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29 June 2011

Just before you accept Johann Hari’s apology ….

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

By Guy Walters

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

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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.

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