Media Johann Hari apologises, will the tweeting mob?

In the wake of the media "storm" over accusations of plagiarism against Johann Hari, Ceasefire's editor-in-chief, Hicham Yezza, argues the accusations are absurd, and the outrage largely disingenuous.

Ceasefire Bites, Editor's Desk, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 7:21 - 36 Comments

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By Hicham Yezza

A “Twitter Storm” is a near-oxymoron, like “a ruined-omelette apocalypse” or “the MTV Dance Wittgensteinian wars”, and yet, this is what has apparently befallen us in the past 48 hours over the alleged misdeeds of Johann Hari, journalist, broadcaster and, if the Schadenfreude-doused baying mob is to be believed, a “plagiarist” and a “Churnalist“.

Hari is one of the very best journalists writing in English today, anywhere in the world. He is remarkably prolific and versatile and, considering he’s a near-contemporary of yours truly, infuriatingly precocious, having already clocked a decade’s worth of high-quality writing at the very top of the profession, winning dozens of awards (including the coveted 2008 Orwell Prize) and consolidating an enviable twice-weekly perch on the pages of the Independent in the process. Inevitably, this also means he has amassed his fair share of enemies, from the Dalai Lama, to Richard Littlejohn.

Two weeks ago, the DSG blog site launched the opening salvo, taking exception to what it considered smoking-gun evidence of foul play in his 2004 interview with Italian Marxist thinker Antonio Negri.

The blog post documents a number of instances where quotes supposed to have been uttered by Negri seemed to have been remarkably similar (in fact, verbatim in parts) to those issued by the Italian firebrand to another interviewer, Anne Dufourmantelle, in a book published a year prior (Negri on Negri, 2003).

This was picked up by another blogger, Brian Wheelan, who went on his own detective detour, unveiling the results in a piece helpfully titled “Is Johann Hari a copy-pasting churnalist?”, which documents equally-compelling similarities between the words nominally ascribed to Gideon Levy, a Haaretz journalist, in a 2010 interview with Hari, to passages Levy had written in his own newspaper.

Cue a “storm” of abuse and bullying and moral incandescence. Well, when I say “storm”, I mean “some people wrote about this on Twitter”, which seems to be the “newsiness” yardstick du jour in Media Village. A “storm” complete with its own “funny” hashtag #interviewsbyhari that was, within hours, the third most trending topic worldwide, and which was predictably swamped with hundreds of “witticisms”. So: people are accusing Hari of being a plagiarist, of indulging in hateful “churnalism” and of being an all-round bad egg.

What nonsense.

On Monday evening, Hari responded with a post on “Interview etiquette” on his personal site, writing:

“So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech.”

Let’s be clear: of course there are issues with this. Hari’s approach seems to assume interviewees’ views never change, or that it is possible, nay desirable, to guess what an interviewee “meant” to say based on what they actually said.

Moreover, the idea that quotes from an interviewee’s book or prior interviews should be used verbatim without any indication to the reader that this is happening seems, at the very least, to be rather cheeky, even disrespectful.

However, to call this “plagiarism” is idiotic. Hari did not pass off someone else’s words as his own. Both the “copied” and the “original” phrases are by the same person: the interviewee (Negri and Levy are the only names we’ve been made aware of so far, but knowing a mob never goes home speedily, I expect more soon).

Hari’s method does not amount to churnalism either. There is no question here of someone recycling press releases or presenting someone’s advertising pitch as original news reporting. His defence, elaborated on in a response piece published this morning (29/06/2011) is, in my view, convincing:

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 have never taken words from another context and twisted them to mean something different.

What Hari did was, at worst, sloppily nonchalant. Considering he’s a brilliant writer and columnist, it was also a strange sort of approach to opt for. One could argue it would’ve been far easier, and potentially more damaging to his interviewees, if he had simply stuck to the transcripts, keeping the “umms” and “aahs” in for good measure.

Far from being a lazy shortcut (surely the prime motive of plagiarists and churnalists) as some are alleging, what Hari did actually involved extra effort and was, by all accounts, to the advantage of his interviewees.

Indeed, as the Independent’s Editor-in-Chief Simon Kellner confirmed (on, where else? Twitter,) not a single complaint had ever been filed against Hari by any previous subject of his profiles or interviews, despite the fact he’s been writing for more than a decade.

Of course, it could (and has been) argued that this is precisely the point: it is not the journalist’s job to help the interviewee come across as more eloquent, polished, consistent and measured than they were during the live meet up, quite the opposite.

