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June 28, 2011


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Well, it's naff to say the least. But that wiki article you link too says "....intangible property cannot be the subject of a claim for conversion", at least in England. Yet I can't help but agree with your basic thrust: if there's not a law against it there should be.

So if you just shuffle along the park bench jamie, perhaps we can both just sit here and wait for a passing lawyer to define the legal situation for us....


So, the academic standard on plagiarim: any presentation of quoted material without quotation marks and citation, even accidental presentation, is considered a serious breach. The Toby Young standard: you get a free pass on the odd bit of accidental passing off. The Hari standard: present the plagiarised material within quotation marks and cite yourself ('he leaned forward and said to me ...').


I am pretty sure that this falls sufficiently within the definition of plagiarism to get you chucked out of a university if you were unlucky. If I find a useful quote from the Aeneid in Professor Von Klump's book, it had better be cited in my bibliog as "Von Klump (1992)", not "Virgil".

belle le triste

For practical reasons -- speed, readability, the aggregate nature of many stories -- journalism will always need a different set of rules from the full-on academic standard; there's a "yesterday's papers" rule-of-thumb in place that allows paper B pass on paper A's story w/o attribution, which benefits us the reader because without it stories would only run once, in the paper that broke them, and be ignored by all rivals.

And there's plenty of stories which you can't pass on except more or less word-for-word: if you rewrite as "human masticated canine!" that still falls foul of the plagiarism-by-thesaurus rule...

Also, the academic standard too rigidly applied rules out the possibility of jokes, of assumptions of shared knowledge -- you get New Yorker fact-checker disease, where things everyone knows are carefully explained, including that thing where you want to use your pal's clever remark and not just pass it off as yours, so you say "A friend said of this," which makes you seem shifty, somehow. (Attribution: this was discussed at Unspeak a while back.)

But Hari was definitely being a massive silly here, if not worse: it's not true that the written version is the "most eloquent" (esp.true of European theorists, tho Negri perhaps not the worst offender), and sometimes people no longer believe what they earlier wrote! Plagiarism is a bit of red herring, really: it's about inaccurate description of the actual conversation, for one thing, and suggests a strangely tin ear for the fact of different registers of expression in different contexts, and how useful this can be for a profile-writer or critic. (Hit pieces are always in bad faith at some level: didn't Janet Malcolm write a big book about this? A journalist that isn't betraying the interviewee is betraying the reader: something like that. Hari is pretty much betraying both here, though.)


I suppose the concepts of plagiarism and copyright both share the notion that it's wrong to profit from someone else's labour without due acknowledgement and / or compensation, the labourer in question being the other researcher, the previous interviewer, or even the interviewee. (Here's a media lawyer writing in the Guardian on the copyright considerations.) I think Hari can probably be counted guilty of freeloading as well as just being a bad, misleading interviewer.

belle le triste

What's interesting, though, is that the definition of the labour you should acknowledge or compensate is defined narrowly enough to exclude actually quite a lot of relevant labour: "There is no copyright in news itself: you cannot claim you have the only right to tell your readers, viewers or listeners about the facts of an event. All you can copyright are the words that you use to convey the facts of the event." Far more intellectual labour went into "Negri on Negri" than just him and his interlocutor sitting in front of a tape-recorder for however long, and then someone typing it all up and taking out the mistakes. It's the product of a lifetime's intellectual labour on his part, and of much that isn't on his part -- from discussions with colleagues, arguments with foes, struggles and alliances with all kinds of people. Not to mention all the books he devoured when young which fill his language without his even noticing.

Practically speaking, we all play a game of cut-off and choose to treat writerly labour as not-that-collective. But it kind of is.

This is not at all a defence of Hari, who's been a fool about this; done himself a lot of harm, and earned much of it.

belle le triste

The quote in my post is from the Guardian media lawyer Charlie links to btw: I think it's a pretty good piece.

Chris Brooke

The Virtual Stoa was, I think, the first place to note that there was something fishy about the Negri interview, though I only noticed a fraction of the problem.


As per Mad Mel the other day, I'd like to take a pop at the editor, too. It seems that Kelner it standing by Hari: if he does, then he's giving a green light to any other passing-off that anybody gets up to.

I also think he'll be a fool to do so, because Hari is going to be very badly damaged by this. And rightly so. It's a shame, because I've liked a great deal of what Hari's written recently, but you can't do this stuff, and people aren't going to forget it.

belle le triste

haha so wait, JH is simultaneously block-quoting negri's prose because it's so much more usefully eloquent than the way negri speaks, and leaning hard on the writing and reading of some other guy (alan wolfe) to help JH opine how rubbish negri's prose is? cheeky CHEEKY bastard!


