Johann Hari was suspended from the Independent yesterday, following claims that he plagiarised other writers’ work in his interviews. The decision was taken by the paper’s new editor, Chris Blackhurst, who said that the Orwell Prize-winning journalist had been suspended for two months.
Hari is alleged to have copied and pasted quotes from other publications in his interviews, but claimed that his work was neither plagiarism nor ‘churnalism’. But examples of Hari’s writing were picked up by the editor of Yahoo! Ireland, Brian Whelan, who pointed to Hari’s interviews with the writer Gideon Levy, and the academic, Noam Chomsky. Whelan claimed that some of Haris’s articles were a ‘line for line’ copy of previously published work. Another blogger and novelist, Jeremy Duns, alleges that Hari plagiarised 772 words from a Daily Mail interview with fellow journalist Ann Leslie, which dated from 1997, in a 2004 interview.
Defending himself against the accusations, Hari had apologised to his readers, saying that quotes lifted from other places were often a better form of words for what a person had said. ‘An interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks,’ he argued. ‘It is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee. If a person doesn’t speak very good English … it may be better to quote their slightly broken or garbled English than to quote their more precise written work, and let that speak for itself. It depends on whether you prefer the intellectual accuracy of describing their ideas in their most considered words, or the reportorial accuracy of describing their ideas in the words they used on that particular afternoon.’
Further controversy started to develop on Tuesday as the New Statesman’s legal blogger, David Allen Green, published a post on his personal blog, Jack of Kent, linking a number of changes to Wikipedia profiles – including Hari’s own – to an IP address at the Independent’s offices. The changes had been made by someone claiming to be a sub-editor at the paper, David Rose, and allegedly added Hari’s points of view on a number of people to their profiles, while protecting Hari’s own from any negative content. The New Statesman’s former deputy editor, Cristina Odone, blogged for the Daily Telegraph about the latest allegations, claiming that her own Wikipedia profile had been amended to include erroneous information about her professional career.
The news of Hari’s suspension comes at a difficult time for journalists and newspapers, which are under intense scrutiny following the revelations of phone-hacking at the News of the World, part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International group. The News of the World was closed permanently by News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks – also a former editor of the newspaper – after it emerged that the paper had hired a rogue private investigator, Glenn Muclaire, to hack into the voicemails of fallen British soldiers and their families, and the mobile phone of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler.
In his blog for the Telegraph, the journalist and author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, Toby Young, said that he hoped the scope of the forthcoming public inquiry into journalistic practices ‘will include Hari’s professional misconduct’. Hari had worked for the Independent since 2002, and recently started writing for the UK edition of the Huffington Post. He has been both a vocal supporter, and a critic of, the Iraq war and has reported from Israel, Gaza and the Congo. As a columnist, he has written in support of gay rights, including same-sex marriage, asylum seekers and the European Union.
It is understood that Hari is being investigated by the Independent’s founding editor, Andreas Whittam-Smith.
This article has been updated since it was originally published.