Journalist Makes Shit Up: The Fall of Johann Hari

I always loved Hari’s writing. He’s one of the most passionate and perceptive journalists around, and it’s a shame that he’s potentially fucked his career and reputation by, it looks like, copying and pasting prominent statements from people’s written work, and passing this off as things said to him in interviews. Twitter has a parody #interviewsbyhari hashtag that explains the problem with this technique (‘Standing on an aircraft carrier in the Gulf in 2003, President Bush leant over to whisper ‘Mission Accomplished, Johann’).

Hari didn’t help his own case with this non-apology:

Over the years I have interviewed some people who have messages we desperately need to hear – from Gideon Levy about Israel, to Malalai Joya about Afghanistan, to Gerry Adams about how to end a sectarian war. Just this week, I interviewed one of the bravest people I have ever met – Shirin Ebadi. I would hate people to not hear these vital messages because they incorrectly think the subjects have been falsely quoted.

The egotistical assumption here is that Hari alone can give the oppressed an audience. And if the voice of the oppressed finds itself misquoted or fabulated, don’t the ends justify the means? But it won’t run. Shirin Ebadi is an internationally recognised human rights lawyer. She doesn’t need Hari and it’s condescending for him to suggest that she does.

Clearly he’s done wrong, and I don’t see him recovering from this, at least not completely. Pundits who moan about the conformity of the Twittersphere should have been surprised at the speed and ferocity with which liberal iPhone users turned on one of their own. Lesser writers on the mediocre Tory blogosphere are delighted. There are people on the far left who have always hated Hari because of his atheism, because he once supported the Iraq war and once pissed off Noam Chomsky. They too will be happy to see him shot down.

But I agree with David Aaronovitch that Hari’s problem has been a combination of stupidity, arrogance and naivety, not wickedness. And with Anthony Cox: ‘Who was his mentor? Who is meant to keep young columnist on track?’

I think that what brought Hari down is a refusal to acknowledge the difference between clear, planned, written eloquence, and the messy reality of human speech.

Update: why I think Hari is still worth reading, despite everything – this piece on Dubai’s slave state, this piece on contemporary fiction, and this argument with Richard Littlejohn.

Further update: See this astounding piece. I read the WikiCohen entry after this, and you have to wonder about the kind of person who would devote time and intellectual energy to crafting such a nasty, skewed and insinuatory article.

Has the Green Goddess returned for vengeance?

And again: Hari has now been suspended.


3 Responses to “Journalist Makes Shit Up: The Fall of Johann Hari”

  1. Carl Says:

    Surely the major issue which has been pushed aside since the start of all this – and pointed out by DSG originally – was how Hari used his methods against Negri in that particular interview. He firstly admits that he doesn’t understand Negri’s writings (which might be a good point for his editor or himself to say he shouldn’t be interviewing him – he does the same with Zizek actually), then attempts to discredit him. He uses his technique of lifting quotes from elsewhere, making it look as though he catches Negri out and basically gets him to admit to murder, using a quote from an entirely different context where it implies nothing of the sort. To me that’s far worse than a lack of journalistic ‘standards’, and incredibly duplicitous (and more in line with what Littlejohn does regularly). I suppose the fact that few people have picked up on this politically important point is what I find more worrying, and that many people on the left who previously thought highly of Hari don’t see its significance.

  2. Anonymous Says:


    Certainly haven’t always agreed with Hari but he’s always good value and worth a read. Unfortunately for him, part of what appealed was that he’d always exuded sense of moral courage meshed with passionate integrity…the second of which has gone. I’ll give him the benefit on the former for now.

  3. Graham Says:

    Hari’s Dubai piece is pushing at an open door – more or less what everyone outside the UAE was saying at the time, at a time when the sheen was coming off the place. The missing middle of non-resident Indians working in Dubai made the article skewed demographically; there’s no sense that Hari would back migrant workers there fighting to improve their lving conditions.

    Knowing what we now know about Hari, you have to wonder if the interviewees dispensing killer quotes were also fabricated.

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