Media

Johann’s Journalistic Hari-Kari

|

Welcome to the club, kid

Some Reason readers may recall the precocious and prolific Independent (UK) columnist Johann Hari, a kind of 21st century Junior Hitchens on the make. Hari had been under suspension for a couple of months over charges that (among other things) his work was riddled with plagiarism and made-up quotes, evidence for which was enough to get his Orwell Prize revoked. Today, in what might be read as a cautionary tale about premature success, but what should actually be understood as a confession-out-of-necessity by a venal if talented journalistic poseur, Hari has penned an apology. Excerpt:

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.

It's gonna take more than a programme, Johann

The other thing I did wrong was that several years ago I started to notice some things I didn't like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn't my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people's too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire – like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I factually corrected some other entries about other people. But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk. […]

I am going to take an unpaid leave of absence from The Independent until 2012, and at my own expense I will be undertaking a programme of journalism training. (I rose very fast in journalism straight from university.) And […] when I return, I will footnote all my articles online and post the audio online of any on-the-record conversations so that everyone can hear them and verify they were said directly to me.

I know and have been friendly with Johann over the years; I recall having a pint with him in London in the first half of the '00s and declining his invitation to go bait some anti-war protesters across the street from Parliament (he was still a liberal hawk back then). I now consider it a blot on my career to have edited and placed into the L.A. Times an op-ed of his, which I presume (and should have better suspected then) is filled with falsehoods. One of the first rules of editing is that when a quote or anecdote reads too perfect, it probably is.

I'm sure there will be some temptations during this flap to draw broader lessons about modern-day journalistic mores or whatnot, but the bottom line really is the same as it has been since at least the 19th century: Don't make shit up, don't misrepresent yourself to readers, and don't lie about it or anything else involving your work. No amount of journalistic training can overcome a basic human deficit of honesty.

Reason's database on Hari here, including Michael C. Moynihan's July 2008 piece, "The Useful Idiocy of Johann Hari."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

112 responses to “Johann’s Journalistic Hari-Kari

  1. Someone has already edited Matt’s Wikipedia entry to include “Johann Hari’s drinking buddy and admitted accessory to Hari’s fraud. . . “

    1. We’re all journalists now!
      https://reason.com/blog/2011/09…..nooping-ar
      So stop plagiarizing the internet’s worst clich?s, puns, and third-rate insults, fellow journalists.
      https://reason.com/blog/2011/09…..nt_2515580

  2. I will be undertaking a programme of journalism training

    God help us all.

    1. Maybe while there he’ll learn how to spell “program.”

      1. America is not the world?

        1. The extra ‘me’ on ‘programme’ reminds me (uncomfortably) of the Norman Conquest.

  3. What a punchable face!

    1. …I bet he pinches and sissy-slaps when confronted by a punch to the face… as well as crying and peeing.

    2. What a punchable face!

      Clever and original!
      A+

      1. Clever and original!
        A+

        Dumb and derivative.
        C-

        1. I calls ’em like I sees ’em. “Punchable face” should be thrown into the same bin as “die in a fire” and “douche-nozzle.” But I’m discerning like that.

          1. But what about “Clever and original! A+”?

            1. CN, for your next feat, you should spend a weekend trying to talk water out of being wet.

          2. But I’m discerning like that.

            No, you’re not. But you go on thinking that; it’s what comforts you as you cry at night.

            1. Well, Backpfeifengesicht would’ve been better.

              1. “Sand in your vagina” is a classic. I hate that Episiarch has stopped using it.

          3. How about “Drug out into the street and shot”?

            I love that one and wish to use and see it more often.

            …the phrase not actually dragging people out into the street and shooting them.

    3. I was going to say that, but apparently it wouldn’t have beve been clever and original any more.

      1. I was libertarian before it was cool to be libertarian.

  4. Hari as all the asshole-ness of Christopher Hitchens without any of the redeeming intelligence.

    And just to stir the pot here’s hit piece on Ayn Rand. Note that he obviously didn’t actually ready any of her works: http://www.slate.com/id/2233966/

    1. he obviously didn’t actually ready any of her works

      Most of her critics never have.

    2. The funny thing is that all these hit pieces on Rand are always just regurgitations of whatever uncharitable interpretations some other left-wing guy has lifted out of Rand’s works at some point. So, on the one hand, Hari probably stole it, but on the other hand, it’s basically par for the course in Rand criticism.

  5. I now consider it a blot on my career to have edited and placed into the L.A. Times an op-ed of his, which I presume (and should have better suspected then) is filled with falsehoods.

