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29 June 2011

Johann Hari responds to criticism

"I now see it was wrong, and I wouldn't do it again."

By Samira Shackle

In today’s Independent, Johann Hari responds to the row over his interview technique. This follows yesterday’s Twitter storm, which began after a blogger pointed out that Hari’s interview with Gideon Levy included passages of text from Levy’s writing and from interviews elsewhere. Hari was accused of churnalism and plagiarism.

Here is what he has to say:

I did not and never have taken words from another context and twisted them to mean something different — I only ever substituted clearer expressions of the same sentiment, so the reader knew what the subject thinks in the most comprehensible possible words.

I stress: I have only ever done this where the interviewee was making the same or similar point to me in the interview that they had already made more clearly in print. Where I described their body language, for example, I was describing their body language as they made the same point that I was quoting — I was simply using the clearer words from their writing so the reader understood the point best.

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He also offers a clearer apology than on his blog on the same subject yesterday:

I’ve thought carefully about whether I have been wrong here. It’s clearly not plagiarism or churnalism — but was it an error in another way? Yes. I now see it was wrong, and I wouldn’t do it again.

Why? Because an interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a a report on the encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee. If (for example) a person doesn’t speak very good English, or is simply unclear, it may be better to quote their slightly broken or garbled English than to quote their more precise written work, and let that speak for itself.

To be fair to Hari, Levy has said that he stands by the interview as “an accurate presentation of my thoughts and words”. However, critics will note that Hari has not addressed the charge that he borrowed not only from his subjects’ writing but from other interviews. Is this apology enough? Share your thoughts below.