Just before you accept Johann Hari's apology ....

... ask how many more interview quotes he has ripped off.

Yesterday I blogged about Johann Hari and his tendency to insert into his pieces quotes made by his interviewees on previous occasions. I decided not to accuse him of plagiarism, because I felt that, although he was playing somewhat fast and loose, he wasn't really trying to pass off someone's else work as his own. Besides, the incidents appeared to be fairly infrequent and isolated. This morning, Mr Hari apologised on the pages of the Independent, and many people seem to be accepting his (somewhat grudging) contrition.

However, today, thanks to some sleuthing carried out by my friend Jeremy Duns, I'm not so sure that I'm minded to accept Mr Hari's apology. It now appears that Mr Hari has made quite a habit of pinching quotes given to other interviewers, and claiming that they were given to him. Just look at this:

"It is possible I have something of this . . . tragic sense of life," he [Chavez] acknowledged. He recalled that on the eve of the 1992 rebellion he had said goodbye to his wife and three children, and led his soldiers out of their barracks. He was the last to leave. After locking the big front gate, he threw away the key. "I realized at that moment that I was saying goodbye to life," Chávez said. "So it is possible that one has been a bit . . . imbued with that . . . ever since, no?"

Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, The Revolutionary, 10 September 2001

The spectre haunting Latin America - the spectre of Hugo Chavez - furrows his big, broad brow, pats my knee, and tells me about the night he knew he was going to die. "I will never forget - in the early hours, I said goodbye to my wife and three little children. I kissed them goodbye and blessed them." He knew in his gut he was not going to survive that long, bloody day in 1992, when he and his allies finally decided to stage a revolution against the old, rotten order loathed by the Venezuelan people. "I realized at that moment that I was saying goodbye to life," he says, looking away. "So it is possible that, after surviving, one has been a bit... imbued with that sense ever since, no?"

Johann Hari, The Indepedent, Hugo Chavez - An 'Exclusive' Interview, 14 May 2006

Just re-read those last two sentences, the ones in bold. Despite the very slightest of tweaks, it's clearly a straightforward piece of theft from someone else's interview. That's plagiarism. Mr Hari has taken someone else's writing - that of Jon Lee Anderson - and passed it off as his own. Notice how Mr Hari makes it look as though Chavez has actually said this line directly to him - the cheesy pat on the knee, the schlocky looking away. This isn't an 'intellectual portrait', and it is most certainly not exclusive.

To make matters worse, this is not the only line in his Chavez interview Mr Hari has pinched from another interview. Have a look at this:

"I was in close contact with poverty, it's true, I cried a lot..."

Lally Weymouth, Interview with Hugo Chavez in Newseek, October 2000

Just as this is beginning to sound like sepia-tinted nostalgia, he adds, "I was in close contact with poverty, it's true. I cried a lot."

Johann Hari, The Indepedent, Hugo Chavez - An 'Exclusive' Interview, 14 May 2006

Whoops! This is straightforward dishonest reporting. Hugo Chavez never said those words to Mr Hari. He said them to Mr Anderson. And Lally Weymouth. How many more of these examples will we find? And not just from Mr Hari, but from other journalists as well?

This one, like phone hacking, is going to run and run. Mr Hari now needs to do more than apologise.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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