars in the world - and I think I might be a poof. This cannot end well." So who killed Wham!'s wonderboy? Who dug his glittering grave?'

    The plagiarism is bad enough, but the misrepresentation is much worse. I think this passage is very revealing of Hari's methods and rhetorical tricks. The object of the interview is to denigrate George Michael, even while apparently being empathetic. The language is loaded throughout. Michael is a 'melancholic
    fortysomething'. This is designed to elicit the reaction he wants, which he introduced with the rusting shutters of Club Tropicana in the opening paragraph. Oh, George Michael is a makwish aging has-been. The mention that the autobiography is authorised is carefully placed. Oh, so he's still trying to tailor his image. Consider that little dig about it being authorised in light of the fact that several of the quotes in the article are stolen directly from it! And consider, too, the way he has not just plagiarized Michael's previous interview, but invented a strange megalomaniacal dream Michael has had in which he repeats those words almost verbatim. I think this is misrepresentation.

    And you can see it in a lot of his interviews. I haven't had time to go into some of them, but look at his interview with Larry Flynt. He essentially trawled through the man's memoirs and then took all the nastiest bits he could find and pretended Flynt said them to him. I doubt Larry Flynt is a pleasant man - but I think there's no doubt that Hari misrepresented him to suit his own agenda, and to make for a more sensational-reading interview.

    So I think you have really pinpointed part of the problem. Hari has persuaded you and others not to look too closely at what he's done, and to mitigate this as a technical fault. The reality, if you investigate it closely, as The Independent clearly failed to do, is that the technical crime of plagiarism masks much greater faults in his work - misrepresentation and, I think, outright fabrication.

  5. But Ann, that Mail story got plenty of coverage - I read it when it was linked to on Twitter by practically my entire timeline! And there has been quite a lot of attention paid by bloggers and others to the right-wing press.

    'There is one particular type of bad argument that has always existed, but it has now spread like tar over the world-wide web, and is seeping into the pubs, coffee shops and opinion columns everywhere. It is known as 'what-aboutery' - and there was a particularly ripe example of it in response to one of my articles last week.

    As a rhetorical trick, it is simple. Anyone can do it, and we are all tempted sometimes. When you have lost an argument - when you can't justify your case, and it is crumbling in your hands - you snap back: "But what about x?"'

    This comes from quite a good article, though I have my reservations about the writer. :)

  6. There's so much more on Wikipedia that should be of great interest.

    In particular, I would encourage people to read the "User talk" page relating to Hari's (only) admitted sock-puppet account of David_r_from_Meth_Productions.

    Here's an absolute classic from early 2007:

    Re: Removing Warnings from your talk page

    "Generally frowned on, dave-especially block templates put there by admins. You probably didn't know that-but I'd probably restore them, if I were you.Felix-felix 15:51, 5 January 2007 (UTC)

    Hmm. Thanks, I'll put them back. 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... I could go on, and you probably did know not to do it. The way you are disregarding the wiki rules and authorities is appalling.
    David r from meth productions 23:48, 8 January 2007 (UTC)"

    Lots more where that came from:

  7. Great post. I was not a great journalist; I recognised fairly early on in my career that I wasn't great at asking questions. Maybe this is a skill Hari lacks & why he doesn't elicit the responses he wants from his interviewees. He would have honed this skill had he not been hailed as a wunderkind (& inhaled this status).
    Regardless of your training, where you work, if you are reporting what others' say, you do not lie. You do not lie to your readers. You do not lie about plagiarising the work of others; and you don't lie about what your interviewees say, just because you think you can say it better.
    The way the NYT dealt with the Blair case is the gold standard by which any masthead should hope to hold on to its reputation. That The Independent is unwilling to act in the same manner is a great big f*** you to its readers and staff.

  8. Looking through the early days of Johann Hari's Wikipedia escapades is pretty revealing.

    The earliest I can trace back his activity is to 14th October 2006.

    At this point, Hari had not created the "DavidR" character, and was editing without creating a username on Wikipedia. Hence, all edits would be logged under the IP address that he was using.

    First day edits involve him inserting links to articles on his own website on biographical entries on Wikipedia for Hugo Chavez and Mark Steyn.

    Then, he edits his own page, adding a link referencing the fact that he was the youngest ever journalist to be shortlisted for the Orwell prize. In his haste, he mis-spells the word "the". Mere seconds later, he corrects it.

    Next up, inserting another link to his own website, this time on the page for Antonio Negri.

    Then, over the course of the next couple of days, the fun begins.

    A wikipedia user by the name of Felix challenges some of the edits Hari has made to his own article, and accuses the user behind the IP address of being Hari.

    On October 16th, Hari signs one of his edits "Dave".

    On October 17th, Hari vehemently denies being the individual behind the IP address. From what I can ascertain, it is the first instance of him directly refuting a challenge regarding the real identity behind the Wikipedia edits.

