Post-Harigate

[Edit 16/09/11: Hari has this week made a public apology to his readers (presumably the trusting ones), almost going on to admit that the fabrication of quotes (not) spoken to him in interview was wrong, but in the end not. There’s probably been a number of attempts to analyse Hari’s statement, I’ve seen a few, most of them poor, but this one from Jonathan Cook is essential.]

This is a response to this discussion over at the Media Lens Message Board.

I plugged an inconspicuous line from Hari’s article (Jun 2011) (relating to his principle case study) into Google, ‘IMF found out the Malawian’, and the first result is a link to a topic on a chat forum. The first post (dated Jan 2011) on the page is a complete copy and paste of this article (dated Oct 2009).

Now I could be biased here, because I’ve never been a fan of Hari’s work, but I seem to be finding similarities between this article by Kat Hobbs and Hari’s. There’s no direct (and unreferenced) quotation, but the paragraph distribution and formulation bear a striking resemblance. I don’t think this constitutes plagiarism, but it does show that Hari, at least, appears to have drawn heavily on this one source in creating his narrative. To be fair to Hari he seems to be simply repeating a timeline, but the structuring of the paragraphs, especially the one beginning “The next year, the crops failed.” suggest he takes a fairly, well, formulaic approach to writing his columns. In Hari’s defense (not that he necessarily needs it) the selected paragraphs from his piece contain other research, commentary and quotations.

For example:

Hari: “They said they would only give assistance if Malawi agreed to the ‘structural adjustments’ the IMF demanded. They ordered Malawi to sell off almost everything the state owned to private companies and speculators, and to slash spending on the population.

Hobbs: “To find the roots of the crisis, you have to rewind- back to the beginning of Malawi’s ‘development’ programme, when the World Bank and IMF began their roadmap to create prosperity. The grand plans rested on one key move, the darling of neo-liberal economists; the euphemistic ‘Structural Adjustment’ programmes. […] The IMF and World Bank ‘advised’ the government to privatise everything it could lay hands on, keeping faith in the saving grace of the markets.”

And:

Hari: “So when in 2001 the IMF found out the Malawian government had built up large stockpiles of grain in case there was a crop failure, they ordered them to sell it off to private companies at once. They told Malawi to get their priorities straight by using the proceeds to pay off a loan from a large bank the IMF had told them to take out in the first place, at a 56 per cent annual rate of interest. The Malawian president protested and said this was dangerous. But he had little choice. The grain was sold. The banks were paid.”

Hobbs: “There was also, they pointed out, the small matter of a $300 million loan the IMF had advised the government to take out from a South African bank that needed to be paid back. By the end of 1999, NFRA had 167,00 metric tons of grain stored. The Banks demanded its sale, waving the loan papers; the government obeyed. The grain reserve was sold to neighbouring states such as Kenya, or released onto the domestic market, causing the price to begin to fluctuate dangerously.”

And:

Hari: “The next year, the crops failed. The Malawian government had almost nothing to hand out. The starving population was reduced to eating the bark off the trees, and any rats they could capture. The BBC described it as Malawi’s “worst ever famine.” There had been a much worse crop failure in 1991-2, but there was no famine because then the government had grain stocks to distribute. So at least a thousand innocent people starved to death.”

At the height of the starvation, the IMF suspended $47m in aid, because the government had ‘slowed’ in implementing the marketeering ‘reforms’ that had led to the disaster.”

Hobbs: “And then disaster struck: the rains failed. The government, having been told to sell off the grain reserve, had nothing to offer; international donors, including the World Bank and the IMF, expressed shock and horror at the unfolding crisis. Where, they asked, was the grain reserve? They turned on the government that they had funded and advised, accusing it of corruption and irresponsibility. Aid would be withheld until the grain could be accounted for. Between October 2001 and March 2002 the price of maize shot up by 400%. At the same time, in spring 2002 and even when the resulting famine led to the death of approximately one thousand people, the IMF suspended $47 million in assistance on the grounds of ‘inadequate implementation of its reform programs’…”

And:

Hari: “Then, in the starved wreckage, Malawi did something poor countries are not supposed to do. They told the IMF to get out. Suddenly free to answer to their own people rather than foreign bankers, Malawi disregarded all the IMF’s ‘advice’, and brought back subsidies for the fertiliser, along with a range of other services to ordinary people. Within two years, the country was transformed from being a beggar to being so abundant they were supplying food aid to Uganda and Zimbabwe.”

Hobbs: “And then Malawi dared to do something which has been virtually unheard of in sub-Saharan Africa, dependant as that region is on the goodwill of powerful development companies. In 2005 the government decided to defy the World Bank and the free market advice that had brought them to the brink of ruin. They re-introduced fertilizer subsidies and starter packs, and began supporting the farmers that comprise 70% of the population. In the words of Celia Dugger in the New York Times, “Over the past 20 years, the World Bank and some rich nations Malawi depends on for aid have pressed this small, landlocked country to adhere to free market policies and cut back or eliminate fertilizer subsidies, even as the United States and Europe extensively subsidized their own farmers. But after the 2005 harvest, the worst in a decade, Bingu wa Mutharika, Malawi’s newly elected president, decided to follow what the West practiced, not what it preached.”[11]”

“Malawi still has a long way to go before it will be food secure; the unstable climate of the region, combined with a lack of diversity in farming practice, leave it vulnerable to sudden shocks. However, in the two years following the re-introduction of the subsidy, Malawi went from a beggar nation reliant on foreign aid to a net producer: by 2007 it was selling more food to the World Food Programme than any other southern African country, and exporting thousands of tons of grain to neighbours such as Zimbabwe.[12] Refusing to bow before the power of the free market, Malawi has begun a long, slow road to independance.”

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2 thoughts on “Post-Harigate

  1. I hold no brief for Johann Hari, who’s made his own bed to lie in, as it were. But two points seem relevant to note:

    i) the habitual practice in corporate newsrooms of lifting chunks of text verbatim from the newswires (most often unsourced, for which privilege they subscribe);

    ii) the recurrence of quotes in Media Lens alerts that derive from other people’s research (e.g. the footnotes in books attributed to Noam Chomsky).

    As the latter might say, draw your own conclusions…

  2. This instance is hardly sanctionable, the paragraphs in question are only provided to support the argument (assuming he’s followed them through to the primary sources), of which most seems entirely original. I guess it’s just embarrassing for the profession that this is the guy they’ve been lauding for several years now. He’s a poster child for churnalism who’s probably more a victim of his politics than his sourcing antics.

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