As a non-hack, I always thought journalism should be about uncovering the truth, or at least attempting to best describe the world as it is. Sadly I think I may be somewhat naive. The journalist, and former Harry’s Place blogger, Johann Hari has admitted that he takes quotes from old interviews and then presents them as new quotes in his interview pieces. Here is an example from Fleet Street Blues:
To be clear, this isn’t just a case of referencing something the interviewee has written previously – ‘As XXX has written before…’, or such like. No, Hari adds dramatic context to quotes which were never said – the following paragraph, for instance, is one of the quotes from the Levy interview which seems to have appeared elsewhere before.
After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”
Hari’s defence is patronising to his readership:
So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech. It’s a way of making sure the reader understands the point that (say) Gideon Levy wants to make as clearly as possible, while retaining the directness of the interview. Since my interviews are intellectual portraits that I hope explain how a person thinks, it seemed the most thorough way of doing it.
So in future when reading “X in an Interview with Johann Hari” insert “Johann Hari screws up an interview, then goes looking for quotes to make his ‘intellectual portrait'”. How is the reader is meant to judge id the interview is fair and accurate? Interviewing someone you don’t like? Leave in the crap. Interviewing someone you feel obligated to boost? Polish them up.
In my limited interaction with journalists I have come across editing to remove context of statements or editing to give a particular slant, but the addition of material? This is acceptable? How do we check the context of the material inserted?
Hari is missing a trick though, why not take this a step further? With a wealth of source material available, Hari could re-create a literary equivalent of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, interviewing historical figures such as Trotsky, Churchill, Hemmingway, and Orwell.
Alec Macph adds: lest I be accused of plagerism by some pasty faced old anarchist, certain others had Hari’s number two years ago, 118.
Neil D adds: As did Oliver Kamm.