HonestReporting and Independent columnist Johann Hari have something of a history:
- In 2008, Hari compared Israel to excrement: ““Whenever I try to mouth these words [of reassurance for Israel], a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit.”
- In the same opinion piece, he used a falsified quotation to assert that Israel was guilty of “ethnic cleansing” in 1948 despite the fact that he had previously been warned that it was false.
- Following our critique of his work, Hari failed to respond to the charges, instead attacking HonestReporting as part of “a campaign to smear anybody who tries to describe the plight of the Palestinian people. It is an attempt to intimidate and silence – and to a large degree, it works….”
Indeed, Hari has come under HR’s spotlight on numerous occasions for one-sided opinion pieces attacking Israel. At the time of his excrement op-ed, we stated that Hari’s use of an invented quotation is enough to bring the rest of the content and his own judgment into disrepute.
So perhaps the news that Hari has been suspended from the Independent pending an inquiry into allegations of plagiarism shouldn’t come as a surprise. As The Guardian reports:
Hari was accused of plagiarism last month by journalists and bloggers who condemned his practice of sometimes using quotes which he presented as being made to him in interviews, when in fact they were taken from older articles or the interviewees’ own books.
He seemed to have survived the initial plagiarism allegations, but is now facing separate claims of “sock puppetry” – that he used an online alias to hit back at fellow journalists who had criticised his work.
The Daily Telegraph notes:
He [Hari] denied plagiarism but since then users of the internet have found further examples of him allegedly recycling quotes.
In one case, an interview of veteran journalist Ann Leslie, critics said 545 words of his nearly 5,000-word piece came from an article she wrote in the Daily Mail. …
Chris Blackhurst, the new editor of the Independent, said: “Johann Hari has been suspended for two months pending the outcome of an internal inquiry. We have no further comment to make.” …
Writing on his blog after the allegations first surfaced, Hari said the accusation was “totally false” but added he did “have something to apologise for”.
He said: “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.”
Why is it, however, that prior questions that we asked surrounding Hari’s credibility were not investigated? Is plagiarising false quotations from anti-Israel websites considered to be acceptable journalism? Or does the Independent not consider journalistic integrity to be an issue when it comes to reporting on Israel?
In October 2006, notoriously anti-Israel journalist Robert Fisk and Independent writer was given the front page of the Independent to spread the libel that Israel had used uranium-based weapons in southern Lebanon during that summer’s war.
HonestReporting challenged this at the time following a UN investigation clearing Israel of the allegations only a short time later. We castigated the Independent for its shoddy journalism but to this day, neither the paper nor Fisk have issued a retraction.
Perhaps this has something to do with the attitude of the Independent’s former editor Simon Kelner who has only recently been replaced and moved upstairs. At the time that the Hari allegations first surfaced, Kelner said that:
while what Hari did was “wrong” it was born from an honest ambition.
“In the great scheme of things it’s not a great scandal, it’s a naive error which we recognise”.
He added that the Independent was investigating at the time “who knew and what they knew”, adding that “of course we’re going to look at some of the pieces he’s done in the past and review them”.
It is certainly time to review some of Hari’s past work including examples such as the one above that raise question marks over his credibility and journalistic ethics.
Why is it that an issue of journalistic integrity is not considered to be a legitimate issue when it involves coverage of Israel? In Hari’s mind and perhaps in the minds of the Independent’s editorial team, using false quotations or, in the case of Fisk, spreading false libels, is apparently acceptable.
Only when such practices go beyond the Israel stories do they seemingly become the subject of concern or outrage. As we have consistently maintained, coverage of Israel and the Middle East should be subject to the same general standards of journalism that are supposed to operate.
Johann Hari’s suspension is a welcome development for holding the media to proper journalistic standards. Does this and a new editor signal a sea change in the Independent’s attitude and will coverage of Israel in the paper be a beneficiary?
The jury is very much still out.