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Johann Hari apologises and hands back Orwell prize after admitting serial plagiarism

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  1. I and others have regretted the absence of Johann’s writings in recent weeks, not because we are gooey-eyed sycophants or groupies, but because we value his values, and respect his perceptive analysis. As to his mea culpa, I understand the temptation of tidying up incoherent / inconsistent remarks in interviews. Many interviewers ‘tidy up’ interviews by eliminating the repeated ums and ers, and by sorting remarks into coherent order (for example when an interviewee returns to something said earlier in an interview). Realists amongst us recognise this happens and focus more on the content and sense in the interview. The fatal flaw and problem with what Johann did, quite apart from riding on work of other journalists (whose interviews may or not have been ‘tidied up’ before being submitted) and quite apart from cribbing – without permission apparently – the author’s own words as uttered earlier, is that over time people’s opinions shift some times a little, others times a lot..

    1. Dan,

      Whilst I have a lot of sympathy with what you and Hari say regarding “tidying up” and referencing prior viewpoints of interviewees. The fact that peoples opinions shifts over time is not unrecognised by an intelligent reader. So if by tidying up you suggest that in the interview (which as Hari says is an account of what was said at that time) they said something which they believed months or years prior (or even more recently) which is out of synch with what the interviewee currently believes then you are misrepresenting their opinions and this may appear obvious not only to the interviewee on reading the article. Whilst this misrepresentation may be for decent and laudable intentions – it nonetheless remains misrepresentation.

      1. Your lengthy sentence makes comprehending it a little difficult but I think we are saying the same thing. Most people recognise that opinions shift over time. So if you read in an interview an opinion expressed as being current one but which actually was expressed some time previously, it may create the wrong impression that the interviewee still maintains a position from which he/she may have subtly or imperceptively moved. What I said about tidying up interviews was not intended to seek sympathy for it, simply a recognition that interviewers – and editors – do it. It may help us or not. Some interviewers do the authentic full interview, they must have tape recorders to do so, complete with the ums and ers and side-tracks and back-tracks. Arguably they are not journalists but simply tape-recorder transcribers. Johann went too far the other way. It was misrepresentation, and I’m not sure Johann realised at the time how unwise it was (I’ll bet he does now).

        1. I’m sorry if my grammar is not up to your exacting standards. Much of your comments I do agree with. I must admit though, if I were the interviewee I would be annoyed and distressed if I were misrepresented regardless of the reason for doing so from the interviewer.
          Sometimes, some journalists have the same sense of self importance and grandeur that previously was often associated solely with the “god-like” mentality of old school NHS consultants. Journalists nor consultants are not infallible and do not know the answer, reason, or thinking of everyone or everything (as much as they might like to)

  2. dave wainwright 15 Sep 2011, 12:44am

    Never heard of him .

    1. Yes, take pride in your ignorance

      1. dave wainwright 15 Sep 2011, 8:49am

        apparently he is not worthy of knowing of :)

        1. Maybe

          Before I knew who he was I stumbled across his website around 2004

          http://johannhari.com/

          You could do a lot worse than reading his comments

  3. One thing that Johann Hari did not mention in his apology was his failure to reply to emails. I hope that in future he will treat members of the public with more respect.

    1. There are some (and certainly not all) journalists who adopt a sense of arrogance that distances themselves from their readers, who ultimately are their customers and either provide the revenue directly or indirectly (by providing a network of readers, listeners, viewers etc which are a target of advertisers etc).
      It is disappointing that some journalists adopt an approach where they regard themselves as superior to and dismissive of their audience. Fortunately, others do respect and understand their audience and are prepared to interact. Personally, whilst I have enjoyed Hari’s articles in the past, I have never tried to interact with him so can not comment on whether he would be a journalist who would display the arrogance and dismissiveness that I refer to. From reading his apology, I suspect there may be an intention to have a greater connection to his readership and be more humble and circumspect at times.

      Overall Hari has apologised – retrain and 2nd chance is fair.

