Johann Hari: lifting quotes was a 'mistake' - Press Gazette

Johann Hari: lifting quotes was a 'mistake'

The Independent columnist and interviewer Johann Hari today denied accusations of plagiarism but apologised for committing an ‘error of judgement”.

Hari was accused of plagiarism after it was revealed he had taken quotes from books and interviews written by other journalists without attributing the source of the material.

Writing in The Independent this morning following what The Independent described as ‘trial by Twitter”, he repeated the defence made on his personal blog – that interviewees will sometimes ‘make a point that sounds clear when you hear it, but turns out to be incomprehensible or confusing on the page”, so he would lift passages ‘written or said more clearly elsewhere”.

He said this was done so that the reader ‘understands their point as clearly as possible”.

Explaining his widely-mocked decision to add dramatic context to some of the quotes that had been lifted, he said: ‘Were 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.”

He then goes on to quote Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who was the subject of an interview in which Hari lifted quotes from a column written for the newspaper Hareetz. Levy said the quotes were ‘a totally accurate representation of my thoughts and words”.

Hari denied claims of churnalism or plagiarism but added: ‘So 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 won’t do it again.

“Why? Because an interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an 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 quotes their slightly broken or garbled English than to quote their more precise written work, and let that speak for itself.”

Hari claimed that because his interviews were ‘intellectual profiles’he focussed on the ‘intellectual accuracy’of the quotes and not the ‘reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon”.

But he admitted: ‘That was, on reflection, a mistake, because it wasn’t clear to the reader.

‘I’m sorry, and I’m grateful to the people who pointed out this error of judgement. I will make sure I learn from it.”