Johann Hari’s Interview Fakery

Johann Hari, the radical Independent journalist whose distortions and falsehoods about Israel are numerous, has been caught faking interviews, inventing interaction with his subjects and inserting verbatim quotes that were never said in the exchanges. Quotes were lifted from articles written by the interviewee himself or from an interview conducted by a different writer. The disregard for journalistic ethics renews questions CAMERA has raised about specious, unsubstantiated and false assertions by Hari in stories about Israel, and about the indifference of Independent editors toward factual accuracy.

The new controversy was uncovered by the DSG blog on June 17, 2011 (“Hari Kari/Hackery”) regarding an interview with Italian Communist Antonio Negri that included word-for-word passages from an earlier published interview with Negri by another author. This revelation led to discovery of further evidence of Hari concoctions.

In “Is Johann Hari a copy-pasting churnalist?” (June 27, 2011) Brian Whelan, an editor at Yahoo! Ireland, looked at a long interview in The Independent by Hari with Ha’aretz’s Gideon Levy (“Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?”). Whelan writes:

I chose his interview with Gideon Levy, ‘Israel’s most hated man’, as it was presented as an intimate meeting of minds – so the quotes would all surely be unique. What follows are Hari’s quotes supposedly from the interview ‘in a hotel bar in Scotland’ followed by what appears to be the real source of the quotes.

(I know many hacks lift quotes and thats not a crime but Hari appears to be passing off copy-pasted text from Levy’s writings in Haaretz and interviews with other hacks as an exclusive interview.)

Hari, Independent 24/09/10 writes;

After saying this, he falls silent, and we stare at each other for a while. Then he says, in a quieter voice: “The facts are clear. Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent, and condescending Israel of today. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation programme for Israel.”

These words are line for line the same as an article by Levy from 18/03/10

The facts are clear: Israel has no real intention of quitting the territories or allowing the Palestinian people to exercise their rights. Israel does not truly intend to pursue peace, because life  here seems to be good even without it. The continuation of the occupation doesn’t just endanger Israel’s future, it also poses the greatest risk to world peace, serving as a pretext for Israel’s most dangerous enemies.

No change will come to pass in the complacent, belligerent and condescending Israel of today. That’s why this difficult, thankless task has fallen on the shoulders of an ally, as only it has the power to get things started. No agreement will come out of another endless series of futile diplomatic trips or peace plans to which no one intends to adhere. We have tried this enough in the past, and all for naught. This is the time to come up with a rehabilitation program for Israel. The entire world, and ultimately Israel too, will applaud Barack Obama if he succeeds.

Whelan traces quote after quote, taken from older articles by Levy and inserted in the Hari “interview” text, underscoring embellishment, if not total fabrication.

CAMERA had critiqued this same incendiary Hari-Levy interview, noting the particular outrage among some in Israel at its vicious falsehoods about the Jewish state and the rebuttal by Maariv’s Ben Dror Yemini in an article titled “Baron of the Falsehood Industry” (October 15, 2010). Yemini observed:

If you want to know how to demonize the State of Israel, read the interview Haaretz’s Gideon Levy gave to a British newspaper, The Independent. The Israeli journalist’s web of lies makes Pravda – in its worst days – seem like a serious and credible newspaper.

A Reeking Record

The interview fabrications are unsurprising given Hari’s blatant indifference to the most basic professional standards of accuracy and fairness in covering events. For instance, in a notorious Hari story (“Israel is suppressing a secret it must face,” April 28, 2008) a subtitle asked: “How did a J ewish state founded 60 years ago end up throwing filth at cowering Palestinians?” The lurid and bizarre account, charging that Israel channels sewage from Jewish settlements into Palestinian villages was researched and challenged extensively by CAMERA, with its key allegations exposed as false.

Hari had written that he’d like to wish Israel well on its 60th anniversary:

But I can’t do it. Whenever I try to mouth these words, a remembered smell fills my nostrils. It is the smell of shit. Across the occupied West Bank, raw untreated sewage is pumped every day out of the Jewish settlements, along large metal pipes, straight onto Palestinian land. From there, it can enter the groundwater and the reservoirs, and become a poison.

In a March 6, 2009 article reviewing evidence of malfeasance by Hari and The Independent’s refusal to correct the shoddy, error-filled account, CAMERA summarized evidence regarding the sewage dumping charge:

CAMERA was able to identify the specific location Hari wrote about. It is a Palestinian town, Salfit, located near the Israeli city of Ariel. A CAMERA representative met with Ariel officials. What he learned and observed firsthand is not consistent with Hari’s account. Ariel has sewage lines running southwest and west of the Western Industrial Area of Ariel. In both routes the sewage is regularly filtered and purified according to Israeli standards. CAMERA confirmed the existence of the filtering and purification facilities. The Palestinian town, Salfit, however, continues to dump untreated waste into the Shilo river — a fact confirmed by FoEME.  Contrary to the accusations in Hari’s story, the continuing source of untreated human waste in the water near Salfit is the Palestinian town itself.

The facts were of not the slightest interest at all when presented to The Independent. The paper’s Executive Editor, Louise Hayman justified her refusal to correct factual errors, saying, “there is no legal, regulatory or ethical requirement on The Independent that every article should be balanced, or even fair.”

Nor, obviously, was there any requirement to be factually accurate.

Will Johann Hari’s latest flamboyant breach of decent journalism make a difference to the newspaper’s editors and prompt accountability? Not likely. The paper has shown no interest in accuracy and balance — and is inclined toward anti-Israel figures and forces.

But those in the public who seek reliable information will have still more clearcut reason simply to disregard as fallacious, manipulated and distorted whatever appears in The Independent.


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