Johann Hari: "I did two wrong and stupid things"

Independent columnist admits altering Wikipedia entries and massaging interviewees' quotes.

Johann Hari has admitted to altering quotes from interviewees, in a "personal apology" posted on the Independent website.

The columnist has also confessed to editing his own Wikipedia entry -- as well as those of others with whom he had disagreements, in "ways that were juvenile or malicious". The admission follows an investigation into his conduct by ex-Independent editor Andreas Whittam Smith.

The Independent's former editor, Simon Kelner, had earlier described the allegations as the product of a "baying Twitter mob with no sense of perspective".

Hari says he will take unpaid leave from the newspaper until 2012, return the Orwell Prize "as an act of contrition" and undertake journalism training at his own expense. In future, he will also "footnote all my articles online and post the audio online of any on-the-record conversations".

He writes:

I did two wrong and stupid things. The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don't translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead.

On the Wikipedia claims, which NS bloggers David Allen Green and Guy Walters have previously covered, he adds:

The other thing I did wrong was that several years ago I started to notice some things I didn't like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn't my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people's too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire - like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I factually corrected some other entries about other people.

But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk. I am mortified to have done this, because it breaches the most basic ethical rule: don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you. I apologise to the latter group unreservedly and totally.

Many of the Wikipedia edits were carried out under the name of "David Rose". Following Hari's admission, Times assistant news editor David Rose tweeted: "So Johann Hari admits editing Wikipedia entries under my name. Don't think entirely by coincidence since I knew him at university. Not nice."

The Independent has responded to Hari's apology with a statement:

Following an examination by a former editor, Andreas Whittam Smith, Johann Hari, currently suspended as a writer from The Independent, is taking four months unpaid leave of absence from the newspaper, following a two month suspension that began in July. This decision has been made in accordance with Andreas' recommendation that, subject to certain conditions, Johann should be allowed to work again at the paper. The report on his conduct is a private one and will not be published, as would be the case with any member of our staff.

During the next few months Johann will concentrate on a course of journalism, including ethics, in the United States, and will not be writing, tweeting or blogging for any of the group's titles or website. The expectation is that on successful completion of his studies, he will return to The Independent. Johann has acknowledged and admits the central accusations made against him, that of embellishment of quotations/plagiarism, and that it was he who used the pseudonym David Rose to attack his critics. Johann has also agreed to return the Orwell Prize awarded to him in 2008.

The punishment given to Hari has surprised many commentators, who had expected him to resign or be sacked from the newspaper. David Allen Green, who blogged several times on the saga, has tweeted: "Those rushing to forgive Hari may not be fully aware of the extent of the 'David Rose' smears and deceit on Wikipedia and elsewhere."

However, it seems that Hari still has admirers in the media. Piers Morgan tweeted: "I remain a fan of @johannhari101 and commend him on his mea culpa". The Guardian columnist George Monbiot, meanwhile, said the suspension struck the "right balance".

To read earlier New Statesman blogs on the allegations, click here.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

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.