    It is the last day that this IP address is used by Hari.

    Moving on to another IP address, he continues arguing his case throughout October 18th. Only on that day was the new IP address utilised.

    On October 19th, the user "DavidR_from_Meth_Productions" was created by Hari, and the fun really started.

  9. Update -

    It appears that DavidR's contributions to Wikipedia go a lot further back than I found:

  10. Thanks for the responses Jeremy.

    I take your point about the depth and extent of Hari's deception. DAG/JoK has said repeatedly that there is more to come, and this looks like it may be the start.

    Wrt 'What aboutery' I think the point remains (though again I wasn't aware of the coverage the Mail story got at the time):

    Are the column inches and man hours spent on Hari proportionate to the nature of the offence? To some extent, however deserving, he's a soft target.

    Hackgate is uncovering some of the worst practices but I would venture that the type of journalism detailed in the blog about the Mail is routine and widespread, I may be wrong but if it is this is of far greater importance.

    This is not a defence of Hari. I just question the proportionality of the response.

    Incidentally I posted on a JoK blog a while ago when the allegations of (what I now know to be termed) sock-puppetry arose. My point at that time was that this behaviour seemed increasingly desperate and unstable. Hari definitely needs exposing for what he has done but I do worry what effect relentless vilification may have on him and what the results might be.

    That said the (perhaps misplaced) support he is receiving from some quarters may mitigate.

  11. This is doing the rounds on Twitter and makes the point I was trying to make, with feeling

  12. Ann, I saw that piece, and completely disagree with it. The only people to blame for Johann Hari being a rampant plagiarist are Johann Hari and the staff of The Independent. As a journalist, I resent the implication that I have contributed to or am in any way responsible for Hari's behaviour. I'm just not. Neither are many others.

    I think you and others are looking for ways to minimise what he's done. A shocking article the Daily Mail published in 2003 and which was revealed (and much discussed - see the 19 links below the piece) eight months ago does not really compare to the current story that one of Britain's best-known journalists has been revealed as, but has still not fully admitted to, being a rampant plagiarist, fabricator and slanderer for over a decade.

    I think this is akin to the Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair cases in the States. It's an important story in British journalism, and I would say has so far received surprisingly little coverage in the mainstream print press in Britain and overseas. After all, Orlando Figes only wrote a few Amazon reviews. Hari has written over 1000 articles, and made over 900 edits on Wikipedia.

    'That he might have failed to address everything that he has done hardly matters when compared to something else (the war, the war!), because he campaigns for particular causes, because he’s ‘better than other journalists’, or because he is a “brilliant writer” anyway.'

    'The allegation of witchuntery is thereby used in the attempt to make those asking a question feel very bad about themselves about not just accepting the lack of an answer. As such, the questioners are the ones most at fault.'

    My sympathy for Johann Hari would be greatly improved if he finally came clean on this and admitted precisely what he'd done and apologized for it all, in full, without trying to hide the stuff he hopes people who agree with his politics won't look into. Instead, he has arrogantly denied this from the start, insulting those who exposed him, and then finally, grudgingly, piece by piece, offered up disingenuous and mealy-mouthed 'apologies' that have tried to minimize what he has really done and paint himself as the victim. I think your sympathies would be better placed with those he has deceived, stolen from and attacked.

  13. Great post. It is very important to have voices asserting the need for journalistic integrity and I am horribly disappointed that there has been a relative silence from liberal/left commentators (though some noble exceptions - David Allen Green and others). I have actually felt quite sickened by the tricksy and spinning non-apologies of Johann Hari and the fact that so many have lost themselves in the moral miasma of the 'we are all flawed', or even the 'we are all to blame' response. Of course we all make mistakes in life, but moral integrity is surely based on facing up to the implications of these. In his latest apology Hari is still attempting to put the best gloss on the (many more than two) wrong things he did ('clear chunks' better than 'garbled chunks; etc.) and is clearly still in denial. I share a lot of Hari's political positions and I think that makes me angrier that so few on the left have insisted on the need for good and honest journalistic practices and spoken out to condemn the appalling response of the Independent.

  14. The more Hari and the Indy try to sanitise this grubby fiasco, the worse it gets. Opportunistically sending back his Orwell prize after it seems they were coerced with emotional blackmail to delay stripping him of it is just another infantile act of phoney face-saving. Like a naughty schoolboy having his catapult confiscated saying "I didn't want it anyway."

    Two Indy editors are now tainted by this nauseating attempt to cover-up and downplay the unethical and self-aggrandising serial frauds of the paper's special little boy.