Chris: very well spotted, almost too well in fact. he hadn't the reputation to make him worth turning over back in 04.

Justin: True. The rhetorical question being Why should I read someone with so little respect for me?


I'd be interested to know whether he really believes the story he's telling, about this being all right really. My inclination is to think he does, which would reinforce my picture of him as being somebody talented, and engaged, but also over-promoted and for that reason not having learned a lot of things that you actually need to know.

An old Fleet Street hack, by contrast, would know you can't do this, would know exactly why you can't, and if they did it anyway, which they very well might, would either take their medicine or brazen it out. Either way, there wouldn't be any of this "what should I have done?" bleating.


I think it may be a case of "if I can tell a convincing story then maybe I can believe it myself". I was never told not to do this when I was studying media way back when. It was always assumed that a quote was something that someone told you. You didn't need to be told this. But that isn't journalism, it's just English. It does look as though he thought the rules in media/politicking at college - first of all, make yourself look good - applied outside.

belle le triste

You'd think Hari would worry that Negri himself might just spot it when he read his own cuttings -- and presumably he only didn't because he flew back to Italy grumbling about anti-intellectual reactionary teenage English tossers and washed his hands of the whole wasted visit. But Hari would hardly be gambling on that...

belle le triste

Or maybe Negri DID read it back and thought "Get me! SO ELOQUENT!"


It's interesting that Kelner says that there hasn't been one complaint about him. That seems to imply that either Hari isn't much read and his talent lies in convincing an editor that his work is what that consituency should have or that the work he bases his work on isn't read in readers rely on him for what they know about it.


Looks like he's up for a scrap


From my very brief dealings with Negri I got the strong impression that he's not at his best in English. (I'm not at my best in Italian, God knows.) I doubt that he will have read the interview closely.

Jamie - it takes a certain kind of dogged, curmudgeonly tenacity to pin these things down and trace them back to their sources. It's the way us bloggers work, but us bloggers don't write Letters to the Editor.

Matthew Flanagan

It's still plagiarism -- in lifting from Negri on Negri, Hari's simply passing off another writer/editor and translator's work as his own (that is, the edited transcription of the interview he conducted). And he did it to deliberately misrepresent Negri's position.

Amazing that he thought he could get away with it, even if it did take seven years for someone to notice that one...


even if it did take seven years for someone to notice that one...

I'm not sure it did.

Or I say that. Frustratingly, the link to the exposé no longer works. But weirdly, looking at the URL, isn't that Chris Brooke? So wouldn't it be the same piece that Chris links to himself, above - which doesn't really mention plagiarism?


Hari says that this is a widespread practice. If the same thing happened in Swedish or American media I'd expect articles investigating if this was true or not.

I haven't followed this obsessively, am I right in thinking the British media has left that stone unturned?


I honestly think he's bullshitting about it. It's an extension of his brand as "intellectual portraitist" into dishonesty. In the UK media, this kind of evolution is normally overtly hostile. When other hacks want to stitch up an interviewee they do it front and centre in order to discredit him or her and profit from that. Hari's trying to batten on the intellectual product of interviewees by claiming that he managed to elicit it. It's a new scam.

Chris Brooke

Hi, Justin: yes, Richard S was linking to my post, at its old home. Other people interpreted the post as me accusing Hari of plagiarism, but I deliberately didn't use that word then. My view, then, was that he had a tendency to cut corners and to embellish things, but in ways that were more entertaining than serious, and my post was written to encourage gentle mockery rather than to question professional ethics. Now it looks as if something more insidious was going on, and I think Jamie gets it exactly right in this post.


Although according to Simon Kelner on Twitter, we'e all going to be put right in the morning.

Other people interpreted the post as me accusing Hari of plagiarism

Can't work out why, to be honest: it doesn't seem to me to be even the implicit theme of the post. But I'm obviously missing something everybody else is getting. I'll put it down to being a hour ahead here.


'...this particular practice is not "intellectual portraiture,"' Jamie said to me, 'but something more like fraudulent conversion.'

I first misread that as "fraudulent conversation", and that seems to be exactly the word for it.


Cleaning up quotes is all very well, and we've all done it - people repeat themselves, they um and ah, they don't speak in complete sentences - but this is very different. Even if Negri had actually said in the interview "And, of course, I think X. I'm not going to go into exactly why right now, but you can look up the full argument in my book, that explains it all" it's still extremely dodgy for Hari to then take a chunk out of the book and quote it as though Negri had said it during the interview.

