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Things Are Different There

Johann Hari’s been busted in a very odd journalistic scandal (or perhaps “scandal.”) In printed interviews he’s conducted,  he routinely cuts-and-pastes comments the interviewee made elsewhere (either in their own writing, or in other interviews) and makes it seem like the subject said these things to him. Hari admits this and says it is common practice in Britain. Toby Young has a post explaining the whole thing. Young confirms that it is indeed a  common practice among lower order journalists (but not apparently esteemed figures like Hari). He writes:

Now, it would be dishonest not to point out that many British journalists are guilty of this practice. In America, if a journalist lifts a quote from elsewhere, the custom is to provide a source, i.e. “as Negri said in Negri on Negri …”, but in Britain there’s no hard and fast rule. What’s curious about this case is that, in general, the lower down the professional totem pole, the more likely a journalist is to indulge in these cut-and-paste shortcuts. For someone of Hari’s stature to be found guilty of it – a winner of the Orwell Prize, no less – is unusual. Hari is a holier-than-thou, butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-my-mouth, supercilious Lefty, not a tabloid hack.

Now, I have to admit I’m a bit confused by all of this. I’m shocked that this practice is accepted anywhere at any level of the profession. I’m baffled that none of the subjects came forward and said “I didn’t tell him that.” I’m intrigued that Young says in America this is only a “custom.” Is that true? I would have thought it was a hard rule because, you know, it’s simply dishonest. I always thought interviews were interviews and you recounted what someone said to you. If you wanted to quote something they said elsewhere, you said “So-and-so has also told the New York Times blah, blah, blah.” By this standard, I can go off for a half hour and come back with a lengthy “interview” with George W. Bush since A) I’ve met him and B) I can cut-and-paste stuff he’s said to other people.

Oh,  I’m also puzzled by Hari’s apparently lofty stature, but that’s a subject for another time.


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