It’s those interviews where the subject slips and unamsks him/herself with a telling word or gesture that make the exercise worthwhile for most readers. As such, Hari’s approach is, in theory at least, dangerously close to a “fix”: the interviewer-interviewee pair emerge with a flattering, refined end-product, while the reader is left short-changed and bamboozled by the behind-the-scenes shenanigans.

The facts in Hari’s case suggest little of that has happened. Indeed, in a highly ironic touch, it is precisely the perceived negativity of his Negri profile (deemed “poor”) that got DSG worked up about the interview in the first place.

Hari is undoubtedly a formidable writer, and a strong, robust, necessary voice on the comment pages (even though I strongly disagree with many of his views). It seems to me that most of the outrage against him is clearly nothing but gleeful, spiteful self-righteousness. People who object to his stances and ideas are exacting revenge by pretending to take issue with his methods.

Aside from the Twitter brouhaha, the other notable aspect to the controversy has been how eager rival publications have been to leap onto the nearest high horse. The Guardian’s media section ran no less than four different stories on this in less than 24 hours, and were by no means the only ones.

Today’s piece by Hari, in which he apologises for an “error of judgement”, states:

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

Although I find his method is best avoided, and I’m therefore very pleased he has vowed not to employ it again, I have no doubt that his motives were anything but well-intentioned, which cannot be said about many of his critics. He has now apologised, will they?

Hicham Yezza is editor-in-chief of Ceasefire.

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36 Comments

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Alex Deane
Jun 29, 2011 12:42

Did it not occur to you that people were tweeting their jokes on #interviewswithhari because they thought it was *funny*?

AB
Jun 29, 2011 13:17

Firstly, well done not falling into the trap of assuming this is an attack on Hari from the right as so many others seem to have done, and this is a spirited and well-researched defence of Hari’s actions. But I’m sorry Hich, but I really have to disagree with some aspects a of what youve said.

The original Negri article takes answers to drastically different questions and plonks them down in a context where they give.
For example, where Negri talks about memory is lifted from a question about whether memory supports tradition- a broad philosophical and abstract question, which Hari then places into a context as a response to a specific question about the soviet union, making Negri look like a revisionist for soviet politics- even though out of any Marxist thinker he is amongst the most anti-state. Also Ironic that Hari seems to call Negri unreadable but at the same time has read enough to know where that quote comes from.

Or take this incident with Noam Chomsky in 2003 in which Johann Hari possibly fabricates a meeting with Chomsky:
http://www.zcommunications.org/johann-hari-and-noam-chomsky-by-david-edwards

It’s debatable as to whether it can be seen as plagiarism, and I dont think its a majority of cases- interviews were never Johanns strong suit anyway and I dont think many involved in this criticism on the left wants to see him utterly destroyed. But it has been, on occasion, highly and quite possibly deliberately, misrepresentative of the interview subject. On the occasions that he has done it, I think its also fair to call it ‘churnalism’- repeating previous work to fit an easy narrative. picking and choosing the quotes that one wants to have in one’s article is a LOT less intellectual effort than trying to come up with actual interview questions that challenge and get the results one desires. To pass this off as something beneficial to the interviewees as Hari has tried to do is a poor show at best.

The more telling aspect of this is that Hari says that this is common practice amongst journalists. Of that I have no doubt whatsoever. In this sense, you’re right to say its his political views and high visibility that make him a prime candidate for this controversy.

Dominic
Jun 29, 2011 20:02

No: I’m not going to apologise for pointing and laughing at someone who refused, when caught ripping off other people’s work and fabricating interview material out of printed matter, to cop to his sloppiness.

I don’t care massively about “journalistic ethics”, which is perilously close to being a contradiction in terms as it is, but I did object to Hari’s weaselling on this matter, which was entirely worthy of derision. I don’t believe for a moment that his cut-and-paste work was the substitution of a “more coherent” expression of something someone said more haltingly to him in an interview context. It seems ludicrous to me that anyone’s seriously debating whether or not this constitutes acceptable journalistic practice, when it so obviously isn’t what he was doing in the first place. Once again: wilful misdirection of this kind calls for loud and sustained guffaws of incredulity.

hich
Jun 29, 2011 20:36

@Alex Deane – I’m sure they “thought” it was funny, I just pointed out that the tweets were, for the most part, not as funny as they thought they were. Happy to to agree to disagree on this.

