Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dirty Hari: Johann Story Rapidly Unravelling 

Guido is fairly sure Johann Hari has breached Article 1 of the PCC Code. He has admitted misleading his readers. Despite the desperate attempts by his editor, Simon Kelner, to spin that his favorite son is being attacked for political reasons, the Hari-wagon is coming off of the tracks.

The Telegraph are coming down on him heavily. Firstly there is Brenden O’Neil rightly pointing out that “the notion that one can reach “the truth” by manipulating reality should be anathema to anyone who calls himself a journalist.” Janet Daley weighs in with a valid arguement:

“Many, if not most, of his interviewees were people whom he admired and whose political views he shared. By replacing what he admits were often their less-than-articulate responses to live questions with text from their published works, he was performing a service to their reputations which was worthy of a spin doctor or a professional propagandist.”

Toby Young points us to the career ending decision:

“His fate now turns on whether the committee that awarded him the Orwell Prize for Journalism asks him to return the prize (and the £3,000 prize money). It is hard to see how they could do otherwise, given that Hari still doesn’t seem to think his cut-and-paste habits are anything to be ashamed of.”

And in a slap to Kelner’s face and reputation, this issue goes beyond any left or right divide. The New Statesman is being particularly thorough in making sure the golden child of the left is held to the level of accountability that his platform and reputation deserve. The most damning revelation of the day so far comes from the Staggers, who reveal that Hari directly lifted other peoples work for an “interview” he did with Chavez in 2006. The dictionary definition of plagiarism. 

Meanwhile The Guardian have provided a helpful poll on whether you think Hari’s apology was enough, needless to say it’s not looking good for him. Guido is digging around rumours of Hari being fired from his student paper for “making things up in order to make a story stronger”. He also bought you two more accusations of plagiarism earlier and Forbes have compiled cases of Hari getting his facts completely wrong, deliberately perhaps. Hilariously historian Guy Walters has found Hari lifted text Ann Leslie’s biography for his own interview with her. No wonder she said he wasn’t “a real journalist” on Newsnight last night. Brian Whelan, who triggered this onslaught has found another smoking gun.

Right now hundreds of articles by the disgraced bard are being scrutinised, fact-checked, cross-referenced and flagged up. You shake one branch….

Full Text of Hari’s Mea Culpa


Guido doesn’t usually quote articles verbatim, but since this isn’t online and in the interests of doing a full “intellectual portrait” here it is:

The Lessons I Must Draw From These Attacks On My Journalism

It’s clearly not plagiarism or churnalism, but was it an error in another way? Yes. I now see it was wrong and I wouldn’t do it again

Yesterday on Twitter I was accused of plagiarism. This accusation is totally false – but I have reflected seriously on this and do have something to apologise for. When you interview a writer – especially but not only when English isn’t their first language – they will sometimes make a point that sounds clear when you hear it, but turns out to be incomprehensible or confusing on the page. In those instances, I have sometimes substituted a passage they have written or said more clearly elsewhere on the same subject for what they said to me, so the reader understands their point as clearly as possible. The quotes are always accurate representations of their words, inserted into the interview at the point where they made substantively the same argument using similar but less clear language. I did not and never have taken words from another context and twisted them to mean something different – I only ever substituted clearer expressions of the same sentiment, so the reader knew what the subject thinks in the most comprehensible possible words.

I stress: I have only ever done this where the interviewee was making the same or similar point to me in the interview that they had already made more clearly in print. Where I described their body language, for example, I was describing their body language as they made the same point that I was quoting – I was simply using the clearer words from their writing so the reader understood the point best. This is one reason why none of my interviewees have, to my knowledge, ever said they were misquoted in my nearly 10 years with The Independent, even when they feel I’ve been very critical of them in other ways. My critics have focused on my interview with Gideon Levy as supposedly distorted. So what does Gideon Levy say? These are his words: “I stand behind everything that was published in the interview. It was a totally accurate representation of my thoughts and words.”