  15. Can anyone explain why the Independent wants to keep him?


  16. I think the Independent are keeping him because he is still hugely popular and thus a source of revenue. Given that a lot has been written (by him and others) about his mental health issues (and his behaviour certainly suggests a very tenuous relationship with reality) I find it horribly cynical that his employer and supporters are not now focusing on his welfare and are colluding with such a ludicrous course of action. If he were a friend of mine I would be urging him on a very different path as it seems to me that the roar of a too uncritical crowd has played a big part in derailing him and in condoning utterly unacceptable journalistic practices.

  17. Again thanks for the responses.

    For the record I am not trying to diminish what Hari has done eg in an earlier post I put an (arbitrary) figure of 3 or 4 years on his exile.

    I'm against a "lifetime ban" bc I do believe in second chances. For me the proposed 3 or 4 months is almost ridiculous: if it wasn't so well established in public life (eg Mandelson and many many more). You can only ridicule for so long before you start to despair.

    The core point was, and remains, that, prima facie, there are bigger fish to fry.

    My perception is that the treatment outlined in the Mail blogpost is systemic or at least widespread. Either that or it's one rogue reporter - the NoW defence.

    (Incidentally the 19 links at the bottom are all to other blogs - the only one AFAICS in mainstream media was Roy Greenslade who gave it four lines.)

    I may be wrong but if the behavoiur and attitude outlined in the post *is* systemic in sections of the media then that dwarfs anything Hari got up to. In the same way that Hackgate does. Just to clarify that doesn't excuse or diminish Hari's crime and punishment but IMO there's a bigger story out there.

    Besides this, at a different place on the spectrum there is Rich Peppiatt's letter to Richard Desmond detailing practices at the Daily Star. Are those practices exclusive to that journalist or that paper - the NoW defence? If they are not then across the board fabrication of stories is, again, a more serious issue than Hari.

    In the Independent itself earlier this week a senior police investigator on Operation Motorman related how he his superiors had told him not to investigate journalists - the impression being that they were too powerful. Senior police advising investigators against investigating journalists. More serious than Hari. This may be picked up in one of the current Enquiries depending on terms of reference and their interpretation.

    Hari in itself is very serious, and the response inadequate.

    My point remains that the energies spent dealing with Hari would now be better spent elsewhere exposing corrupt practices and deception across the print media on particular.

  18. '...just to clarify that doesn't excuse or diminish Hari's crime and punishment but IMO there's a bigger story out there.'

    Ann, thanks for the response. I think the first part of the bit I quoted and the part after 'IMO' contradict each other. By raising other journalist crimes, I think you are trying to diminish Hari's. His isn't so important, because there are bigger deals out there. I do suggest you read David Allen Green's blogpost I linked to in my last comment, where he deals with this. You can do it with anything. Why did anyone bother focussing any energy on Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair? Worse things have happened. If someone spent a lot of energy on the Mail story from 2003... well, worse things have happened.

    I'm not putting all my energy into this story. Neither are others. I'm focussing on this important breach of ethics, but have also looked at others. I'll continue to do that, when I think the occasion suits. And, if I might make a suggestion, what is stopping you from doing the same? What I have written here about Joahnn Hari and his interviews with Hugo Chavez, George Michael and others is information I discovered myself from doing a bit of digging. I did so because I thought not enough energy was being put into this important story. You can do the same on that Mail story.

    But I'm afraid I don't accept the idea that just because there may be other breaches of journalistic ethics, a breach as large and long-running and high profile as this one doesn't deserve the attention it's getting. In fact, I think it's quite shocking, and says something quite damning about the state of British journalism, that it hasn't got more attention.

  19. Thanks again

    '...just to clarify that doesn't excuse or diminish Hari's crime and punishment but IMO there's a bigger story out there.'

    Whether there's a contradiction seems to me to be a matter of interpretation.

    The way I intended it is: Hari's deceit is fixed in size and scale.

    The fact that there is a bigger story doesn't to me make his deceit *in absolute terms* smaller - eg there should be no lessening of sanctions, or attempts to excuse.

    BUT...systemic malpractice is a bigger fish.

    The Harifish is the same size but the Mailfish is bigger. (Apologies for that fishy metaphor.)

    Incidentally to clarify I don't view the Mail story as one story at all really. I may be wrong but I take it to be evidence of systemic malpractice.

    If some journalists routinely treat people like this, and anecdotally it seems that is the case, then that is as big an issue as Hackgate (or at least in the same ballpark).

    As I see the Hari story the prevailing public narrative of minor misdemeanours and a 3 or 4 month hiatus might make


    if you look closer, as you have done, then it falls apart, and the offence becomes much more serious and the response inadequate. And it's up to individuals to keep digging and plugging away.

    It was just that at JoK in particular when all the research went into David Rose I kept thinking all those man hours could have been better allocated.

    Wrt investigating the Mail story further I'm an interested layperson with no resources or training.