@AB: I disagree that this is churnalism. The very essence of churnalism is to avoid effort by slightly changing ready-made press releases into pretend-news stories. Hari did none of that. You can’t be a churnalist AND someone who’s taking huge steps (and risks) to misrepresent and calumny a target.

Re: Negri. It seems to me a simple case of Hari wanting better answers (better stylistically that is). If he has used answers in the wrong context, I tend to see this as the result of not understanding what he was quoting rather than deliberately looking for a self-incriminating quote.

@Dominic: How is it plagiarism? Are you saying Negri’s words from “Negri on Negri” belong to his earlier interviewer? If not. Then who’s the victim of the plagiarism? Negri? How? He’s credited with the words in both interviews in question (from 2003 and 2004).

As you must have noted in my piece, I condemned Hari’s practice as sloppy/disrespectful etc but it is NOT plagiarism. Those who claim it is are the ones engaging in “willful misdirection”

——-

Ultimately, this boils down to intentions, which we can’t know unless we have some more evidence of what went on in his head. Also, it would be interesting to get the transcript of any of the interviews and compare the passages he replaced with those he used instead, and see whether any deliberate. systemic distortion is taking place. It seems to me the only way to figure out why he did it.

Tom Williams
Jun 29, 2011 21:48

It is sort of plagarism in that conducting a good interview takes skill and research. The words Hari lifted may have been the words of the interviewee but the interviewers should take some credit for getting that person to say interesting things that people want to read about. As I’m sure you know Hich, a good interview relies as much on the person asking the questions as the person answering. Hari is taking these quotes and passing them off as his own work; as exclusive interviews where people have said these things to him. Clearly Hari has put alot of time and effort in to his interviews and cannot be called a churnalist (although there are seemingly instances where he has presented passages from press releases as quotes in interviews) but he has stolen the work of interviewers and presented it as his own. I would not be happy if I had prepared long and hard to interview someone only for a more high profile name to lift carefully induced quotes for their own ends.

hich
Jun 29, 2011 22:01

@Tom “but the interviewers should take some credit for getting that person to say interesting things that people want to read about”

But surely, all Hari needed to do (if his aim was to obtain a great answer that an amazingly superior interviewer had thought of) would be to ask the same question again, which he could easily have done. I agree that there is an art to asking the right questions, but he KNEW THE QUESTIONS others had asked already, so that can’t possibly his motive in using the earlier answer.

Like I said, I condemn the technique, but it is not plagiarism/churnalism and, unless we have evidence to deliberately nefarious intentions, should not assume his motives were sinister.

David Bell
Jun 30, 2011 2:25

II’m not sure whether there’s a binary of ‘plagiarism’/’not plagiarism’: rather, I’d suggest that Hari is on the borders of plagiarism- particularly where he passes off quotes stated in other interviews as those given to him. And in response to Hich’s response to Dom- well, given that part of an interviewer’s job is to get quotes, I think it’s perilously close to plagiarism to steal quotes gained by another journalist- perhaps as a result of their particular skill in asking the right questions. In a sense, the original interviewer has got that answer for the rewards of their labour, and Hari- dissatsified with the rewards of his own- feels it appropriate to pinch them. Hari has done this not only in the Negri interview, but also in his interview of Hugo Chavez, whilst elsewhere he’s copied blog articles/press releases and newspaper columns from his interviewees (which I think is less plagiaristic, but still ethically shoddy).

Where I’d take particular issue with Hari, however, is in the way he has used these quotes in the Negri interview, where I think there is significant evidende of sinister intentions. There he does not- as he claims- do so in order to make his interviewee come across more clearly. In fact, he does quite the opposite: he uses the quotes in order to further his idiotic narrative that Negri is overly intellectual (Hari has a problem with radical left thought: see also his hatchet job on Zizek at the New Statesman). More worryingly (and separately from the quote lifting), he calls Negri a terrorist- which is appalling journalism.

And- by the way- Kelner’s lying (or not in possession of the full facts) when he says there have been no complaints: I believe he was editor when The Independent refused to publish this letter (in response to the Negri piece): http://www.driftline.org/cgi-bin/archive/archive_msg.cgi?file=spoon-archives/aut-op-sy.archive/aut-op-sy_2004/aut-op-sy.0409&msgnum=232&start=21394

hich
Jun 30, 2011 4:18

@Dave:

“I think it’s perilously close to plagiarism to steal quotes gained by another journalist- perhaps as a result of their particular skill in asking the right questions.”