      1. I’ve written to him a few times over the last two years, but so far haven’t received a response. I wrote again yesterday, so I’ll wait and see what happens. I do agree with you that he deserves a second chance.

        1. He’s not santa you know. He dosen’t even have to read your letter

          1. Common courtesy though if your readers are directly or indirectly paying your wages

          2. Journalists used to report facts and not share their opinions. Letters were to the editor

        2. I imagine he received a huge torrent, some abusive, some vitriolic and some supportive if not approving. A huge inbox is a challenge but not necessarily a priority. Sending an email does not entitle the sender to a reply.

          1. Failing to reply, in my mind, demonstrates a lack of courtesy and is rude. Particularly, if the communication was polite and honest. Vitriolic and abusive messages especially where they lack any sort of constructive element etc should clearly be treated with the contempt they deserve. Many people in the public eye have a standard email that can be sent to positive or constructive feedback where no additional response is warranted – its good PR. Some contacts clearly warrant further response, and that should be for the individual receiving the communication to decide. To fail to respond appears arrogant and rude.

          2. Stu

            The man is a journalist not an agony aunt or therapist. why can’t you be satisfied that he does a good job? He may get 100’s of emails a day why should he be obliged to respond like a celeb

          3. @James!

            I have never personally said that Hari does not reply to emails! I have clearly said I have not contacted Hari and have no opinion I can offer on his candour in replying or not.

            However, I can comment in that when I have contacted other journalists whether that be to offer further information, clarify an apparently inaccurate point or seek to discuss a particular matter in general – some have been encouraging and responded with clearly personal responses, some send an obviously standard email (although this does at least make on think the email has been opened!) and some despite clear inaccuracies and misrepresentation in their story ignore all contact. I am not seeking advice from these journalists, merely feeding back on their work and trying to assist in making it more representative (which a good balanced journalist should welcome). Its arrogant and rude to disregard such contact.

          4. @ Dan

            I can assure you that I am always polite. Also I contacted Johann well before the recent fuss, and it was about something I believe Johann cares or cared about passionately. I would therefore expect to receive a reply in due course.

    2. He responded to my emails!

      1. YAJHAICMFP :)

  4. “He is to take four months unpaid leave to undergo journalism training before returning to the newspaper.”

    That’s hilarious it sounds like he’s been caught speeding or something.

    What he did was very lazy and deceitful but journalists have done a lot worse. It’s nice to see that he is being given a second chance by the independent I hope takes advantage of that.

    However, that being said, no one labels other journalists as the “straight” columnist. I fail to see how his sexuality is relevant or why this story has a place on PN.

    1. However, that being said, no one labels other journalists as the “straight” columnist. I fail to see how his sexuality is relevant or why this story has a place on PN

      Maybe he will be an inspiration to someone struggling with their sexuality. Why don’t you pull you head out of your backside for a second and realise that we have a long way to go before we are equal

    2. @ Joss: I shouldn’t think Hari has a problem with being called a ‘gay columnist’, he’s gay and sometimes writes on gay issues, sometimes in gay publications, and this is a website for and about gay people. If you think the article is of limited relevance, why have you commented on it?

    3. @Joss

      You seem to compare a criminal/motoring offence to misconduct in employment – not an easy comparison to make.

      I would contend that in most professions where disciplinary action is commenced for misconduct, that where the employee is genuinely apologetic, recognises their errors, and has limited (if any) prior misconduct then many employers would be prepared for a second chance whether that be accompanied by verbal or written warning or other sanction. Almost always there would be a level of re-training so that the employee would both be more comfortable in returning to work and ensuring that the same errors do not reoccur and to protect the employer from accusations that they had not tried to remedy the error.

      I think the actions announced in this case appear reasonable (without the knowledge of prior disciplinaries etc etc).

      1. @Stu it just sounds funny that there should be journalism training in the same way that there is driver training. Like oops you naughty columnist you plagiarised other people’s work now you can either appologise and take this course and a suspension or resign, is similar oh no youve been caught doing 40 in a 30 either pay a fine and do driver ed. or face points and a possible ban.

