Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Without proof, who knows who said what? An update on damning the Archbishop of Canterbury without evidence

Totally out of the blue¸ and for no particular reason, today I’ve decided to provide an update on my first ever blog post.

It looks like Wikipedia is currently bang up to date, and may well continue to rapidly get updated depending on how extensive the fallout is over the coming days. More background reading is available from Brian Whelan, Oliver Kamm and Tim Worstall... and, somewhat bizarrely, Johann Hari himself.

Oh, what the hell, let's give the excellent Daily Mash a mention as well.

Sooo, what does Johann have to say... on twitter...

johannhari101 Johann Hari 
When interviewing a writer for a 6000-word profile, accurately quoting their writing is not "plagiarism" or "cut & paste journalism"

... and on his own website...

"So occasionally, at the point in the interview where the subject has expressed an idea, I’ve quoted the idea as they expressed it in writing, rather than how they expressed it in speech... Since my interviews are intellectual portraits that I hope explain how a person thinks, it seemed the most thorough way of doing it"

"This is... why, after doing what must be over fifty interviews, none of my interviewees have ever said they had been misquoted, even when they feel I’ve been very harsh on them in other ways"

"I called round a few other interviewers for British newspapers and they said what I did was normal practice and they had done it themselves from time to time. My test for journalism is always – would the readers mind you did this, or prefer it?"

"I’m open to suggestions from anyone who thinks there’s a better way of doing this"

"When I’ve been wrong in the past – as I shamefully was over the Iraq War – I have admitted it publicly, tried to think through how I got it wrong, and corrected myself. So I’ve thought carefully about whether I have been wrong here. It’s clearly not plagiarism or churnalism – but was it an error in another way? Yes. 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"

... and how about one of his employers...

Simon_Kelner Simon Kelner 
@JohannHari101 has worked at @theIndynews for 10 years. In that time, we have not had a single complaint about his misrepresenting anyone

So that's that then... but, but, but I hear you all ask (hello? anyone? anyone care?), what about Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and my first ever blog post? Did I ever get anywhere with getting to the bottom of what was increasingly looking like a groundless slur?

Well, yes and no.

First up, the Independent. I find it quite incredible that on Tuesday 28 June, Simon Kelner (editor-in-chief of The Independent) can claim that in 10 years no-one has ever complained about Johann Hari misrepresenting anyone. Although I guess it's easier to make such a claim when you don't bother monitoring the email address that you promote on your website for feedback.

Here's the first email that I sent to on Thursday 31 March:

Subject: Smearing the Archbishop of Canterbury

Dear Sir / Madam

I'd be interested to hear your views on whether an article in your paper smearing a dead individual should either include a link to a reliable primary source as evidence to support its claims or at the very least should be able to produce said evidence when challenged:

Let's face it, anyone can miss an email. So I emailed again on Thursday 7 April:

Hi, newseditor

Any thoughts?

And again, on Saturday 16 April - I even cc'd this time:

Hi - any thoughts?

So what response did I get? Well, the total response to my three emails, to two different email addresses was... nothing, nadda, zip, zero. Not. A. Dickie-bird. It's one way of being able to claim that you've had no complaints, I guess.

Now on to the main event. At the end of my first blog entry, I included an email that I sent to Johann Hari on Saturday 19 March. 

Here's the subsequent correspondence (slightly edited to remove some, mainly personal, details).

Johann replying on Sunday 20 March:

Chris, as I said, my copy of the book is packed away because I just moved, but I got it from God Is Not Great. You can email Christopher to ask him the origin of the quote. These websites also attribute the quote to the book or to him, you may want to ask them:

Best wishes

Johann x

Me replying later on Sunday 20 March:

Thanks very much for your reply, Johann

I sent you one of those links, and didn't feel the need to send the other one, as it doesn't further things at all.

As I said, I bought the book as you told me that was your source. Two of us have read it, and can't find the quote. It's definitely not in the index or references.

As I also said, I'm sorry you felt the need to block me on Twitter. Your choice obviously, but I'm not sure what I actually did to warrant it...? I thought that would be the course of action when faced with abuse or obsession. Maybe the fact that you are good at replying to people is your weakness, as it then encourages people to contact you, which in turn can look like obsession. Or maybe I was abusive, but I'm not sure how...?

I still come back to my original question - did Archbishop Ramsey say that millions of people dying is just fine or not? If he did, when did he say it, where, in front of who, and why?

Apologies for sounding repetitive, but if I'm being unreasonable, do say. Is the above not the kind of question that journalists are expected to know the answer to? As I said, you chose to include the quote. No-one made you. Don't you want to be 100% sure that it's genuine and accurate?

Thanks again for your rapid reply, and apologies for being a nuisance. I don't know why, but I feel very strongly about this. Maybe it's the fact that a dead guy might need a friend... and trust me, if he did say it, he's no friend of mine.



Me emailing again on Thursday 7 April (maybe I am a closet stalker):

After almost three weeks, I'm getting the distinct vibe that a further response from you is not imminent.

I've emailed Christopher Hitchens today, which is something that I really hoped I wouldn't have to do. I had thought that using a quote within an article brought with it certain responsibilities to satisfy yourself of its veracity, but I guess not. I'll let you know if he replies.

I still think it's a real shame you felt the need to block me from following you on Twitter on account of me having the audacity to question a quote that you chose to include in your article.

If you do have further information, I'd be very happy to update the below - not that anyone cares anyway...


Me again (cue the Psycho music) on Sunday 8 May - I had big news to share:

Good afternoon Johann

Christopher Hitchens has got back to me and confirmed that it wasn't Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

I was wondering therefore whether you would be interested in publishing a correction, as it is now clear that the quote is not attributable to Ramsey.

I also wonder whether you would agree that all this effort could be saved if you would just include primary sources within your articles.

The below article is a classic example:

If you start with a fact, why not reference that fact? Don't expect your readers to go away and check for it themselves - be helpful and include a reference so that it can be readily and easily looked at. You then go on to include more facts and several quotes. Given my experience of having to spend plenty of time tracking down a quote on your behalf (and finding it to be incorrect), it would also be immensely helpful if you provided references for these as well.



Johann replying the same day:

Thanks Chris - I'll get the Indie to put a correction at the end... they have a policy of only linking to other Indie articles as sources.

Best wishes


Not knowing how long would be reasonable to allow for a correction to be published, I left it over a month, before eventually following up on Sunday 19 June:

Thanks very much for your email, Johann

I appreciate that it might take a while to correct the Indie article:

But hopefully you can correct the version on your own website quite quickly and easily:

I'm also delighted to see that you are now including references in your articles on your own website:

If the Indie continue to be difficult about including links to external websites, then I'd go for the George Monbiot approach:

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot's website



As at Wednesday 29 June (today), Johann hasn't replied, and neither version of his article includes a correction.

I'll continue to exercise patience, as I'm sure Johann has one or two things on his plate this week... I guess I'm just somewhat surprised he didn't manage to get around to publishing a correction before now, having eventually (!) accepted that Archbishop Michael Ramsey has been unfairly maligned.

Goodnight once more journalism, wherever you are


Wordle: Without proof update

1 comment:

  1. You'll find it page xv of Hitchen's the Portable Atheist.