This does not fit any definition of plagiarism. Plagiarism is presenting somebody else’s intellectual work as your own – whereas I have always accurately attributed the ideas of (say) Gideon Levy to Gideon Levy. Nor can it be regarded as churnalism. Churnalism is a journalist taking a press release and mindlessly recycling it. It is not a journalist carefully reading over all a writer’s books and quoting it to best reflect how they think.

Over the years I have interviewed some people who have messages we desperately need to hear – from Gideon Levy about Israel, to Malalai Joya about Afghanistan, to Gerry Adams about how to end a sectarian war. Just this week, I interviewed one of the bravest people I have ever met – Shirin Ebadi. I would hate people to not hear these vital messages because they incorrectly think the subjects have been falsely quoted. Every word I have quoted has been said by my interviewee, and accurately represents their view. I hope people continue to hear their words.

When I’ve been wrong in the past – as I shamefully was over the Iraq War – I have admitted it publicly, tried to think through how I got it wrong, and corrected myself. So I’ve thought carefully about whether I have been wrong here. It’s clearly not plagiarism or churnalism – but was it an error in another way? Yes. I now see it was wrong, and I wouldn’t do it again.

Why? Because an interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee. If (for example) a person doesn’t speak very good English, or is simply unclear, it may be better to quote their slightly broken or garbled English than to quote their more precise written work, and let that speak for itself. It depends on whether you prefer the intellectual accuracy of describing their ideas in their most considered words, or the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon. Since my interviews are long intellectual profiles, not ones where I’m trying to ferret out a scoop or exclusive, I have, in the past, prioritised the former. That was, on reflection, a mistake, because it wasn’t clear to the reader.

I’m sorry, and I’m grateful to the people who pointed out this error of judgement. I will make sure I learn from it.

UPDATE: Noam Chomsky has accused Hari of fabricating quotes from him supposedly spoken in conversation, calling them a “flight of the Hari imagination”.

UPDATE II: Rowan Wilson alleges that contrary to the blended “intellectual portrait” / interview / fictional account of a meeting with Antonio Negri “that there was no taxi called, I didn’t say the things ascribed to me, Negri wasn’t behaving arrogantly as suggested, there was no angry confontation with ICA staff” all of which “casts serious doubt on the veracity of anything that Hari says.”

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Orwell Would Be Turning In His Grave
Hari Should Be Stripped of His Prize


Guido has just got off the phone with the Media Standards Trust, a charity “that fosters high standards in news on behalf of the public”. As sponsors of the Orwell Prize they funded the award to Johann Hari of the prestigous prize in 2008. Orwell is the giant of British political writing, the inventor of the Ministry of Truth and creator of Winston Smith who had the job of “rectifying” the past. Johann Hari has done far too much “rectifying” of quotes and facts to have the honour of holding a prize named after Orwell.

The Media Standards Trust tell Guido that procedure has to be followed, that the governance process for the Orwell Prize council involves worthies and due process has to be seen to be done. It is farcical for a charity that aims to foster the highest standards of political journalism, in the name and tradition of Orwell, to have as a recipient of their highest award a journalist who fakes interviews.  George Orwell once wrote “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” Johann has been caught deceiving, it is time for them to act…

UPDATE: Guido just spoke on the phone with Hari (like a real journalist, not one who just pretends to interview the sources of his quotes) to ask him “Will you be giving back the Orwell Prize?”. He hesitated for a moment before saying “I have an article in the Independent tomorrow… thank you.” He then put the phone down…

Cut and Paste Hari

Bleeding-heart socialist Johann Hari has been caught red-handed as a bleedin’ cheat. He has been called out for stealing quotes from a book and pretending he had been told them face to face, adding descriptions of the scene like “with a shake of the head” and “then he says, in a quieter voice”. Brian Whelan the UK Editor of Yahoo! has demolished Hari:

“The quote is sewn together with a string of other ideas Levy may or may not have shared with Hari but at no point does Hari indicate the quotes are taken from elsewhere… While Hari has questions to answer over the quotes he claims were given directly to him he also seems to be freely creating mash-up quotes out of disparate statements levy has made over the years. Not the practice of an award winning hack… If the Indy really did send him to Scotland for these quotes I think Hari’s editor needs to sit him down for a chat.”