And you're running into very dangerous territory. What if Negri no longer believes exactly what he wrote in his book a few years ago? People's views evolve.

john b

That seems to imply that either Hari isn't much read and his talent lies in convincing an editor that his work is what that consituency should have or that the work he bases his work on isn't read in readers rely on him for what they know about it.

I'm fairly sure that b, here. The average Intelligent Reader hasn't read a 300-page treatise by a murderous Italian philosopher.

Given this, while I completely accept he's cheating better interviewers by lifting their material, and that this isn't acceptable, I don't get the argument that he's cheating the reader.

I'd value a piece *more* highly if it lifted back-catalogue material to make some points about a subject, than if it merely wrote up a boring conversation in all its glorious boringness.


The trouble is that I also do not trust the originality of the back-catalogue research; I think either Chris or Steven Poole (or both) have noted in the past that there are often startling coincidences between passages of literary theory that Johan Hari chooses to excerpt in his journalism, and passages quoted in other books. (btw, he does it in film reviews too)


Coincidentally (and yet not uncorrelatedly), what Hari seems to be espousing in his defence - "enhancing the essential truth", one might call it - is the sort of thing I had in mind when I made this comment and linked to that Hoggart piece.

What irks me is not so much that he did it (while I can't say I had particular suspicions, it didn't come as a surprise) but the defence he seems to be claiming.


John - which bits of Negri's work strike you as justifying calling him 'murderous'? Rather a serious accusation, shirley.

I don't get the argument that he's cheating the reader.

You're confusing form and content. The content may be great, but the form is a record of a face-to-face encounter. Readers are cheated because we're being lied to.

There are ways to do what he did - Paul Morley used to get 'interviews' printed in the NME which were obviously mostly fantasy, or in at least one case entirely fantasy. But the word is 'obviously'. Even a 25-year-old Paul Morley was enough of an old hack to realise that if you're doing this kind of thing you need to let the reader in on it.


The average Intelligent Reader hasn't read a 300-page treatise by a murderous Italian philosopher.

Phil would know far more about this than any of us, but my understanding was that he was probably fitted up by the Italian state. Unless you're talking about his prose style in which case: quite.


Paul Morley used to get 'interviews' printed in the NME which were obviously mostly fantasy, or in at least one case entirely fantasy

And not just Morley (search for "Weller").

Marc Mulholland

Hari has said in today's Indie that he never attempted to ascribe opinions to interviewees that they did not voice then and there, and he never invented quotes.
He also says that his replacing garbled expressions of opinion with clear quotations from elsewhere was a mistake, and an error of judgement.
Hari can admit to being wrong and is commendably up-front about doing so. I don't agree with everything he says, but he's a fine and principled journo. Hari is one of the good guys.

john b

"he does it in film reviews too"

The person I know who's spent the most time working as a professional film reviewer made it a point of pride to never watch the films he was reviewing. Not a high-authenticity industry.

Phil/Cian: I meant more the conviction for conspiring to kidnap and managing to kill Carlo Saronio, which I didn't think anyone was seriously questioning Negri's involvement? I suppose 'manslaughterous' would have been a better description.


Well, there's "we all know Hari's a creep - but did you know that he's a lying creep!" (bad guy does bad thing, thus proving he's a bad guy). I don't think anyone here's been saying that. Then there's "Hari's on the right side of most arguments most of the time, which is a bit more than you can say for Toby Frigging Young, and he's owned up, so give the guy a break" (good guy makes mistake, is forgiven). I don't think anyone here's been saying that either.

Nor should they, as far as I can see. It seems to me that the person who wrote those interviews screwed up really, really badly as a journalist and is not out of the woods yet. I've read his column in today's paper (it doesn't seem to be online for some reason); and it shows only a very limited awareness of what he did wrong, together with an extensive attempted defence which looks rather like kettle logic (it wasn't lying, and I didn't lie very often, and when I did lie nobody complained). This has nothing to do with what I already think about the guy; it would all be true regardless of whether the person writing the interviews was Peter Hitchens or Neal Ascherson. (It would just be a bit less surprising in one case than the other.)

So please don't come to his defence on the grounds that he's a Good Guy Generally - a, I know but b, I don't care because c, it's not what we're talking about.

john b

I'm also completely baffled by Stephen's comments on that film review. The Lacan bit is massively inept, but can't really have come about any other way than botched transcription.

All the other bits involve Hari presenting things that Zizek did say, in a way that doesn't particularly distort his views. Anyone who says "[the point is] to rehabilitate notions of discipline, collective order, subordination, sacrifice, all that" is a totalitarian. The fact that they follow it up with "I'm not a fascist but..." is just as meaningless as when that construction is used by racists and homophobes.