    Ouch.

    1. libtoids can just chalk that up to morez lamestream driveby media

    2. I haven’t been following this story closely so when I read that statement from Welch I thought it was a bit harsh and dickish. Then I read Hari’s LA Times op-ed and I’ve got to agree that the Afghan teacher’s quotes seem invented, or at least lifted. It’s sort of strange that these guys that start fabricating (Glass, Blair, etc.) end up doing it everywhere, even when the invented fact or anecdote is unbelievably inconsequential. That article would have been perfect fine without the too-good quotes.

      It’s just like Scott Templeton from The Wire. (The actor that played him, Thomas McCarthy, is super talented but whenever he shows up in a movie I want to punch the screen. I detest Scott Templeton.)

      1. There was an actor who portrayed a sadistic British officer (who rapes one of the protagonists) in the Jewel in the Crown who was in real life a very nice guy.

        After the series aired, he found that people abused him wherever he went and once was even attacked on a railway platform by an old woman who viciously beat him about the head with her umbrella while shrieking about how he should be ashamed of himself. The poor guy had done such a good job that everybody hated him!

        1. Wasn’t there a blerb recently that the guy who played the EPA inspector in Ghostbusters is still called “pencil dick” by passers-by?

        2. Tim Pigott-Smith. The character was Col. Merrick. I don’t blame the lady, the character was vile. Well, ok, I guess the lady shouldn’t batter the actor that played the character.

          1. He didn’t rape the girl, Daphne Manners. She was raped by Indian thugs. However, he viciously went after Daphne’s lover, the handsome and smart Hari Kumar, an Indian doctor. Merrick’s intense racism was already inflamed by the love Hari and Daphne shared. After the incident, Merrick sought prosecution of Kumar, knowing that Kumar was not involved with the rape. Really excellent TV, by the way.

            1. Ahh, I was in middle school at the time, and my parents wouldn’t let me watch the scene where she was raped. I kind of assumed it was Merrick who did the deed because of the hatred everyone in the show had for him.

              A few years later, we got our first VCR, and being the nerd of the family, I was the expert on its operation. Being a huge Rutger Hauer fan, I set the thing to record , Flesh and Blood.

              So my parents are watching some other show on the TV while the VCR is recording away, and decide to check on what I am recording just as Rutger Hauer is settling in to rape Jennifer Jason Leigh. Huge furor! Of course, I had no idea; all I knew was that Rutger Hauer was in it. So there I am being lectured about what is appropriate etc, and I had no idea what had triggered it. Good times.

              Awesome movie. Well worth watching at least once in one’s lifetime.

    3. Remind me never to mess with El Jeffe.

  6. I am going to take an unpaid leave of absence from The Independent until 2012

    Wait, what? He still has a job there?

    1. But it’s cool. See, once he carries out his programme he’ll be all better.

      1. That’s the programme where they strap you to a chair and force your eyelids open, right?

        I can get behind that.

  7. He looks like he has Down Syndrome.

    1. NTTAWWT

  8. I think anyone who is out shilling for Chavez ought to be viewed with suspicion from the start. And yeah, that is a god awful punchable face.

    1. He looks like Weigel with collagen injections.

      1. And the head tilt. What is it with these people and the head tilt?

          1. They should do some wrestler’s bridges then.

        1. They’re Batman villains.

  9. Goddamn, that’s a fuckable mouth on Johann.

    1. now who’s squealing like a pig !

  10. In my work, I’ve spent a lot of time dragging other people’s flaws into the light. I did it because I believe that every time you point out that somebody is going wrong, you give them a chance to get it right next time and so reduce the amount of wrongdoing in the world. That’s why, although it has been a really painful process and will surely continue to be for some time, I think in the end I’ll be grateful my flaws have also been dragged into the light in this way.

    Jesus H. Christ. What a sniveling little shit.

  11. I’m sure there will be some temptations during this flap to draw broader lessons about modern-day journalistic mores or whatnot,

    Nah. Just another in a long line of object lessons about the bankruptcy of legacy media claims to reliability due to their layers of editors and fact-checkers.

    1. Fuck you RC. (I say that with love.)

    2. If journalists as a whole really put truth and facts ahead of political bias, spin, and ends-justify-the-means mentality, they might actually be a profession with some honor in our society. Of course, the refusal to self-police rigorously and to shun reporters like this is a big part of the problem. That and getting in bed with those being reported on.

      As it is, they’re moving down to car salesmen/sleazebag attorney territory. Sad, really.