A few things:

– In general, the “skill” of asking questions is not of the same order (in my view anyways) as that required in actually generating content yourself, you can ask an insanely stupid question and still get an amazingly witty and eloquent comeback (in fact that happens a lot more than you think), and vice versa (very good questions only getting a “hmmm,, maybe” answer).

– I doubt we can class anything that Hari has surreptitiously “borrowed” as an example of “amazing insight generated by well crafted question”. Many of the Negri/Levy/Zizek/Chavez/Maya quotes are fairly anodyne/generic (at least that’s how they seem to me) and could be obtained fairly easily from other sources, which strengthens Hari’s claim he tried to find “representative” samples (still wrong of course).

– This still leaves his quoting directly from authors’ books, which seems to be a significant portion of the total, and which does NOT require amazing interviewing skills. Considering Hari seems to have used quotes from wherever they were available seems to indicate he wasn’t particularly looking for ways to steal other interviewers’ hard work.

“In a sense, the original interviewer has got that answer for the rewards of their labour, and Hari- dissatsified with the rewards of his own”

That’s correct, and he pretty much admits it, but I think his argument (though he hasn’t made it, but seems implicit in his thinking) is that the “results” (i.e. answers) obtained by another journalist are largely down to luck.

“he uses the quotes in order to further his idiotic narrative that Negri is overly intellectual… he calls Negri a terrorist- which is appalling journalism.”

The latter is certainly an issue and could be simply to to do with it being what he believes (he could’ve still called him that even if the interview had been a syllable-by-syllable transcript). The fact that he quotes to further a particular “narrative” is, I think, a fairly standard issue of the subjectivity inherent in any work of intellectual production. After all, no matter what questions any interviewer picks, they will be shaped by her/his prejudices and world views.

“And- by the way- Kelner’s lying (or not in possession of the full facts) when he says there have been no complaints: I believe he was editor when The Independent refused to publish this letter (in response to the Negri piece)”

– You’re being slightly unfair, I think it was clear that Kellner (and Hari’s) defence (the way I understood it anyway) was that none of the authors ever complained of being misquoted. The letter is by Negri associates. To date, no interviewee has complained about being misquoted (that we know of).

– The letter you refer to includes plenty of (often valid) criticism of Hari but nothing about inaccurate/misleading quotes. The authors mainly objected to Hari’s scene setting ie precisely the parts of the interview he did write himself.

As I wrote in my piece, and in the comments, Hari’s actions were wrong. But they were not plagiarism nor churnalism.

jon
Jun 30, 2011 11:42

As is suggested in the article, whatever you think about Hari it cant be denied that he`s an intelligent guy.

Its precisely this fact that suggests this wasnt just naivate, it would be so easy just to put “as Negri said in 2000” etc, it wouldnt detract from the flow of the piece, the only explanation is that he knew it was a bit dodgy but thought it was ok to get away with.

That being said, its clearly not a hanging offence, of course all journalists mis-use, de-contextualise, over-emphasise quotes etc. But it does seem to me that in a world where any semi-literate kid with a laptop and an opinion can publish his work, “journalistic ethics” are a fairly important principle to hold up if you`re getting paid for your opinions, otherwise you are just another sloppy blogger and shouldnt be treated as anything more. Whats more, my sense is that with these things its a slippy slope, it might start with re-cycling a few quotes, but it probably wont end there next time you`re under stress to produce for a deadline.

Dominic
Jun 30, 2011 14:10

Does Hari really expect anyone to believe that his tissue of duplications represents an attempt to render the substance of an actual interview in more eloquent language?

http://islamversuseurope.blogspot.com/2011/06/more-evidence-of-johann-hari-lifting.html

hich
Jul 1, 2011 8:45

@jon – “the only explanation is that he knew it was a bit dodgy but thought it was ok to get away with”

How does that make sense? When he is (in the case of Negri) interviewing a best-selling writer in a major newspaper and using quotes from a book almost any fan of Negri would’ve been familiar with? And when a simple online search would’ve exposed it? And when he knows the interviewee would’ve simply rung the newspaper and said “I said no such thing to Hari”? It seems to me the evidence is that he didn’t feel it was a big deal, quite the opposite, he clearly was feeling that, if anything, he was doing the interviewees a favour!

@ Dominic

Only Hari can answer that. But the evidence is pretty strong, in my view, that the quotes he used/borrowed/stole were more articulate/eloquent than the ones that were said to him (since they were views that were often expressed in books etc i.e. where the interviewees had total control and plenty of time to phrase their ideas exactly the way they wanted).

