Today’s fun and games on Twitter has been instigated by Independent journalist, Johann Hari, admitting that he tidied up his interviews by quoting from the interviewee’s recent writings when what they actually said in the interview was a bit garbled. This is a bit naughty because readers might have assumed that he was reporting rather than just digesting previous reports. Of course no interviewee has complained – the tidy up is in their interests, just as John Prescott has, I’m sure, never moaned that Hansard regularly rewrote his Parliamentary contributions into English or Jeffrey Archer that his editors made his stories look semi-literate.
But, it isn’t really that big a deal, is it? It’ll be a good story to remember if you’re a Media Studies teacher trying to defend your subject. It’ll mean that there will be a suspicion amongst those inclined to disagree with Hari that his interviews are more about his interpretation of what the interviewer might have said than what they actually said or meant.
He’s a decent writer, but not the Messiah. For me his most interesting piece was the article he wrote about how love and care were the most important things in education, based on his own experiences going off the rails after GCSEs and how he was coaxed back from a life playing in the arcades at the Trocadero http://ind.pn/eQZM8n . Perhaps he finessed some of that, just as James Frey did with Million Little Pieces. It doesn’t really matter, because it is a nice piece of writing whose central theme is interesting and important.
The best part of the whole thing is the entertainment of the #interviewbyhari topic – a nice chance for punters to inflict a mini-silly season on journalists for a change. Some, like @GuidoFawkes have called for him to return his Orwell Prize and it is true that there is a lack of integrity in Hari’s confessed practice which would have angered George Orwell, that it is a form of treating truth and reality as malleable in the way of the Ministry of Truth. However, having him declared an unwinner of the prize is itself just the sort of thing that Winston Smith might have been called upon to do.
Update – Johann Hari has issued an apology following the row http://bit.ly/kpv7r1 . It is not radically different from the admission and self-justification initially published . Will it make any difference? I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see until his next blockbuster interview. I’ve been trying to suppress the cynic in me who has been saying that perhaps the whole thing was a bit of a publicity stunt – the next big piece Hari publishes is likely to get a lot of interest and comment which won’t hurt the Independent or his own profile. Those who think his underlying views are wrong might write positively about his reaction to the criticism, those who agree with him will eulogise him.
Update 2 – Or maybe not. Rather than just polishing up the garbled English of foreign interviewees by reference to their recent previous writings, there seems to be some evidence of Hari genuinely plagiarising interviews given to other interviewers. http://t.co/ARBN7JO
Perhaps Hari will follow in Piers Morgan’s footsteps and come back bigger and stronger than we could possibly imagine after having been struck down for serious journalistic misjudgement.
Update 3 – hmm, well, Piers Morgan seems to be under fire now in the context of hacking so perhaps a bad example to follow.
A blogpost putting it all much more clearly than I could: http://bit.ly/njuiyG