Johann Hari\’s defence doesn\’t work

Oh this is lovely. Johann Hari\’s defence doesn\’t actually work.

However, when interviewing someone, a journalist uses skill and labour in recording quotes accurately and selecting those most appropriate for publication. So the quotes in an interview are protected by copyright. If any are to be used by another publication then the fair dealing defence would have to be used and the copyright owner, possibly a competitor, would have to be credited.

So, let us review the situation.

1) Hari\’s found using things not actually said to him as part of his interviews.

2) Hari\’s defence (which isn\’t a bad one) is that he\’s providing an intellectual portrait. And to do this it\’s entirely just and righteous to use clips and quotes from earlier writings because, after all, writers do spend some time in their own writings making themselves clear. Speech is always more confusing than considered writings, after all.

3) Ah, but. Some of those clips and quotes come not from original writings by the interviewee, but from other interviews conducted by other journalists. In which case, those carefully considered quotes are copyright of those journalists, not the interviewee.

4) As copyright, there\’s still the fair use exemption. But the use of that requires acknowledgement of the source even if not a request for permission to use the quote.

5) Hari\’s fucked.

I will admit to not really caring very much about all of this. My objection to Hari is that he\’s simply ignorant about economics yet he insists on writing much about economics. Such as this.

18 comments on “Johann Hari\’s defence doesn\’t work

  1. My objection to Hari is simply that he’s simply ignorant. (can I claim fair use?)

  2. A footnote of possible interest.

    The Twitter tag devoted to gentle parodies of Hari’s er, interview technique has been rather abstract and amusing. Laurie Penny, however, takes a different view, telling her followers that the tag is “getting homophobic” and is home to a “baying, gleeful hate-mob.”

    “He’s a human being,” tweeted Laurie. “Treat him as one.”

    Several followers of said Twitter tag promptly asked Laurie to point out an example, any example, of this homophobic hate. Eighteen hours later and despite repeated requests, Laurie hasn’t obliged. (She has, though, found time to tweet about toast and eating cookies in Soho.)

    While waiting, I scanned a hundred or so entries and didn’t spot anything remotely homophobic. Nor did others who looked, then looked again just to be sure. (But, like many of her peers, Laurie can detect racism, sexism and homophobia in the vibrations of atomic nuclei.)

    So, a Twitter tag that mocks a leftwing journalist who was caught fabricating interview quotes attracts another, even more leftwing journalist who rushes to his defence by taking fake exception to comments that don’t appear to exist and which no-one seems to have made.

    A good day for journalism all round.

  3. According to Guido, Hari claimed to have an article defending himself in today’s Indy.

    No sign of it yet that I can see.

  4. Perhaps someone should interview Hari with his past quotes.

    I tend to agree that he’s fucked – but who without a vivid imagination thought he wasn’t fucked already? He’s taking the ” a couple of bad apples in my past barrel” high moral line. Someone will count the apples.

    One point that worries me – how many of the quotes from ‘little people’, eg victims of war zones etc, are also concocted.

    And, I suppose, how many saps are there going to be out there that still believe him?

  5. “how many of the quotes from ‘little people’, eg victims of war zones etc, are also concocted.”

    No, this isn’t Jayson Blair, or the dude from the Wire. Hari hasn’t concocted any quotes, or attributed anything to anyone that they didn’t actually say (assuming ‘say’ and ‘write’ can be taken synonymously in this context). Everything in his articles can be taken as true, apart from the singularly uninteresting (to people other than Hari and the actual interviewer who recorded the quote) issue of *which* hack the interviewee was talking to at the time.

    It may turn out that some of his ‘little people’ interviews have been cribbed from ‘little people’ blogs, or from other reporters’ interviews with ‘little people’, but seems v unlikely they’ve been made up.

  6. I think Hari should offer to resign but I find your main objection rather hypcrotical. You don’t cease from writing about bits of economics you don’t understand, such as trade deficits/capital surplues and the price of rhodium!

  7. john b – “Hari hasn’t concocted any quotes, or attributed anything to anyone that they didn’t actually say (assuming ‘say’ and ‘write’ can be taken synonymously in this context).”

    Yes he has. He has specifically concocted quotes and attributed to people things they did not say in that context. He has specifically claimed people said things to him they did not. That is concocting. Suppose that he lifted quotes from something you said when you were 18 and attributed them to you now. Assuming you are not 19 of course. You have moved on since then? Developed as a person? The words may be your words but they were said in another context, at another time. To assert you have said them recently is wrong.

    “Everything in his articles can be taken as true, apart from the singularly uninteresting (to people other than Hari and the actual interviewer who recorded the quote) issue of *which* hack the interviewee was talking to at the time.”

    On the contrary, it is entirely interesting. To anyone with an interest in the truth. If you wrote to your wife that you loved her and Hari lifted that and asserted you said it about him, would you not feel that was inaccurate?

    Nothing he said can be taken as the truth now.

    “It may turn out that some of his ‘little people’ interviews have been cribbed from ‘little people’ blogs, or from other reporters’ interviews with ‘little people’, but seems v unlikely they’ve been made up.”

    Why? Lifting is caused by laziness. Making stuff up is too. We can catch one because people can find the original sources. So it is much safer to make stuff up. How do you know he did not?

  8. “He’s a human being,” tweeted Laurie. “Treat him as one.”

    This is the woman who wrote an article about getting ready to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death (and later condemned the Americans celebrating Bin Laden’s death).

  9. @johnb

    I’m not sure. It’s going to take a good deal of auditing to check it.

