So Independent columnist Johann Hari has been caught out passing off quotes from other interviews as his own – and so far he’s defended the practice, claiming it’s “common” and suggesting he’s doing the readers a favour by choosing the clearest possible version of his subject’s ideas.
A lot of journalists and media folk, myself included, have chipped in on this one, but at the end of the day our views are not all that important. It’s Hari’s readers who have been deceived, they who will judge him, and they who will ultimately be the arbiters of whether his deception is acceptable or not.
It’s about trust. Has he lost it? Will his readers still trust him to report accurately, or will they be worried now that if he can deceive them about what was said to whom at what time, he can also deceive them about other things? Or does the end justify the means? Is it OK as long as he writes well and keeps doing important work?
I pulled together and Storified a few responses I had on Twitter to these sorts of questions earlier today. At the time, they didn’t bode well for Hari – but it’s a very small and unscientific sample. I’d be interested in more. Edit: the comments on this slightly tongue-in-cheek Independent blog post seem to back up my Twitter sample so far, but the response to his column in the paper tomorrow will be most telling.
Hari himself says: “My test for journalism is always – would the readers mind you did this, or prefer it?” That’s my question too. Would his readers really prefer pastiches to accurate quotes? Or would they rather he linked to his sources?