Hari has responded saying that he was merely accurately quoting the works of the writer he has interviewing, but his argument falls apart when you look at the other sources of some of the quotes –  interviews with other hacks, that are not referenced or acknowledged. Sod the Orwell Prize, Hari can add The Stephen Glass Award 2011 to his already cluttered mantelpiece.

UPDATE: Guido sat down for a quiet chat with Johann this morning. He said pensively “I have become the Nadine Dorries of the commentariat, though it is 70% made-up with me.”

UPDATE II: This from August 2010 is worth re-reading: Johann Hari is a liar

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Guido’s Plan to Save the Indy (Part II)

There is a lot of speculation, most of it horrified, that Rod Liddle is being lined up to take over the editorship of the Indy by  Lebedev.  Back in May last year Guido advanced two ideas to save the Indy.  The first was abandon the loss making print edition and go all digital.  The second was to seize the

Digital Indyglaring broadsheet market positioning gap … by shifting from an editorial stance that reluctantly backs the LibDems towards enthusiastically backing Cameron’s liberal conservativism. With the Telegraph floundering editorially the Indy is never going to capture the ground held by the Guardianistas. The Times is probably going to row in behind Cameron with a heavy dose of skepticism from Murdoch. The Indy should therefore enthusiastically embrace the socially liberal Notting Hill Cameroons, in all their weed tolerating, groovy green glory. Become the modernised news brand that Cameroons are not embarrassed to be supported by…

Rod Liddle is not the man to do that Mr Lebedev. If you are looking for an editor to move the Indy from the Guardian dominated liberal-left space to the market opportunity on the liberal-right, there is one perfect candidate available.  The Indy could become the Cameroon’s house-paper with the inside track on the next government if the editor was Matthew d’Ancona.  Go for it…

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Indy on iPhone

iphone-independent-_230785tRemember Guido’s Plan to Save the Indy?

Well they have gone half way towards the concept.  They have released an iPhone app that allows you to read the paper offline.  Handy for people getting on the tube.  Just launch the app when you brush your teeth.  By the time you finish in the bathroom the paper will be uploaded to your iPhone for you to read on the underground.  Now all they have to do is abandon slaughtering trees for an unprofitable print edition and they could be on the way to profitablity.

Since clearly the Indy people read Guido; can we have a Blackberry version?  Please.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Guido’s Plan to Save the Indy

Digital IndyYesterday we learnt that The Times and Sunday Times are losing a million pounds a week.  The New York Times is selling and renting back its own headquarters to stay solvent.  Guardian Media Group is losing £83,000 a day and has axed over a hundred jobs.  The Indy’s bonds now have junk status edging over defaulting.  The Indy is in  the weakest position, it loses money hand over fist, it always has and will continue to do so for as long as it is in the expensive business of publishing dead trees. The newspaper industry is a dead industry walking. It is not a twenty-first century business model: slaughter half a forest of trees, pay NUJ rates for news gathering, sub-editing, laying out, employing friend’s children, transferring ink onto aforesaid trees, then pay people to work all night sending the slices of dead trees around the country in the dark on lorries. Finally when you get to the point of collecting some money, split the sales revenue with the people who take the money. The Indy makes a loss on the whole business every year. That is vanity publishing.

Guido finds it hard to believe that traditional newspapers have a future, yet a surprising number of mediasaurs do continue to stick their heads in the sand.  Warren Buffet says the internet will kill newspapers.  Would you bet against him?

A back of an envelope calculation suggests that the Indy could abandon the printed edition to go digital only and, for some £20 million, give everyone of its 215,000 average daily readers an Amazon Kindle or iPhone type device.  Users would be given the device free with access to the Indy site hardwired in.  Users would only be charged for using the device to surf other sites.  Crazy?  What is crazy is that as things stand the Indy hardly covers the cost of production and distribution.  As circulation shrinks the fixed costs associated with producing a newspaper are becoming terminal.  The INM annual financial report is not that transparent,  nevertheless Guido reckons the paper is not even covering operating, production and distribution costs as things stand – never mind servicing the corporate debts.  Going digital will take it out of the costly tree slaughtering business and make it a content producing pure play.  Will advertisers go for it?  They are already migrating from ink to pixels.

Guido has one more suggestion; there is a glaring broadsheet market positioning gap to be seized by shifting from an editorial stance that reluctantly backs the LibDems towards enthusiastically backing Cameron’s liberal conservativism. With the Telegraph floundering editorially there is a market opportunity.  The Indy is never going to capture the ground held by the Guardianistas. The Times is probably going to row in behind Cameron with a heavy dose of skepticism from Murdoch. The Indy should therefore enthusiastically embrace the socially liberal Notting Hill Cameroons, in all their weed tolerating, groovy green glory. Become the modernised news brand that Cameroons are not embarrassed to be supported by…

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Exclusive : Indy Owner Profits from Mugabe Poster Advertising

The Indy on Sunday frontpages a tenuous story about MPs owning shares in companies like Barclays that do business in Zimbabwe. Hypocritically, the Indy’s parent company, Independent News & Media PLC, owns 100% of CCI, which according to the corporation’s own website “is the largest and fastest-growing outdoor advertising company in South Africa, with significant operations in Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

So the Indy’s owner actually made money from Mugabe’s poster advertising campaign for the election. Stick that on your front page…

UPDATE : A co-conspirator points out that Baroness Jay and Ken Clarke are non-execs on the board of INM plc. In Baroness Jay’s case it seems particularly difficult to reconcile her chairmanship of the Overseas Development Institute with personally profiting from the firm that profits from Mugabe’s election advertising campaigns.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Now Indy Plagiarises Entire Blog Concept

Guido has just noticed that the Indy has a new blog, Open House. The distinctively chocolate coloured blog has a certain familiarity about it, running a daily “pick of the commentators”. It is early days but it must be somewhat disappointing that the posts are comment free. Post after post has “0 Comments”. Clearly nobody is reading the blog.

Why should they? The Open House blog is a complete rip-off of the format of Danny Finkelstein’s Comment Central blog, which lists comment from The Times and then comment from other papers. His team do it somewhat better and more comprehensively, which might explain why one of their posts got 1000 comments. The Indy is really going through a poor patch, cutting ‘n pasting government press releases for the front cover and stealing ideas from rivals which it then executes inferiorly. Sad…

Monday, October 22, 2007

Indy-Gate Scandal at Independent

The Indy-gate scandal is gathering momentum in the media following Kelner’s un-apology.
  • Dan Hannan in the Telegraph is derisory about the Indy’s misinformation.
  • Roy Greenslade in his widely read (by hacks) Guardian blog returns to the issue for a second time.
  • James Forsyth over at the Speccie’s CoffeeHouse wonders “What would The Independent say if another newspaper had done the same on Iraq?”
  • Iain Dale doesn’t think this over yet. “Not by a long way.” Nor does Guido.
  • Melanie Phillips thinks Indy-gate “a practice associated with the unfree press in totalitarian societies. Once again, the blogosphere has shown its power to hold the mainstream media sharply to account and inflict real damage to its reputation.”
150_not_indyThe newspaper’s readers surely deserve to know the truth. Is it now the editorial policy of the Independent to reprint lengthy government press releases word-for-word if Andy Grice* agrees with them? Shouldn’t the Indy flag up when it is re-printing government press releases - “This information was supplied by the government, we are reprinting it in its entirety on the front page because we agree with it.” Perhaps a little “Government Approved” logo would suffice?

*According to Simon Kelner “what we printed was a collection of facts, which our political editor independently verified.”

Seen Elsewhere

Comply or Die at Grauniad | MediaGuido
Labour Beats UKIP in South Yorkshire | LabourList
Mock the Week’s Weak Comedy | Nigel Farage
Can Jim Murphy Save Scottish Labour? | Guardian
There is Still Appetite for the Westminster Lunch | Jon Craig
Labour Turn Their Backs on Jewish Community | Dan Hodges
Chivalry is Not Dead | Laura Perrins
Jonathan Jones is a Tw*t | Iain Dale
Second Scotland Poll Suggests Labour Wipeout | Times
Paedo Probe Boss Urged to Quit | Sun
Keynesian Tories Won’t Eliminate Deficit | Tim Montgomerie


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