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 11:43

I think Hari’s just bullshitting on this. He’s stitched together pieces of previously-published matter, ornamented it as a conversation, and is now claiming that there was a real conversation which this fabrication faithfully represents. But – to take only the case of the Negri interview – when Negri first said the things Hari reports him as saying, he said them in the context of answering different questions, on different topics. It is extremely unlikely that he would have said the same things, or less articulate versions of the same things, in response to the questions Hari reports himself as having posed. I simply do not believe that a real conversation took place to which the reported conversation even loosely corresponds, so the question of “eloquence” is a complete (and in my view deliberate) red herring. I take it that they actually met, and spoke to each other; I imagine the encounter was frustrating for both of them, and could not have formed the basis for the kind of “portrait” Hari wanted to publish. I can’t see any other reason why he would resort to fashioning one out of shreds and patches of other people’s more competent and better-informed work.

hich
Jul 1, 2011 11:50

@Dominic

“He’s stitched together pieces of previously-published matter, ornamented it as a conversation, and is now claiming that there was a real conversation which this fabrication faithfully represents.”

You seem to forget that the lifted quotes represented the minority (from the interviews we know of, including the Negri one) of the total quotes, the majority were quotes he did obtain from the interviewer direct.

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 13:10

“I would say that probably a majority of the quotes in the “interview” seem to be lifted wholly or partially from Joya’s book. In fact, the borrowing is on such an enormous scale that I think we’re entitled to wonder whether Hari even met Malalai Joya at al”

http://islamversuseurope.blogspot.com/2011/06/more-evidence-of-johann-hari-lifting.html

I dare say the ratio of honest reporting to self-aggrandising fabrication varies from case to case. My point is that the fabrication is not, as Hari tries to present it, the continuation of honest reporting by other means.

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 13:15

(incidentally, I should have looked more closely at the site I was linking to: I should make it clear that I don’t share any of the author’s racist bugbears about “Islam versus Europe”)

hich
Jul 1, 2011 13:15

@Dominic

“My point is that the fabrication is not, as Hari tries to present it, the continuation of honest reporting by other means.”

Nobody is arguing that it is here. My piece explicitly condemns the practice. The point is that it wasn’t plagiarism, which is the word everyone was bandying about on Twitter.

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 13:31

I don’t see how it isn’t plagiarism to attempt to pass off unsourced appropriations from someone else’s published work as your own. Hari’s claim that the interviewee said something *like* that to him is meant to lessen the offence, by implying that he was using the appropriated material to improve on first-hand testimony he had done work of his own to obtain. I think that if you treat that claim with the contempt it deserves, plagiarism is precisely what you’re left with.

hich
Jul 1, 2011 13:36

@Dominic

“I don’t see how it isn’t plagiarism to attempt to pass off unsourced appropriations from someone else’s published work as your own.”

He didn’t pass if off as his “own”, the quotes were attributed to the person who uttered them the first time round, surely you can see the difference between this and plagiarism?

Saying what he did is not plagiarism is not the same as saying it is an honest, fine thing to do, it isn’t.

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 13:43

“He didn’t pass if off as his “own”, the quotes were attributed to the person who uttered them the first time round, surely you can see the difference between this and plagiarism?”

Person A conducts an interview with Person B, then sits down with the transcript and works it up into something publishable. Person C copies from Person A’s published interview with Person B, and claims that the copied material is part of Person C’s interview with Person B. Person C is a plagiarist. The lost attribution is not to Person B, but to Person A.

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 13:47

Person C goes on to claim that Person B said something to him that was *like* what Person B said to Person A, but less eloquent. This claim is intended to divert attention away from the fact of Person C’s plagiarism, and into a debate about the morality of improving on Person B’s spoken utterances by drawing on the printed record of their past utterances. Attention is duly diverted. But the claim is mendacious; Person C is now guilty of both plagiarism and inventing a bullshit excuse for plagiarism.

hich
Jul 1, 2011 13:56

@Dominic

Nice try but no cigar. Person C didn’t pretend the words copied from B (Via A) were his own, he pretended they were B’s words (but didn’t divulge they were via A), which is deceptive regardless of motive, but not plagiarism.

