An Open Letter to Andreas Whittam Smith

Re: Johann Hari

Dear Andreas Whittam Smith CBE,

For the past few weeks, you have been spending these days of nascent summer investigating the claims that Johann Hari is a plagiarist, a distorter, a fabricator, and a sockpuppet who vandalises Wikipedia entries.

Perhaps you're not looking at all of these claims, but no matter, I am confident that with your experience and judgement, you will be able to see what many others have seen - the 42 quotes in his 'interview' with Malalai Joya that Hari lifted from her ghosted autobiography; the 545 words plagiarised from the Daily Mail that Hari inserted into the mouth of his interviewee Ann Leslie; the lies about his Sky appearance with Richard Littlejohn; his fabrications and distortions of quotes in his prize-winning piece on Dubai; the startling familiarity of quotes in his interview with George Michael; his copy-pasting in his interview with Antonio Negri; his outrageously fabricated quotes for his piece on the Central African Republic; his quotes pinched from the New Yorker for his interview with Hugo Chavez; his alleged posting of unpleasant and defamatory comments online under the name of David Rose; his invention of names for interviewees whose quotes he had taken from Der Spiegel...I could go on, but I am sure you have already sucked these eggs dry.

I expect the remit of your enquiry is fairly narrow, and you have simply been asked to establish whether Mr Hari should keep his job, but, if you are able, it would be valuable if your enquiry could also address these vital questions:

1. Is it true that Independent staff members routinely referred to Johann Hari as 'our Jayson Blair'?
2. Is is true that when Johann Hari's piece on Dubai was filed, his encounter with the girl in hot pants was laughed at by the backbench?
3. Were doubts at any time about Mr Hari's professional conduct ever expressed to the then editor Simon Kelner?
4. If so, what was Mr Kelner's response?
5. Would it be fair to say that Mr Kelner protected Mr Hari because of Mr Hari's stellar status?
6. Why did Mr Kelner state on Twitter on 28 June 2011 that '@JohannHari101 has worked at @theIndynews for 10 years. In that time, we have not had a single complaint about his misrepresenting anyone', when at least three complaints were made about such mispresentation - by an aid worker in the Central African Republic, by Noam Chomsky, and by an interviewee in Hari's piece on Dubai?
7. What opinion does the managing editor of the Independent, Imogen Haddon, hold about Mr Hari's journalism?
8. What opinion does the business editor of the Independent, David Prosser, hold about Mr Hari's journalism?
9. What pressure has the Independent brought to bear on the Council of the Orwell Prize in its deliberations as to whether Mr Hari should retain his Orwell Prize?
10. What pressure has the Independent brought to bear on the Council of the Orwell Prize to delay its announcement concerning its decision?
11. What pressure has the Independent brought to bear on the Council of the Martha Gellhorn Award in its deliberations as to whether Mr Hari should retain his Martha Gellhorn Award?
12. Has the Independent used lawyers in its dealings with either the Council of the Orwell Prize or anybody associated with the Orwell Prize?
13. Is the present management of the Independent indulging in a facesaving exercise?

Yours sincerely,

Guy Walters

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

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