Actually the charge against Negri of involvement in the Saronio kidnap has been dropped. It should never have been brought in the first place IMO. The Saronio kidnap happened in 1975; it was carried out by Carlo Fioroni, a fantasist and headbanger who had been involved in Potere Operaio and subsequently in Feltrinelli's Gruppi d'Azione Partigiana. (Neither of these was around in 1975. The GAP disintegrated after Feltrinelli was killed by his own bomb in 1972, and PotOp split in 1973.) After Feltrinelli's death Fioroni went to Switzerland and lay low; he came back to Italy in 1974, living outside the law. To the extent that anyone was organising a clandestine Continuity Potere Operaio (the Italian state's big idea in the late 70s), it wasn't him.

The kidnap looks like a plain old sordid money-making hit. The ransom money went to Fioroni and Carlo Casirati, the professional criminal who helped him carry it out. (Casirati later claimed to have been a terrorist all along, but there's no evidence to support this.) Fioroni 'confessed' in 1979 that the kidnap had been organised to fund Potere Operaio and that Negri had been behind it; the state took this seriously at the time, but only because it was the kind of story they were looking for. I wouldn't say that nobody believes it now - lots of people believe lots of things, particularly in Italy - but the state certainly isn't hanging it on Negri any more.


Yabbut (hey, it's the John And Phil Both Have Deadlines Show!) Zizek's entire shtick is to say "I eat babies, me - I'm a real old baby-eater!" and then unpack it in a paragraph or two that ends up demonstrating that he's right and you're wrong. It's not an act I've got much time for, but reporting it by saying "this man eats babies! he actually does, he says so himself!" is a bit of a missed opportunity, to say the least.


I've read his column in today's paper (it doesn't seem to be online for some reason)

Phil, did you mean this?


Ah - didn't think of looking at his own site.


Found it via someone's link on that there Twitter thing.

I now see it was wrong, and I wouldn't do it again. Why? Because an interview is not just an essayistic representation of what a person thinks; it is a report on an encounter between the interviewer and the interviewee.

Hmm, is that Marc Riley I can hear bellowing NO SHIT SHERLOCK?


Did you not learn that at journalism school, Johann?

Richard J

It's what an Oxbridge education teaches you, though. Flattery, taking shortcuts wherever possible, and producing a good-looking product wherever possible, hang the content.


Hari can admit to being wrong and is commendably up-front about doing so.

the trouble is that he's wrong so very bloody often, in contexts where he really ought to have taken a bit more trouble not to be. I actually agree with Marc that he is basically a good person, and I think he's a talented writer. But because he's a nice guy and a talented writer, he's been repeatedly pushed into journalism gigs which he's not really ready for, and partly because of that and partly because he's believed his own publicity, he's put himself into very difficult ethical situations without having developed habits of thinking carefully about them.

Basically, he is capable of writing fiction or screenplays and really ought to have taken that as a career.

Chris Williams

What d2 said. I don't think that we can extend any benefit of clergy to him, either: if you are in fact on the side of the angels against the powerful, you don't have to be very clever to think something like: "If it works, my crusading journalism [or insert other activism here] is going to piss off a lot of powerful and nasty people who will be itching to get back at me. Therefore I need to be sure that I haven't got any weak points that they can use against me." Thus, literary malpractice is a bad idea. As is shagging half Glasgow and lying about it, but that's another story.


On the upside, it's got Splinty blogging again.

So, two questions:
1. Should Hari be sacked?
2.Should he give back his Orwell Prize?

Richard J

Should he give back his Orwell Prize?

ISTR there is, e.g., significant doubt about whether, in Sonia Orwell's words, 'after all, he shot that fucking elephant!'


On the upside



Richard J: see also the edited chronology of Down and Out in P & L. (Which I observe somewhat reluctantly, being fonder of GO and his creator than quite a few of the B&T commentariat seem to be.)

Orwell got through a whole "intellectual profile" on Gandhi without having to pretend it was an interview. Though maybe the indirect Henry Miller quotes in "Inside the Whale" were, erm, embellished with "clearer formulations of his sentiments"...

john b

Reporting it by saying "this man eats babies! he actually does, he says so himself!" is a bit of a missed opportunity, to say the least.


Therefore I need to be sure that I haven't got any weak points that they can use against me.

Also fair.

I agree with Dan on Hari, overall. I'm defending him largely because the people crowing about this most fervently are The Kind Of People One Rightly Hates (posterboy-ed by Toby Young, but incorporating a veritable squadron of Tories, neocons and Stalinists).

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