Posted by Tania Kindersley.
On the edge of my consciousness, over the last couple of days, has been the huge media fuss over Johann Hari and his use of quotes.
For those of you who do not know, Hari is a young journalist at The Independent. He has very strong views, boldly expressed. People love him or hate him, usually along tribal lines. He also attracts schadenfreude, because he started writing for a national newspaper when he was about twelve. I tend to agree with him quite a lot of the time.
Anyway, it turns out that he has been putting quotes into his interviews which were not actually said to him by the subjects, but come from their books, or other interviews they have given in the past. He did not give attribution, but inserted the quotes, often with real-time physical details (she sighed; he paused; she ran her hands through her hair kind of thing), as if they were being spoken. His explanation was that English was often not the first language of his interviewees, and he felt the points they were making were so important that, in the interest of clarity, he used the more cogent lines that he found in their books or articles.
The reaction has divided neatly into two camps. There are those who say: he is on the side of the angels, he is still representing the real views of the people to whom he spoke, and worse things happen at sea. For which last, read: in the evil tabloid press.
Then there are those who say: this breaks every rule of journalism, it is misleading and patronising the readers, and no one can ever take him seriously again.
I think I started off slightly in the first camp, and now am veering towards the second. This makes me a bit sad, because I think he is on the side of the angels, most of the time.
But the awful thing is I can’t help but laugh at what is going on at Twitter, where the interviewsbyhari hashtag has gone crazy. Even funnier, someone has put up a Youtube video of a clip from Downfall, about Hitler’s last days in his bunker, with subtitles superimposed about the Hari scandal. It is in the worst possible taste; it really is quite without excuse, but it is horribly, horribly funny:
Apparently, this is called ‘being Downfalled’. Apparently it is a thing.
On a more serious note, if you are interested, there is a robust, critical take on the whole thing by Brendan O’Neill here.
Roy Greenslade takes the other point of view here.