Let’s say you once interviewed Martin Luther King Jr. for a story, but he wasn’t all that articulate about his hopes for racial reconciliation. So you decided to just quote his “I have a dream” line in the story and pretend he told it to you. That’s fine, right?
According to a well-known interviewer and columnist for the British newspaper the Independent, it is.
On Monday night, Johann Hari wrote a post on his personal blog entitled “Interview Etiquette,” in which he writes that he inserted quotes into articles that came from an interview subject’s writings and not from his own interview. In the articles, Hari didn’t bother to mention that the quotes came from somewhere else.
“When I’ve interviewed a writer, it’s quite common that they will express an idea or sentiment to me that they have expressed before in their writing — and, almost always, they’ve said it more clearly in writing than in speech. ... I’m bemused to find one blogger considers this ‘plagiarism,’” Hari wrote.
It’s not just one blogger. Blogger Brian Whelan compares a Hari profile of Israeli journalist Gideon Levy with very similar writings by Levy in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Bloggers at the ultra-leftist Web site Deterritorial Support Group also compared a profile Hari did on Italian Marxist Antonio Negri with a 2003 book on Negri.
To be fair, the Telegraph wrote, this is a gray area in the U.K.: “In America, if a journalist lifts a quote from elsewhere, the custom is to provide a source ... but in Britain there’s no hard and fast rule.”
Hari also defended himself by saying that no interviewee had ever claimed he misquoted them.
But by Tuesday, a whole lot of people weren’t buying that argument. On Twitter, users rallied around the hashtag #interviewbyhari, creating funny situations in which Hari interviewed a subject and took the famous lines they’d said as his own:
(Via the Guardian.)