Johann Hari

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Johann Hari (born 1979) writes a regular column in The Independent. (In December 2002, he was appointed by The Independent editor, Simon Kelner, to replace David Aaronovitch). He also writes for Attitude, a gay magazine in the UK. [1] Hari is positioned as a left wing gay columnist. However, some his reporting and positions, such as initially in support of the War in Iraq, have been criticised.

Challenges to his credibility, and Hari's responses

Private Eye

In its 23 March-3 April 2003 edition, the satirical British magazine Private Eye questioned the credibility of some of Hari's reporting. Two weeks earlier Hari had criticised the magazine's editor Ian Hislop and Jeremy Paxman as being "sneerers who make their living out of deriding those who actually do something". (What exactly Hari was referring to is not clear). [2]

The Hackwatch column made three allegations about Hari’s journalistic practices: [3]

(1) In a July 2001 column in the New Statesman Hari mentioned that he had used ecstasy after finishing his final university exams. Other media outlets subsequently ran articles by Hari including one in which he wrote "I'll try to explain why so many of us use the drug weekly". Hackwatch column stated that "In fact, the young rascal had never taken Ecstasy: before writing his lyrical account he had to phone a friend and ask what it felt like".

(2) In an article on the death of Carlo Giuliani at the G8 summit in Genoa, Hari wrote that "when I saw the scene, I couldn't beleive so much blood had poured from just one body." