'Oh, so that's who Richard Morris is..." Lord Hattersley on The Daily Politics

'An influential activist' - The Guardian

'Iain Dale, without the self loathing' - Matthew Fox in The New Statesman

You are a tinker...' - Tim Farron

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Johann Hari: You've not let me down, you've not let the left down, you've let blimey how patronising do I sound?

I expect everyone has heard about the Johann Hari and the 'plagiarism ' row. In a nutshell, he stands accused of cutting and pasting quotes from old articles into pieces he has written to'clarify' his interviewees point of view. What's more, he's putting his hand up and admitting to it - though not conceding in any way that what he did was wrong (Please see addendum - this has now changed...).

There's a fairly comprehensive piece on the affair over at Andrew Emmersons blog which includes links to Brian Whelan and then Toby Young's 'expose' and 'analysis' of the issue. There's also a fairly comprehensive piece abiout the affair over at The Telegraph proper which includes Johann's piece defending his actions.

Now, interest to declare. I am a huge fan of Johann and have quoted him or linked to pieces he has written many times. Even when I disagree with him, I enjoy his pieces enormously. And I think he's a wonderful writer. The trouble is, he doesn't position himself as a writer. He positions himself as a journalist.

Which is why I do have a real problem with this. It's the added 'reactions' to his quotes that really gets me - the nods and the smiles. It gives an entirely false picture to actual events. I simply believe you can't do that.

Much has written about all this, but there are three points I haven't read anywhere else (at least, not yet - before anyone accuses me of plagiarism).

1. Plenty of people are seeing this as an attack by the right wing press on the left. It is true there is plenty of bile coming from the right, and Guido is having a field day. But that doesn't make what Johann did correct in any way. And to be fair, even @pennyred has acknowledged there is an issue for Johann to answer here.

2. The excuse of 'common journalistic practice' just doesn't wash. 'Everybody does it' was the defence put forward by several parliamentarians, just before they were found guilyy and sent down. Sure lots of journalists may be thinking this morning 'there but for the Grace of God...' . That doesn't make it right.

3. The Simon Kelner excuse that 'no one has complained about Johann before'. This is a bit like letting a guilty criminal off the hook on the basis that he's been doing it for 10 years and no one's ever caught him. And I bet Simon Kellner's had one or two complaints now...

And finally: Lord Bonkers tweeted yesterday that he'd heard Johann used to be a researcher for Jeffrey Archer. Oh, how I hope that's true....


Johann has apologied for his error of judgement. Not sure that's quite enough, but for what it's worth, here it is...

"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."

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