      1. You too, Pro L. (…with love, yada, yada.)

        1. What? I’m trying to breed a superior race of journalists. Or maybe manufacture–I saw a post (didn’t read) about AI blogging becoming a reality.

          1. I’m trying to breed a superior race of journalists

            Me, too. But I’m doing it the old-fashioned way. More fun.

            1. Good point. I’ve forbidden my children to go to law school (on my dime, anyway)–I need to add a J-school prohibition, as well.

          2. Such an endeavor is going to take a lot of culling.

            1. I was thinking that, to create a code of honor among journalists, we should bring back dueling. For journalists only. If one journalist thinks another is plagiarizing or lying, he can challenge him to a duel. Winning or losing doesn’t prove anything, but it should create a more cautious breed of journalist. Or kill a bunch of them. Whatever.

              1. Since I’m the only journalist I know who is a decent shot, or even knows which end of the gun to point, this is a wonderful idea.

                1. How are you with the blade?

                  1. Wait. Don’t I get to pick the weapon?

                    1. awesome. i went to j-school but didn’t want to associate with such people professionally. so now I’m a lobbyist.

                    2. Nope. Traditionally, the person who is challenged picks the weapons.

                    3. It’s the challenged who chooses the weapon in Western dueling, isn’t it?

                    4. Only if you are the challenged party. The challenger picks the time and place.

                1. Comfy chairs at dawn!

                  1. Bring out the rack!

                    1. [Biggles produces a plastic-coated dish-drying rack. Ximinez looks at it and clenches his teeth in an effort not to lose control. He hums heavily to cover his anger.]

      2. As it is, they’re moving down to car salesmen/sleazebag attorney territory.

        Hey!

        1. I modified with “sleazebag.” By definition, in-house counsel are a separate category of attorney, much further down the despised profession list.

          1. Uh huh. Tell yourself that.

            1. It’s the truth. Fucking plaintiffs’ attorneys are the bane of the world.

              1. Yep – in-house counsel are almost human. I just interacted with one a couple minutes ago, and still have all my limbs, my wallet, etc.

                1. We’re like Neanderthal–close enough for breeding, but a little scary.

                2. I just interacted with one a couple minutes ago, and still have all my limbs, my wallet, etc.

                  He must be new.

      3. If journalists as a whole really put truth and facts ahead of political bias, spin, and ends-justify-the-means mentality,…

        …they’d die homeless and penniless because nobody reads “facts”. Give us congecture damnit!!

        1. Conjecture can be rationally based upon facts at hand. I know, I know, this seems impossible. But it is true.

      4. If I, as an engineer, deliberately designed a process based on falsified data in order to, say, make a project look better economically to get it approved, or it blew up because I deliberately used false data in the design, I woul dz be fired.

        1. Try climatology.

      5. they might actually be a profession with some honor in our society.

        If all professions had no “honor” we would all be better off.

        Right now in my mind between the concepts of communism and honor, honor is winning by a nose as the worst fucking idea ever.

    3. legacy media

      Lazy clich?. As if a journalist’s credibility is directly related to his era or the means of research and dissemination available to him at the time. I’m surprised that you didn’t toss in a “dead-tree” metaphor for good measure.

      1. I think you and Minus Sign have mistaken hit and run for a creative writing class.

        1. Is that a legacy rating?

  12. But it’s so HARD to do things the right way, & you might end up working for a 60K circulation rag like Reason!

  13. He looks like the elevnty billion pasty white wonks walking around DC that think they’re hot shit. He should move here.

    1. From what I hear of DC, it sounds like women who like men who are men have a rough time there. Is that about right?

      1. Dick Cheney was getting laid six times a day there. True story.

      2. Well, shit, man – I’ve only said that about a dozen times! Slim pickins, fo sho. Even when I was thin, blonde and in my 20’s.

        1. My mother was a young lady in Washington, D.C. back in the 1960s – and she has said much the same thing about the scene then. She was about to head back out to Arizona when she met my father.

    2. I spent last weekend visiting friends in DC and I observed a high per capita occurrence of backpfeifengesicht in the area.

  14. Woman: “Why does this dummy have a bucket on its head?”
    Kramer: “Because we’re blind to their tyranny.”
    Woman: “Then shouldn’t you be wearing the bucket?”
    Kramer: “Yeah. Move along, Betty.”

  15. Yaaawn, just another worthless P.O.S. like Jayson Blair and David Weigel. Good riddance.

    Why do I have the suspicion that there are a lot more guys like these in journalism that simply haven’t gotten caught yet?

