Friday, 1 July 2011

Bonus Post: inexcusably funny.

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:


Very, very naughty

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.


  1. Hadn't been really following the Hari fiasco. Thanks for the wake up!
    In short: Non-fiction is not necessarily journalism.
    Hari could have CHOSEN to paraphrase or attribute those quotes he copped from other places. As a true blue journalist (do these still exist? I know a least!), his role is to be a representative for the public who cannot be present to witness events, ask the searing, important questions, record the responses and, as unbiasedly as possible (we ARE all only human, after all!), relate this to the masses.
    If he wants to state an opinion, mark the piece according or work for the editorial pages!
    This blurring of fact for the "greater truth" IS too damned Orwellian as one commentator points out. It certainly isn't journalism as I learned and experienced it (and I covered mostly arts and entertainment for most of my time on dailies and magazines).
    Hari's "credibility" as a journalist has been totally compromised no mater what reasons/ excuses he wants to give. He may still remain an engaging (and even brilliant) read, but if he stays on the news side, he'll long be suspect (to me).
    Whew! Tania. I didn't see this coming. Think I found some of your "outrage" from the other day.
    PS Saw the Bruno Ganz/ Hitler clip
    a while back with a dialogue about inner city rental bicycles. (Think it was posted by a Dutch guy.)

  2. ..."mark the piece accordingLY"...
    Didn't proof this in my huffing & puffing...Sorry.
    ...and..."no matter what reasons"
    (red face)

    PS I even "misspelled" the word verification & had to do it again! (Arrrrgh!)

  3. Pat - I was just about teetering on the fence, but you know what? You are absolutely RIGHT. :)

  4. Dear Tania

    Sending very best wishes for your course next week - to you and all attendees - just sorry that with so many of our own happenings of mixed origins I will not be able to attend as originally hoped.

    I do hope that the opportunity to impart such joys and inspiration to others as I received and benefited from last year will serve some part of the healing process.

    Sadly I started and remain in the second camp re Johann Hari. A great supporter I was saddened beyond belief that such a tack was taken and such squirming then followed.

    why is honesty so unpalatable?

    Much love in absentia

  5. that video was brilliant! thanks for sharing.

  6. To my mind, and speaking as a non-journalist, to not show attribution to an interviewee's past statements (either verbal or written) in the correct context, turns the interview into a muddied piece of writing. If it were an opinion piece, it may be just about acceptable, but in an "interview" i would find it misleading and inappropriate. I find it sad that whilst he may be on the side of the angels, his methods do them no service.

    The video is absolutely brilliant - thank you.

  7. I can't quite make up my mind on Johann Hari's actions, but here's another interesting perspective on it from Mark Lawson

  8. In academia (where I work despite not being an academic) it would be "poor academic practice" I think. Eventually with repeated offences moving up to something more serious.

    I am cross that some people are saying it stops him being an engaging read, or often right, but it is poor journalistic practice.

    It was nice to read you and Pat on this matter.


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