    Aside from fabricating the context of these contructed quotes, Hari also has form for selecting partial accounts of events and portraying them as fact.

    I need to know that he handles quotes from passers-by and ‘little people’ he can be relied upon not to distort what they say, or selectively report to back up the line he wants to push.

  10. “No, this isn’t Jayson Blair, or the dude from the Wire. Hari hasn’t concocted any quotes, or attributed anything to anyone that they didn’t actually say (assuming ‘say’ and ‘write’ can be taken synonymously in this context).”

    This scandal isn’t about him doing that, but I think Private Eye proved beyond any reasonable doubt that Hari made up interviews with Iraqis in pre war Iraq.

    Other, better, writers have pointed out Hari making up things that they have said in order to “win” an argument: http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2007/07/johann-on-and-o.html

  11. Ross: “This is the woman who wrote an article about getting ready to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s death (and later condemned the Americans celebrating Bin Laden’s death).”

    I eagerly await other left-wing journalists getting attracted to the questions now being asked about Penny (like flies to flypaper) and claiming ‘sexism’ as usual…

  12. SMFS: he used published quotes to *explain concepts that the subjects discussed in the interview*. Nobody complained about their portrayal at his hands. Indeed, Hari is vastly less misleading than most journalists who haven’t broken any rules – it’s standard practice to stitch people up with out-of-context quotes, which he hasn’t done.

    The reason the techniques he used are considered unacceptable is because *in the hands of someone who was malicious and deceitful*, they could be used as you describe. But that absolutely wasn’t how Hari used them.

    Your ‘wife’ point is irrelevant. Obviously if Hari had lifted quotes in a way that shifted the meaning of “you”, that would be significant (or, say, if he’d interviewed Berlusconi and lifted quotes of flirting from an interview with a female reporter). But the quotes Hari used solely involve a person explaining their political or philosophical views, either in a book or to an interviewer, to express their ideas to a wider audience. Hari is using the quotes in exactly the same sense they were given; the only difference is the identity of the irrelevant-to-the-message-person writing them down.

    Ross: it may be the case that other, better writers have pointed this out; unfortunately your piece appears to link to Oliver Kamm and Nick Cohen instead.

  13. BTW, I should note – Hari did something wrong and should be fired, but not ostracised from journalism; I never much liked his work in the first place; however, there’s nothing I enjoy less than a lynching. And if he’s managed to rile hacks of the calibre of Kamm and Cohen, he can’t be all bad.

  14. The Daily Mash:
    “Hari defends himself during pretend Parkinson interview”

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/63shspm

    “if he’s managed to rile hacks of the calibre of Kamm and Cohen, he can’t be all bad.”

    Yes because making things up about people you don’t like isn’t really lying because it reveals a deeper truth or something.

  15. Pingback: Schadenfreude – The Johann Hari Edition « Peter's Place

  16. Ross: more that I’d be reluctant to trust a single thing Kamm or Cohen wrote, even if it was “the sun rises in the east and sets in the west”.

  17. john b: “The reason the techniques he used are considered unacceptable is because *in the hands of someone who was malicious and deceitful*, they could be used as you describe. But that absolutely wasn’t how Hari used them.”

    As Ross points out, you could have summed that up with the immortal US phrase ‘Fake, but accurate!’…

    Who remembers poor old whatsisface now?

  18. john b – “he used published quotes to *explain concepts that the subjects discussed in the interview*. Nobody complained about their portrayal at his hands.”

    I am sorry but the number of people who have complained about his portrayal is actually quite large. Although, again, when he does it to Chomsky I am conflicted. He cannot illustrate what was said in an interview with quotes from someone else’ s work – and it is still plagiarism if he does. For one thing how does he know? What you mean is that he illustrates what he thinks someone else said with quotes from another piece. That relies on Hari’s God-like knowledge of what was intended. Which he cannot have.

    “Indeed, Hari is vastly less misleading than most journalists who haven’t broken any rules – it’s standard practice to stitch people up with out-of-context quotes, which he hasn’t done.”

    By definition quoting another interview at another time is an out-of-context quote. Not to mention he makes stuff up. Nor is the alleged fact that everyone else is worse helpful.

    “The reason the techniques he used are considered unacceptable is because *in the hands of someone who was malicious and deceitful*, they could be used as you describe. But that absolutely wasn’t how Hari used them.”

    How do you know? It is unacceptable because it is theft of someone else’s work. If another journalist works for weeks to get an interview with someone, spends hours coaxing a good interview out of them and then Hari, sitting in his own living room, lifts it wholesale, he is stealing their hard work. It is immoral. It is also wrong to puff yourself by claiming to have seen or done things you have not.

    “Your ‘wife’ point is irrelevant. …. But the quotes Hari used solely involve a person explaining their political or philosophical views, either in a book or to an interviewer, to express their ideas to a wider audience. Hari is using the quotes in exactly the same sense they were given; the only difference is the identity of the irrelevant-to-the-message-person writing them down.”

    It is not irrelevant. Again you ignore the fact that someone’s views may have changed. A quote from their youth is not representative of where they are now. You cannot dredge up a quote from the past. The interviewer is never irrelevant. Getting an interview is often hard work – it may involve a lot of foreign travel, a lot of sitting around waiting for permission, a lot of negotiation – and then what you get out of an interview depends on the skills of the person doing the interview. Hari simply comes along and steals someone else’s work. That is wrong. Nor is he using any ideas in the sense they were given. He is using quotes, lifted, in the sense that he thinks they were intended and would illustrate his point. He cannot know what the interviewee really means.

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