Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Johann Hari: A Personal Apology

I'm in a rather melancholic mood this evening. I've received some sad personal news so I'm in a rather reflective frame of mind.

It is as such that I happened to fall upon this Personal Apology from Johann Hari in today's Independent.

As an Independent reader for many years, I've been a Johnann Hari fan for some time. I've not always agreed with everything that he has said but on balance, I have done so and I have throughout, been impressed with the way that he has tackled a number of significant issues head on.

I'd heard that he had found himself in trouble for his writing style under claims of plagiarism and that he had been suspended by the newspaper whilst it undertook an inquiry into his ethical workings.

His response today is a brutally frank and painfully honest apology.

It saddens me greatly that it has come to this. As he points out, his fall from grace is a particularly public and humiliating one because he himself has held others to account for their failings. He now has had to taste that same bitter medicine.

But there's more to this that adds to my sense of sadness. He comments on the issue of the perceived plagiarism. It's a tecnhical issue that he discusses but he accepts that what he did was wrong and that he was arrogant and stupid to not ask for the advice of his colleagues on the matter of how he assembled his stories from the sources that he had gathered.

But it's his second revelation and apology which particularly sadenned me on reading it this evening. It was an acknowledgement that he had gone into the Wikipedia accounts of opponents that he had clashed with over the years and altered the entries in a juvenile and malicious manner. I was unaware of these doings but clearly they must have come to light as a part of the investigation that has been on-going over the summer.

I feel greatly let-down by a journalist who stood for high ethical morals and yet who, in his own time, reduced himself to such purile behaviour.

But everyone deserves a second chance and Johann Hari is not excluded from that. I hope his public humiliation will result in his re-evaluating certain facets of his character and of his writing technique.

As his statement concludes:
"In my work, I’ve spent a lot of time dragging other people’s flaws into the light. I did it because I believe that every time you point out that somebody is going wrong, you give them a chance to get it right next time and so reduce the amount of wrongdoing in the world. That’s why, although it has been a really painful process and will surely continue to be for some time, I think in the end I’ll be grateful my flaws have also been dragged into the light in this way. I would like to apologise again to my readers, my colleagues and the people hurt by my actions. I know that some of you have lost faith in my work. I will do everything I can now to regain it. I hope, after a period of retraining, you will give me the chance".
The Independent's reply can be read here. Hari is to take four months' unpaid leave to undertake a programme of journalism training at his own expense. He will also return the Orwell Prize which was awarded to him in 2008.

Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent, said:
"We always pride ourselves on pursuing the highest ethical standards at The Independent. Regrettably, Johann fell below those in some aspects of his journalism. He has acknowledged his mistakes and made a full apology. There is no doubting his talent as a columnist and we are hoping to see him back in The Independent in the not too distant future”.
It's a human tragedy for this young man but his employers are clearly willing to give him, after a period of time, a second chance. I for one, will give him that chance as well.

1 comment:

  1. It is somewhat odd that someone who has broken all the basic standards of journalism should be given such support by the Independent, given the speedy dumping of Jody McIntyre for a much more minor matter.

    Questions about how factual Hari's work is will forever remain. Would you be willing to be interviewed by him on a contentious issue? Certainly many people woud be hesitant to speak to him for fear of misrepresentation.

    Of course he may well continue as an columnist writing opinion pieces but he is forever tarnished. Then again plenty of other successful journalists have a dirty past (and present!) on these precise matters, they just manage to get away with it.