I blogged about Harigate – allegations of plagiarism, fabrication and libel by The Independent’s star interviewer Johann Hari, a while back: http://wp.me/p1kusD-1v . My initial take on the saga was that it was a bit of a media-focused story that no-one else much was likely to care about. This is still true – hardly anyone reads The Independent. Of those, few will have done so specifically to read Hari’s stuff. Right now there are three topics all about Henry Winkler, aka The Fonz, receiving an honorary OBE for his charitable work on dyslexia trending higher than the Hari story on twitter in the UK so even on the social media channel most used by people interested in the story it is not the biggest issue of the day.
However, this does not mean it should be forgotten. There are still a lot of people looking to defend and rehabilitate Hari – not least the management of The Independent which had ample justification for getting shot of him. There’s still a sense apparently that “what is so wrong with cutting a few corners if, like Hari, you were on the side of the angels in the things you said?”. Obviously for such die-hard defenders it would be a different matter if a nasty right-winger like Richard Littlejohn were to be discovered to have done something similar – it is bad enough writing hateful things, writing hateful things unethically would be even worse, but the ends always justify the means for people you like and agree with.
After nearly 3 months and an internal investigation by The Independent, Hari has published yet another, longer apology: http://ind.pn/qSeJqo .
In my opinion he hasn’t really addressed the full extent of the plagiarism he admits nor properly accepted the simple wrongness of those things. He continues to deny fabrication of the story that won him the Orwell Prize on the basis of his word (now worth, what?) and two interns who along with him relied on the translation of the person who alleged that he made up the story about French soldiers being presented with severed heads of people killed in the Central African Republic. While accepting that he shouldn’t have created a false identity to go round “correcting” wikipedia entries about himself and people with whom he agreed and in particular should not have gone on to add in unpleasant and untrue smears and allegations about people with whom he did not agree, he doesn’t really seem to understand why this was wrong.
The “apology” has been fisked in detail at the following links: http://tgr.ph/n3BmOY (Toby Young – enjoying the schadenfreude), http://bit.ly/oDpMM5 (Jeremy Duns – one of the first to take a detailed interest in the allegations), http://bit.ly/rijQ77 (a detailed look at the spitefulness of the wikipedia editing of rivals’ biographies, his own self-aggrandisement and airbrushing out of politically inconvenient things about people he likes).
The remedy and penance of giving back a prize he ought to have been stripped of, and taking a sabbatical to do a journalism course (“coincidentally” in the US where he will undoubtedly start writing up for coverage of the 2012 Presidential elections – a journalistic gig that rather more experienced and ethical journalists would fight over) are weak. Being caught out lying, taking the credit for others’ work and covertly smearing one’s opponents would, for most people, certainly for most of his readers, be a marching offence. No question of even getting a decent reference beyond the “X took no days of sick leave and attended punctually during his time with us”.
Ultimately, the sanction is going to have to come in the form of influence. Hari is likely to be followed by this for years to come and it will always be used to discredit anything he writes. The criticism of Polly Toynbee for coming from a wealthy and privileged background and having a villa in Tuscany is repeated at every instance and occasionally hits hard at a point she is trying to make – http://bit.ly/pPynN0 – although I tend to agree that most of the time it is purely personal and spiteful rather than having a bearing on the argument or evidence (such as it is) being presented. Being someone whose sense of ethics is so weak regardless of training or depression that they spent a decade plagiarising, fabricating and libelling opponents ought to make it too easy and too right for every future purportedly fact-based piece he writes to be doubted. Footnoting references and attributing quotes won’t make much difference to this. He’ll forever be, at least for those who do not already agree with him, a boy that cried wolf. For an opinion-maker, limiting yourself to preaching to the already converted means that you’ll be less likely to cause the changes you want.