        If you bothered to read past this, you’d see that I was pleased the independent are supporting this man rather than hanging him out to dry.

      2. @Joss

        I had read past that, and maybe I saw the emphasis in your words different to how you intended. I think a second chance is appropriate in Hari’s case too.

    4. You think losing four months salary from a national newspaper is hilarious? I’ll bet he doesn’t. It is a very costly measure from his perspective.

      The Independent took a very serious view of this as it reflected on their own reputation as a paper of integrity.

      1. If you don’t want to suffer the consequences, then don’t conduct yourself in a manner where those sanctions can be used against you …

      2. “You think losing four months salary from a national newspaper is hilarious? I’ll bet he doesn’t”

        No and he shouldn’t should he. It’s a punishment for his misconduct and he should be grateful that they didn’t fire him and take the opportunity to move on and learn from his mistakes. I don’t any sympathy for him having to lose 4 months salary. It’s better than unemployment.

        Do you think the independent have done badly by him and if so how? What should they do give him a hug and a bonus?

  5. Trish Kirby 15 Sep 2011, 8:00am

    I think the whole sorry mess is so sad. Johann was my favourite columnist, on any subject and I have missed him greatly during The Independent’s investigation.
    What he did was wrong and was worse than I thought, because I have always believe his mistakes were just that, oversights.
    Despite my feeling, acknowledged by Johann, of being let down by him, I want to see him back in The Independent and online as soon as possible.

    1. I gave that a thumbs up by mistake. Get a grip you drama queen

  6. I think it’s highly regrettable, but Hari crossed lines that shouldn’t be crossed. He is a very engaging and talented young columnist and TV pundit and usually has a very interesting take on things. I hope he can rehabilitate himself before long. On the subject of interviews, it should be noted that the not-quite-right or coherent encounter with a public figure is often more revealing and interesting than the polished product. Journalists who are candid about this often get more Brownie points as a result.

  7. Jock S. Trap 15 Sep 2011, 8:33am

    Such a shame but the only person he has let down is himself.

    Lets hope he comes back stronger and better after re-training.

    1. Let he who is without sin mate. We all make mistakes no one died so give the man a break

      1. Absolutely guys.

        Some people seem to forget that we all make mistakes, some are more obvious and public than others (particularly when you are in the public arena).

        I accept the wikipedia actions are deplorable – but Hari seems to recognise his failures.

        If he repeats these errors in the future, then that would be a matter of grave concern – but he deserves a second chance. As it is, his name will always be tarnished to some and he has to live with that and try to resolve it – if he can and if people will let him.

    2. “The only person he has let down is himself” – not exactly as he has also damaged the reputation of The Independent. I doubt that Attitude was hurt at all save by his column being missing from it. But I agree your hope that comes back stronger and better after re-training – which has sinister shades of a Stalinist work-camp – as it was always his analysis that I valued more really than his interviews.

      1. Maybe you will value his interviews more with this changed perspective that he will hopefully have in his work?

  8. Bill (Scotland) 15 Sep 2011, 11:01am

    Why is it so difficult for some gays (and most of the commenters so far here) to accept that some gays are scumbags? Johann is a plagiarist. Fact. It has taken months for him to half-heartedly half-apologise for his lies and half-truths (and his ‘David Rose’ persona when making Wikipedia amendments to the profiles of those whom he considered ‘enemies’, more usually just people who refused to keep quiet about what a jackass he was and is) – and only because the evidence against him was completely overwhelming and his continuing posturing and denials had begun, one supposes, to seem ridiculous even to him.

    Stop making excuses for him!

    The Independent newspaper is mad to even consider taking him back onto its staff once he has completed his re-training (if he ever had any in the first place) in ‘ethics’ in the United States.