Dominic
Jul 1, 2011 14:06

Following your logic, it’s impossible to plagiarise an interview provided you present the appropriated material as part of an interview of your own with the same person. I disagree; but I think I’ve already given as clear an account as I’m able to of why I disagree.

hich
Jul 1, 2011 14:12

@Dominic

“Following your logic, it’s impossible to plagiarise an interview provided you present the appropriated material as part of an interview of your own with the same person.”

It wouldn’t be plagiarism if the words are clearly credited to their utterer, but that would hardly be a defence, since it would be manifestly dishonest in any case.

I understand your account, which seems to me based on the premise that copying text from another source is plagiarism by definition if the copying process is not entirely explicit, but I’m afraid I feel my position more consistent/precise and, as I said, changes nothing to the fact we both find what he did to be wrong.

Musab
Jul 5, 2011 12:57

If only it were just the Negri interview – dishonest and probably plagiarism, at least if we use an academic definition of the term. (In an academic context, there would be no dispute over this, but journalism is a murkier field.) But it now appears that this has been standard practice for Hari, for years: http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/guy-walters/2011/07/ann-leslie-india-hari-british.

The issue isn’t just the unattributed quotation; it’s also the little omissions he has used to make them fit. After all, why not just say you are quoting Negri’s book, or Ann Leslie’s interview of ten years ago to the Daily Mail, or Malalai Joya’s memoir, etc.? It is impossible to believe Hari did not know this would be the more honest course of action. His omissions are intended to give the impression that he has worked harder than has actually been the case.

Go back to the Negri interview: those incidents with the cigarette, Negri’s supposed rude behaviour, the ICA staff member. These happen to be disputed by others who present. Now that we know Hari has been evasive with his sources, why should we buy into the anecdotes? Yet without them the whole piece, such as it is, falls.

And with regard to the lack of a complaint from Negri, it is entirely possible that Negri never bothered to read the piece, or that he read it and simply didn’t think a complaint worth his time.

hich
Jul 5, 2011 15:16

@Musab

“probably plagiarism, at least if we use an academic definition of the term. (In an academic context, there would be no dispute over this, but journalism is a murkier field.)”

I’d be very curious to see this “academic definition” you’re referring to which would apply to cases such as Hari’s, when the “plagiarist” is pretending that a quote by Author X is by … Author X but from a different source than explicitly stated.

“But it now appears that this has been standard practice for Hari, for years:”

Standard practice? Despite the fact the entire media industry, including virtually anyone right wing with an internet connection, has been sifting through his entire archive for evidence, all we have, after more than a week is the following list of crimes:

– An interview with Negri, in which half the quotes (themselves less than half the word count) were real Negri quotes taken from Negri books, or books on Negri.
– An interview with Malalai Joya, in which a large proportion of Malai Joya quotes turned out to be Malai Joya quotes from her own book.
– An interview with Ann Leslie, in which 250-words worth of quotes in a 4 thousand portrait, turned out to be Ann Leslie quotes from her own book.
– An interview with Gideon Levy, in which many of the quotes were Gideon Levy quotes from his own book.

“Standard practice”? Hardly. [A detail: as to referencing a post by Guy Walters. Seriously? the Guy Walters who, when trying to unmask Hari’s “plagiarism” in the Malalai Joya interview, not only copied, unattributed, all the detective work (including which passages had been lifted from the book) from another blogger, but copied, unattributed, all the detective work from a racist/Islamophobic blogger? And only gave credit after commenters took him to task for it?]

“It is impossible to believe Hari did not know this would be the more honest course of action. His omissions are intended to give the impression that he has worked harder than has actually been the case.”

That’s one interpretation. Whether one agrees with or not, there is no doubt his approach was dishonest. But was it plagiarism? Nope.

“Go back to the Negri interview: those incidents with the cigarette, Negri’s supposed rude behaviour, the ICA staff member. These happen to be disputed by others who present. Now that we know Hari has been evasive with his sources, why should we buy into the anecdotes? Yet without them the whole piece, such as it is, falls.”

Hari says the interludes are all legit, that he only inserted previous quotes precisely where other similar quotes existed. In other words, the cigarette etc were not inventions. Should we believe him? That’s up to individual readers. The Negri dispute seems more about interpretation, an ICA staff member probably did ask Negri not to smoke, but was it a big fight or a mere 2-second polite request? We’ll never know.

“And with regard to the lack of a complaint from Negri, it is entirely possible that Negri never bothered to read the piece, or that he read it and simply didn’t think a complaint worth his time.”