    1. Because journalism is chock full of frauds?

      I mean, I can understand that a journalist can’t know everything and gets bamboozled from time to time … but seriously, most journalists don’t have a clue about anything.

  16. OT (unless it’s also considered “riddled work”), here’s the full text of Obama’s job bill, the American Jobs Act. I am *so* looking forward to comparing it with the White House’s short fact sheet.

    If you love me, you’ll *read the actual legislation*.

  17. Pathetic as this was, it’s actually not the worst excuse/justification for plagiarism I’ve read. I seem to recall a couple years ago when a certain columnist whose name I will not mention (it rhymes with “Chlorine Shroud”) was caught plagiarizing something from a guy’s blog, and Chlorine Shroud’s excuse was “Oops, my bad, I remembered reading that but thought it was something a friend of mine said to me, not a blog post.”

    Awesome. “I’m not plagiarizing; I’m just quoting a friend’s ideas without giving him credit!”

    1. that woman, Mike Barnicle, Doris Kerns Godwin, Larry Tribe, this guy is in good company at least.

    2. I wasn’t plagiarizing him.

    3. I believe it’s called “misremembering.” That’s totally acceptable in certain circles. Not that raking a plagiarist over the coals on a libertarian/anarchist blog is not hilarious in its own special way.

  18. One of the first rules of editing is that when a quote or anecdote reads too perfect, it probably is.

    I learned that from watching The Wire.

  19. that woman, Mike Barnicle

    I had such high, though fleeting, hopes.

    Dashed, they were.

  20. John Wayne Gacy would have a field day with that guy.

  21. Making shit up must be a workable strategy works in journalism school.

  22. I hate hearing faux confessions from fakers and liars. Their worst crime amounts to “bad judgement”. Listen, you can bet your house that had this guy or that idiot Glass or that fat POS who’s always on Morning Joe (which I stopped watching long ago) not been exposed they would still be plagiarizing and making shit up. They need to make up a new affliction for these guys analogous to being a “sex addict”, which serves the rich and famous so well when they get caught being the pieces of shit they are.

    1. This. It is not a symptom of poor judgement. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of your profession. Also, what sort of journalist can’t cherry-pick a quotation to support their story? If they don’t teach this in j-school, what the fuck is the point of going? What do they teach? How to look like you’re conducting srs bizns whilst lobbing softballs to your heroes?

  23. This happens when someone who is suppose to be a journalists becomes a story teller. It’s a short step from one to the other. All journalists like to present a coherent account of what happens, however in the real world you don’t get all the facts and won’t understand all the reason why things happened.

    The first step can usually be recognized when the reporter writes a story and then puts facts which don’t fit the story at the bottom or in footnotes. The next step is to leave out the inconvenient facts out of the story usually with the excuse of not having enough space. Once the inconvenient facts are no longer in the story then the story is disconnected from reality and moves more and mover inside the writers head. From there the author then starts trying to make the story better and more convincing and starts borrowing from others and then starts editing these sources to make the story click.

    Its a problem we all have, we all like to tell stories, so we leave out what does not fit and edit things to make its sound better. Reality is not a story, and certainly not a very coherent story since it involves many forces and actors which are often doing unseen things for reasons we cannot understand.

    One way to recognize this is to see if the facts which don’t fit the story are even mentioned, if not then its not really journalism but story telling. For example I listened to a half hour report on NPR which talked about wind and solar energy and not once did it mention the fact that wind power does not work when there is no wind and solar does not work when there is no sun. So it was wind and solar story telling, not journalism.

    1. Would be worthwhile, in the age of the internet and whatnot, to have the finished product, but also make all the source material (links to other side, exact written quotes, traditional references, raw data) available separately — hidden by default, but available to any reader who is skeptical about the narrative derived from the facts.

  24. I now consider it a blot on my career to have edited and placed into the L.A. Times an op-ed of his, which I presume (and should have better suspected then) is filled with falsehoods.

    There’s nothing unethical about falsehoods in an opinion article, is there? I admit I haven’t ever partaken in a journalism programme.

    1. Depends on if they were presented as expert testimony either by quotation or anonymous, unquoted attribution. Many op-ed writers use sources to bolster their case.

  25. Doesn’t this qualify him to be Bushbama’s VP?

  26. Alternative bottom line: If you’re going to make shit up, make the details obviously false but the ideas fundamentally true, and make it hilarious.

    It worked for Mark Twain.

    (Also, having talked to someone who attended a school for journalism, I got the feeling that most of the instruction there was geared toward writing stories that would keep customers buying papers, with little attention paid to truth or accuracy. It looks like most journalists have failed on both counts.)

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.