Notes From the Margins…

Hari Goes Down

  • June 28, 2011
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Can’t say I’m sorry – or surprised – that The Independent’s Johann Hari has been caught out inserting quotations from his interviewees’ books or articles in his own interview/profiles and then passing them off as his own quotes.   I’ve always found his writing wheedling, bombastic and manipulative, and his analyses of people and events mostly superficial, even when I actually agree with him.

He also has a tendency to play fast and loose with the facts.  I remember one article about the Gaza strip some years back when he claimed to have interviewed a member of Islamic Jihad,  who claimed to have cut the throats of  a group of 4 female Israeli soldiers, his interviewee told him:

“I want to kill and kill and kill again. I want to be a killing machine until, inshallah [God willing], I become a martyr,” he said, staring at me intensely. He is 27 – my age – and murderous. He has just described how he slashed the throats of four female Israeli soldiers in an illegal settlement in 2002, and he chuckled as he described how they cried for their mothers.

This was supposed to have happened in 2002.  The only problem is that there is no record that such an event actually took place, and you can bet that it would have been known if it had.

Either Hari was really told his story, in which case he and his newspaper were too lazy to check if it was true.   Or he made it up.  Either way it does not reflect well, and as  Private Eye and others have pointed out in the past, Hari has form in such matters.  So the latest debacle doesn’t come out of the blue.

Hari has defended himself against charges of plagiarism, by arguing that

I’ve recently been asked to clarify something about a few of the interviews I’ve done in the past. When I’ve interviewed a writer, it is quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. (I know I write much more clearly than I speak whenever I read a transcript of what I’ve said, or it always seems less clear and more clotted. I think we’ve all had that sensation in one form or another).

So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.

Disingenuous doesn’t begin to describe this piece of nonsense.  I’ve also carried out numerous interviews as a journalist, and sometimes I’ve hoped for quotes beforehand that I wasn’t able to get.   When that happens you have to accept it or work with the material that you did get.

If you quote from an interviewee’s books or articles, you make that distinction clear, you certainly don’t include quotes and then dramatise them in an attempt to ‘own’ them.   That is a travesty of journalism.

So it is a bit much to see people like Polly Toynbee,  Laurie Penny and even Naomi Klein for God’s sake defending this brazen phoney, presumably just because he’s a ‘leftist’.

There have even been murmurings on Guardian comments sections and the MediaLens website that the exposing of Hari is some kind of rightwing plot to bring down a crusading and fearless liberal/left crusader.

Well of course the Toby Youngs and Damian Thompsons of this world are going to enjoy this spectacle, and they clearly are.  But fakes deserve to have their fakery exposed, whether they’re on the left or the right.   And this self-aggrandising poseur really did have it coming.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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