Possibly, but complaints HAVE been made by the Negri camp, although, tellingly, never about the quotes themselves, in more than seven years, but on other things (was there an “altercation” or a “little misunderstanding” etc), it seems to me Hari is on stronger ground.

Musab
Jul 5, 2011 16:35

With regard to an academic definition, see for example Oxford University’s guidelines: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/goodpractice/about/:

“Quotations must always be identified as such by the use of either quotation marks or indentation, with adequate citation. It must always be apparent to the reader which parts are your own independent work and where you have drawn on someone else’s ideas and language … It is important to cite correctly … You must clearly acknowledge all assistance which has contributed to the production of your work.”

Dominic’s position matches mine here, and I don’t think this is a particularly significant or difficult point, but there is no way you could pass off the results of another interview study as your own in an academic context. Hari’s defence does not explain why he did not attribute his sources. If you want to stick to your guns on this super-minimalist interpretation of the term plagiarism, that’s fine, but you won’t find a university on the planet that agrees with you.

I like Hari much more than I like Guy Walters (who does acknowledge his sources anyway, albeit in the comments section of his piece), which is why Hari’s malpractice concerns me much more than if it were Rod Liddle or Walters himself or any number of other hacks, all of whom are probably guilty of far worse crimes.

Obviously, much of this fuss has emerged from the dubious corners of the Islamophobic, right-wing blogosphere, investigated by people whose intentions are entirely dishonourable. This says nothing about the allegations themselves, as I’m sure you agree. Any commentary on the political leanings of the bloggers involved is mostly besides the point.

hich
Jul 5, 2011 18:21

@Musab
“With regard to an academic definition, see for example Oxford University’s guidelines…”
Sure, but that’s a set of guidelines on academic practice, not an “academic definition of plagiarism”, which is what I had asked about. I’m sure you can tell the difference.

“but there is no way you could pass off the results of another interview study as your own in an academic context.”
Correct, but if Hari’s article was footnoted/referenced and citations were missing for those quotes, the case would be straightforward.

“Hari’s defence does not explain why he did not attribute his sources.”
It does explain it, he says it was too trivial a practice to mention. One (myself for instance) could argue about his premise, of course, but his conclusion does reasonably follow from it. In the same way most journalists remove false starts, umms and aaahs without alerting their readers, they assume it’s not a big deal and edit the responses accordingly.

“If you want to stick to your guns on this super-minimalist interpretation of the term plagiarism, that’s fine, but you won’t find a university on the planet that agrees with you.”
I have yet to find a university that doesn’t agree with me. Not surprising considering I’m sticking to a rather straightforward definition, if you nick someone’s words and present them as your own. Of course, one can have a big debate about who really “owns” the words of an interview etc but I’ll leave that for another day.

“Guy Walters (who does acknowledge his sources anyway, albeit in the comments section of his piece)”
That’s what I wrote. You miss my crucial point: He only acknowledges the source AFTER someone complained (of course, he had an excuse, “it was on oversight”).

“Any commentary on the political leanings of the bloggers involved is mostly besides the point.”
Indeed (which is why I mention it in brackets under “detail”).

Ultimately, Hari’s conduct was wrong but, in my view, the aim of the mob attack is not to prove he has sinned, after all he admitted as much, but to kill, once and for all, his entire body of work and any future efforts. To do this, it’s not enough to show he was sloppy or lazy or careless, you have to show he was bad-intentioned. After all, the first mark of the plagiarist is that he knows he is doing something very wrong.

Hence the time and energy being spent by large swathes of the media to make the plagiarism charge stick, and this is why I think it’s important such a charge is refuted.

Musab
Jul 7, 2011 7:38

“I have yet to find a university that doesn’t agree with me. Not surprising considering I’m sticking to a rather straightforward definition, if you nick someone’s words and present them as your own.”

Your “straightforward definition” (what I termed “super-minimalist”) is not accepted by any academic institution, all of whom — to my knowledge — explicitly state that plagiarism is not confined merely to copy-and-pasting someone else’s work, but describes a broader category of deception that includes using unattributed sources, which is what Hari did. I cited Oxford’s guidelines because that is what they provide to explain plagiarism, not only being unwilling to give a “straightforward definition” but explicitly disavowing one.