    I try to prod and poke the pros (such as yourself) and the high profile (DAG/JoK) to pursue it.

    Thanks for all your responses. I'm signing off - which means you get the last word ;-)

  20. Ann, I agree with Hari on this!
    'So whenever you hear the cry "But what about?!", you can reply: what about we ignore this crude attempt to change the subject, and focus on the subject in hand?'

    You've come to my blog to suggest too much time is being spent on this rather than something the Mail did in 2003. And yet you're not prepared to follow your own advice and focus on that. I've been a journalist for a few years but I don't have any special resources and didn't have any training in it (oddly, I didn't need it to realise that plagiarism, fabrication and attacking colleagues are all wrong.) I just used common sense and Google. That Mail article is a sad story, and I doubt it's an isolated incident. I suspect a lot of dramatic 'human interest' stories, which you can read every week in The Mail, The Express, The Sun, The Mirror, women's magazines and men's magazines, distort facts and quotes to make their stories more interesting for readers. And I suspect a lot of people discussed and photographed in those stories regret their involvement.

    But are you surprised at this? You've never read a sensational feature in the dentist's waiting room and thought 'Hang on, she can't have had an affair with both her brother and her dad and be boasting about it in public, can she?'

    This is not just apples and oranges - what you're suggesting I spend my energies on is also impractical. Supposing it is worth doing, how would you go about starting to expose this - what resources would you need? How many newspapers and magazines would you examine, how many articles, what would your first steps be? I'd urge you not to think 'That's your problem, you're the journalist' here. :) But perhaps instead think about how constructive your suggestion really is. The answer is: not especially! I can't think of any practical way to expose a massive trend such as that, especially as it's one that I think everyone knows has been in existence for many decades, indeed centuries. That Mail article in 2003 was a particularly shocking example, but I think we all know this happens, and that it's widespread. Tabloids and rags make things up.

    Do broadsheets, though? Do the winners of prestigious awards in journalism also distort facts in this way to make a good story? I hope you can see that this is a more shocking thought than The Mail, The Mirror or Heat doing it. Especially as in this case, the journalist has won pretty much every major journalism prize going, and has been distorting facts for over a decade, having written hundreds of articles. Worse, he appears not simply to have distorted facts but to have plagiarised large parts of his interviews and fabricated incidents. For the woman at the heart of the Mail story and some people around her, it was destructive, but in the wider scheme of things that article had very little impact. Hari's articles have been extremely influential. See 'Johann Hari's article on this in The Independent' has been an endnote with substance until now. The UN responded to his CAR piece, for good reason.

    There are lots of things wrong with journalism. Some of them have been around for years, and you're right that they shouldn't be accepted. But proving that they take place is pretty hard, and that's why that insider's view of one story was telling. I think a greater question is not whether that sort of story is endemic in the tabloid press - we know it is - but whether Hari's behaviour, which a lot of people seem willing to minimize, is endemic in broadsheets. In other words, I think if you care about the state of journalism, I think you're putting *your* energies in the wrong place.

  21. @ Ann Kittenplan

    In response to your posts, I feel I should point out the following:

    (1) Hari's use of his interviewees' material would be a small deal if it was incidental, but the fact is that it is not. With the Malalai Joya interview, for example, practically every 'quote' from her is actually lifted from her memoir. If Hari is saying that he took people's quotes to occasionally clarify their less coherent response to their questions, then how can he explain this?:

    (2) It is also likely that Hari took quotes from interviews conducted with two individuals by three other journalists (Hugo Chavez and Gareth Thomas). That is out and out plagiarism.

    (3) We are in no position to judge the extent to which Hari has embellished, fabricated and plagiarised over the past ten years, because the 'Independent' refuses to publicise Whittam Smith's report. The comparisons with the 'New York Times' and its decision to devote 18 pages of one issue to the Jayson Blair scandal should be noted.

    (4) The furore over Hari's CAR article (which won him the Orwell Prize) is not a one-off. For example, his article on Dubai - which won him the Martha Gellhorn award - is highly suspect. How much more of his work is similarly 'embellished'?

    The implications of such fabrications are also discussed by the 'Economist' columnist Bagehot, and this piece is well worth a read:

    (5) With comparisons to right-wing tabloids such as the Express, Mail, Star etc - I expect these 'newspapers' to fabricate stories and tell lies as a matter of course. But the 'Independent' was supposedly set up as a quality newspaper to challenge this trend in journalism which sacrificed accuracy and honesty in reporting for ideological dogma. I do not want newspapers to be purveyors of propaganda - whether they are left or right wing - and I will not excuse Hari just because his brand of demagogy is more congenial to me than Littlejohn's or Gaunt's.

  22. Saying sorry hurts? I came across this video which reminded me of your post. If you're going to ask me though, I think saying sorry means that you're brave enough to admit your mistakes.