    1. No Bill, some gays are scumbags so are some straight people, so are some bisexuals, so are some transgendered … your sexuality has little impact on your choices in terms of morals (I would generally contend) …

      Nonetheless, some people deserve second chances in terms of incorrect judgements or misconduct – and that is rightly regardless of protected characteristics such as sexual orientation

      I find it more remarkable that some people seem to think Hari should receive harsher treatment than others. Usual process (as I have stated above) is to act within the disciplinary guidelines of the organisation employing and not take account of public furore.

      1. Bill (Scotland) 15 Sep 2011, 12:17pm

        Well, Stu, it’s certainly a point of view. Of course I agree with you, indeed it is the point I was making, that no segment of society is entirely free of ‘scumbaggery’ and that includes, naturally enough, the so-called ‘gay’ community. As another commenter has written, his sexuality is irrelevant in the context of his plagiarism and misrepresentation (specifically his malignant ‘David Rose’ persona). Despite what I wrote earlier, I do believe in giving people a second chance, but I think Hari has already had plenty of those and plenty of time to admit his faults – instead he waited until his position became completely untenable. I, like many others, used to enjoy reading his comment articles, but quite frankly never again.

        if he wasn’t gay and left-wing, I feel certain that many apologist commenters here and elsewhere would have given this man very short-shrift indeed.

        1. @Bill

          I guess that depends on when you perceive the second chance comes. As far as his employer are concerned; legally it comes at the time they investigated his allegations of misconduct and consideration of any prior disciplinary record. I am content that this is a legitimate and transparent approach. Some (including you) may wish that he had been made to take his second chance earlier. If he fails again, I would regard it as a grave failure – and I am sure many will be looking for him to trip up. I do think that having got a second chance, his prior conduct does not necessarily delegitimize his opinions and future writing unless his misconduct continues.

    2. Yes some gay men are scumbags and you are the proof

      1. Bill (Scotland) 15 Sep 2011, 12:08pm

        Thanks for your comment – its content just about sums you up, sadly.

        1. Boll ocks

      2. Bill (Scotland) 15 Sep 2011, 12:19pm

        Thanks for your comment – its content sums you up well, sadly.

  9. I’m impressed with his apology. I wish other people would apologise in public in the same way. We all make mistakes.

    1. Jamesh, he was forced to apologise months after the original accusations against his plagiarism when the weight of evidence became too conclusive to deny, as he began doing when the sh*t began hitting the fan. Hari therefore comes out of this without dignity. Further, the subsequent revelation that he used a psuedonym to edit out negative facts in his Wikipedia entry while lambasting his enemies paints him as a vindictive coward. My, his anonymous online behaviour in this respect is almost on a par with many who post on these very forums!

      1. To be fair Samuel, I reckon this is the first time the Indy have been prepared to publlish Hari’s words since they suspended him

  10. de Villiers 15 Sep 2011, 3:41pm

    A journalist is entitled to put forward his views strongly and persuasively. He should not bend the facts of an article in order to fit the philosophy, politics or image to convey.

    JH considered his politics and views were so important that he justified to himself the changing of the facts of incidents or interviews because, to him, the higher ‘truth’ was more important.

    In addition, he created a fictions character called ‘David Rose’ and engaged in méchant character coups that he, himself, conceded were ‘malicious’. These included calling people liars and anti-Semitic.

    JH may be a very talented writer and an intellect of the highest level. However, his behaviour is so bad as to eclipse all of this and to bring journalism itself into disrepute. His appointment with the newspaper should have been terminated.

  11. Johann Hari is self-righteous and impossibly superior. To see him shown up as the regular human being he is has been delightful.

    Even in his apology he managed to be pious on a scale previously unimagined.

    He is a liar and symptomatic of the easy opinions and arrogance seen all too frequently in newspapers these days.

    Journalists used to have to work hard, or have something interesting to say. Perhaps if he’d ever worked a day in his life between leaving Cambridge and pontificating from the independent, I might be sorry to see him depart. As it is, I’m only too sad he might one day be back.

  12. I only know he was eager to have the pope arrested during his visit to UK.

    Sound judge.

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