There is a possible defence for Hari, which is that in journalistic practice plagiarism should be defined in narrower terms than in academic practice. I think your case would be stronger were you to make this point, rather than insisting on a clearly untenable understanding of academic plagiarism. If you want to continue to suggest — as I think, but am not entirely sure, that you are doing — that an academic institution would look kindly on Hari’s methods, had he presented them in submission of the requirements for a degree, then perhaps you should explicitly state this, as it will allow us to safely assume that basic logic has departed the discussion.

hich
Jul 7, 2011 9:59

– I said nothing of plagiarism being restricted to “copy-and-pasting someone else’s work”.
– The words Hari is accused of having “plagiarised” are correctly attributed to their authors, so the ONLY defence anyone pushing the plagiarism charge can have is to consider the words in an interview as belonging to the interviewer not the interviewee who uttered them, which utterly untenable in my view.

“someone’s words but describes a broader category of deception that includes using unattributed sources, which is what Hari did.”

“Broader deception” is certainly correct, and easily covers what Hari did. But it is not plagiarism. As I said earlier, a necessary aspect of a plagiarist is bad intention, i.e. a deliberate action in full awareness that something very bad is being done. I see no evidence this is true in Hari’s case, and quite a number of factors indicate the opposite.

Musab
Jul 11, 2011 4:18

I repeat, in my view the term “plagiarism” includes the category of “broader deception” that you describe.

With regard to your repeated claim that “a necessary aspect of a plagiarist is bad intention”: the question of intent is controversial — and far from agreed upom — in discussions on plagiarism (try “plagriarism intent” on Google for a flavour). Again, I cannot find evidence that academic institutions employ an understanding of the term that conforms to the argument of intent that you insist upon. The guidelines I’ve found — like Oxford’s — go firmly against this view.

hich
Jul 11, 2011 5:09

“the question of intent is controversial”

True. But whether intent is key when it comes to consequences (which in a way, is the crux of the controversy) is surely beyond doubt. If a writer A discovered that a passage in a book they wrote was copied from writer B because the index card that writer A recorded the writer B-authored passage on had been inadvertently misfiled with index cards containing writer A’s original writing is technically “plagiarism” though very few people would call author A a plagiarist nor would make anything of of it.

“I cannot find evidence that academic institutions employ an understanding of the term that conforms to the argument of intent that you insist upon. The guidelines I’ve found — like Oxford’s — go firmly against this view.”

You keep conflating guidelines on academic practice with definitions of plagiarism. Proving that a course of conduct is considered unacceptable and would lead to sanctions or even exclusion/dismissal etc does not mean it is plagiarism (In the same way that making up results from thin air is an extremely serious breach of academic guidelines but is not plagiarism).

Joan
Jul 25, 2011 10:45

Q: What do Johann Hari and Hicham Yezza have in common?

A: Both have woefully inadeqate understandings of what actually constitutes plagiarism.

The fact that some journalists don’t appear to feel the need to gem up on the facts before spouting off is pretty scary actually.

Poor form – very poor form and a massive fail on your part Mr Yezza that you’ve fallen for Mr Hari’s Jackanory definition of plagiarism and not the real one.

hich
Jul 25, 2011 10:52

@Joan

Thanks for the comment. I see you disagree with my definition of plagiarism, which you say is not the “real” one. What would that definition be?

Also. You write

“The fact that some journalists don’t appear to feel the need to gem up on the facts before spouting off is pretty scary actually.”

Agreed, though not sure what the relevance of this here is (are you accusing Hari of not being accurate with his facts? that’s not plagiarism. Are you accusing me of not “gemming up”? Which facts are missing?)

Peace
H

Syd Walker
Sep 22, 2011 23:20

Isn’t Hari the little shit who helped sell the Iraq War to a highly resistant British left?

Has he ever apologized for that?

Engineers whose atrocious decisions lead to hundreds of thousands of casualties get fired.

When similar rigor is applied within the so-called journalistic “profession”, we may look forward to fewer “mistakes”.

Mart
Sep 25, 2011 18:42

I remember a whole Newsnight panel being in agreement that journalism is pooled from more elite circles than Parliament. Hari has a position that some people will never have. Rather than preparing for his return he should rightly be condemned for the gross incompetence that he has demonstrated. It matters little if he apologises or not. He did take someone else’s work and pass it off as his own, as such he lied, and there are plenty of other people that don’t need to in producing excellent work. Make room for them…

Rather than taking a pretentious period of retraining he should give his column inches to excellent writers that would otherwise never have the chance to write in such media. Voices that are not from middle class elite and voices that speak against power from a position of suffering.

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Nov 17, 2011 6:32

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[…]Media Johann Hari apologises, will the tweeting mob? | Ceasefire Magazine[…]…

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