Johann Hari is a talented writer. Few of those, like Brian Whelan, who have laboured to catalogue his failings, have called his writing talent into question. Certainly it’s highly valued at The Independent where Hari is a star columnist. Yet despite the unravelling of his plagiarism and the subsequent investigation by ex-editor of the Independent Andreas Whittham Smith, Hari was found wanting only in so much as a four-month stretch at journalism school could provide. His admission, that he wrote up interviews using not quotes elicited by his canny interviewing skills but those his interviewees had on occasion given in interviews to others or that they had themsevles written, seems to have warranted nothing more than a slap on the wrist.
Not only that, Hari posed as someone calling himself ‘David Rose’ in order to change Wikipedia entries of himself and of those whom he admired and whom he detested. The result was not only malicious but potentially libellous.
You can find the explanation Hari gives for his actions here and again here. The last being what many have described as a self-serving apology that fails to convince. What’s worse, while admitting to the sock puppetry, he has offered no personal apology to any of his victims, the journalist Christine Odone among them.
Hari’s defenders, and they are legion, seem to be willfully blind to the extent of his wrongdoings. They admit that it was foolish and ill-conceived but seem more inclined to attack and dismiss his accusers for being politically motivated. Yet one has only to enter #Harigate in the search function of Twitter to see the diverse and wide-ranging views about it. Those on the right may be less squeamish in their choice of words but any suggestion that Hari’s accusers are only right-wingers is patently untrue and to a degree a tad insulting to people, who like me, feel let down by someone they once admired. There is a widespread feeling of betrayal as well as one of staggering disbelief that Hari could have acted with such venom against fellow journalists.
Unless more evidence emerges of further wrongdoings (and some people are determined to unearth it) it seems likely that, after a spell of contrition and penance, Hari will re-emerge and re-establish himself as a writer of worth. A professional journalist no less. I don’t begrudge him his redemption but I fervently wish that he had shown more integrity when the game was up, to give a true and honest account of his actions. If he hasn’t learnt his lesson, then his towering talent will not be enough to silence his critics.