All was going well for Johann Hari. A young journalist for The Independent, he had been garlanded with awards, including the Orwell Prize. But then accusations surfaced that he tweaked his copy – that he used quotes from other sources to embellish interviews; more damagingly, that he edited Wikipedia entries under the name David Rose, to smear his enemies (or just people he didn’t like, such as Cristina Odone.) He also cleaned up entries about his chums, such as Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot.
In a 2004 interview that Hari conducted with Ann Leslie (a journalist), some said that 500 words (out of a 5,000 word piece) came from a piece she’d knocked out in The Daily Mail. He was also accused of lifting enormous amounts of stuff from a book by Malalai Joya and passing them off as arising from his own interview. Other examples of “decoration” included George Michael and Hugo Chavez.
Hari’s previous editor, Simon Kelner, had called the row “fabricated anger”, according to The Guardian, and it took his successor, Chris Blackhurst, to instigate an investigation under the auspices of Andreas Whittam Smith, himself a former Independent editor. The investigation will not be made public (as would be the case with any internal investigation.)
Now Johann Hari, according to The Independent, although claiming that he stands by the articles for which he won The Orwell Prize (including a 2007 piece about the Central African Republic) has returned it to the organisers, and issued a statement of repentance. Hari will be suspended from his newspaper for three months, during which time he will attend a journalism course (according to Guido Fawkes, it will be Columbia University).
Hackles are rising amongst journalists: some are springing to Hari’s defence, whilst others are very keen to kick the boot in. So what should we think about Hari? Hapless hack, or pernicious plagiarist?
“Johann’s year out could be better spent at a local newspaper. Preferably somewhere far out of the way – I’m open for suggestions – where no-one gives two hoots who the hell he is,” said Joshua Lachkovic on his website.
- Piers is still a fan. Helen Lewis-Hasteley on The New Statesman’s Staggers blog noted both sides, saying that David Allen Green had tweeted “Those rushing to forgive Hari may not be fully aware of the extent of the ‘David Rose’ smears and deceit on Wikipedia and elsewhere,” whereas George Monbiot chirrupped that it seemed to be “the right balance.” Lewis-Hasteley also noted that Piers Morgan was on Hari’s side: “I remain a fan of @johannhari101 and commend him on his mea culpa.”
- Putting the boot in. Toby Young, on his Daily Telegraph blog, was definitely of the pernicious plagiarist bent. He took Hari’s apology and, heading it “Yet more shoddy excuses,” tore it apart like a Komodo dragon mauling a puppy. Hari, spluttered Young, hasn’t even reached the most “basic journalistic standards.” He wasn’t after “clarity”, but “personal glory.” You can’t just claim ignorance of standards, especially after purposefully elaborating copy. As for Hari’s defence of his Wikipedia pseudonym – he’s just trying to make it look “less sinful than it was.” Johann Hari is an “unscrupulous little hustler,” and his pitiful attempts to cover this up are “an insult to our intelligence.” Ouch. He was joined by the Velvetgloveironfistblog, which called Hari a “fraudulent troll.”
“To be fair to Johann Hari he seems to have learned his lesson, I can’t find a single lifted quote in his apology,” tweeted fieldproducer.
- Wait a minute… John Cindy on 100gf was a little more temperate, saying that given all the journalistic scandals that have plagued us in the past year, “the public vilification” of Hari “might be deemed somewhat extreme.”
- I knew the guy! Matt Welch on Reason.com said that you might remember Johann Hari, “a kind of 21st century Junior Hitchens on the make.” He called Hari a “venal if talented journalistic poseur.” Welch knew Hari, and now bitterly regrets printing a piece by him. What it boils down to is: “Don’t make shit up.” The journalism course Hari is going on won’t change the “deficit of honesty,” whilst Guido Fawkes, the political blogger, wondered what happened to the money that came with the Orwell Prize.
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