Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. I was genuinely sorry, Johann, to hear you’ve been suspended by The Independent pending an investigation into plagiarism. The exact charge? That your interviews contain old quotes cut n’ pasted from other sources, quotes that you pretended were told to you alone.
And you haven’t even tried to deny it:
”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.”
Is that alright then? No, it clearly isn’t Johann. Don’t you think it matters that over 500 words of your 5,000 word interview with old school journo Ann Leslie were copied from an article she wrote in the Daily Mail? Or that Afghan women right’s campaigner Malalai Joya never actually told you that “every day in Afghanistan, even now, hundreds if not thousands of ordinary women act out these small gestures of solidarity with each other. We are our sisters’ keepers.”?
Obviously she didn’t, because here’s the exact matching extract from her autobiography: ”Every day in Afghanistan, even now, hundreds if not thousands of ordinary women act out these small gestures of solidarity with each other. By necessity, after decades of brutality, we are our sisters’ keepers.”
The public judge a good interviewer based on the quality of material he extracts from his subject. If an interviewer cherry picks the juiciest soundbites from other sources for the purpose of clarification, then there’s really been no point to the interview at all. It’s about the interviewees mind at that precise moment in time, otherwise just list me the sources, Johann, and walk away. I want to know what she said to you, not what you cribbed out of her book.
I know all your twitter buddies have leapt to your defence. Both Caitlin Moran and Naomi Klein claim you’re bring bullied, while Peter Preston wrote earlier this month that he couldn’t “work up a head of steam over Hari’s occasional habit (in Indy interviews) of using a cleaned-up pre-written version of his subject’s answers rather than a … you know … more um! … rambling live response.”
What? “Cleaned up”?! Peter Preston edited The Guardian for 20 years and I don’t believe he wouldn’t have torn a strip off any journo who’d dare gild his interviews with old gold, but no, for some reason he reserves his wrath for bloggers revelling in the anonymity of the net, from behind which they can gleefully snipe at your heroic self, Johann. “They could be jealous neighbours,” Preston posits, ”poisonous Indy colleagues, masters of the plagiarists’ art.”
Ah, so that’s your point! That we bloggers are the cut n’ paste merchants, knee-jerking an opinion from a ‘proper’ writer’s research. Well, mea culpa. Most of this post contains large chunks of info lifted from the Telegraph, but at least I’ve had the decency to rewrite it. Isn’t that what journalists do? Synthesise an opinion from different sources? Are you really going to argue that my opinion is negated by the provenance of my information?
But maybe that’s why you’re so vehemently defended, Johann. Maybe your opinions – and status as a posterboy for liberal intellectualism - are worth more than your sources, and maybe that’s why you would have survived this tough journalistic lesson and returned to write another day, if it wasn’t for a second accusation.
This time, Johann, you’re the one supposed to be the sniper skulking in the net. Christina Odone wrote an article on Monday detailing how she’d had a spat with you at the New Statesman and how, soon after, her Wiki entry was maliciously tweaked to suggest her professional life had been an utter disaster. A similar Wiki-rewrite for the worse happened to Nick Cohen after he emailed you corrections to your erroneous review of his book What’s Left. Imagine Cohen’s surprise when he next checked his Wiki:
As well as learning that I was a probable alcoholic, a hypocrite and a supporter of Sarah Palin, I noticed that all reviews of my work were missing except Hari’s effort. Far from saying that he had made wild allegations and I had responded by quoting from the book, a writer working under the pseudonym ‘David r from Meth Productions’ suggested that I had made wild allegations while Hari ‘had offered quotes from Cohen which he argued backed up his claims’
Blogger David Allen Green tried to find ‘David r from Meth Productions’ and his investigations make for very interesting reading. Basically, David r had butchered the Wiki pages of many writers – like Francis Wheen and Niall Ferguson – who’d dared cross swords with you, Johann. David r would often burn the midnight oil in his butchery, and still be up at dawn to insert your opinions into multiple pages on numerous global issues, propagating your brilliance throughout cyberspace when not burying your detractors. David r also penned most of your Wiki page, in case you were wondering, and of course it’s just a co-incidence that Wikipedia traced his IP address to The Independent.
David r’s real name is apparently David Rose, and he claims you got him work as a sub on the Indy. David is also an expert on climate change and a brilliant scholar, leaving Cambridge with a starred first, but then you know all this because you’ve already admitted to being his friend in various emails.
That being the case, Johann, could you please explain how David Rose, as described, doesn’t appear to exist?
I would, honestly, enjoy your return to The Independent Johann. You write with such rare brio and your targets are often so deserving of your cogent ire that I don’t really want to believe any of the above. But the fact that you’re hiding, rather than fighting, doesn’t exactly bolster my faith. If you’ve made another mistake, at least try to explain it.
Yours in very low expectation,
ps) update: 21.07.11 – Seems you’ve been an even naughtier boy Johann. This Telegraph blog outlines how you basically ‘sexed up’ an explosive article on a bloody war in the Central African Republic in 2007. In short, you refused to hire a translator, instead browbeating an aid worker into doing the donkey work. That same aid worker was then shocked & appalled (as was the charity that kindly granted you access) when your award-winning report was peppered with gruesome quotes & episodes that were never said or ever happened, Johann. And you reneged on your promise to hand over your notes to the aid worker so she could write her own report. Come on Johann, show yourself, because this will not blow over.
pps) update: 26.07.11 – They’ve now stripped you of your 2008 Orwell Prize, Johann. It was a unanimous decision. I can’t see The Independent enquiry deciding anything different. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth you coming back.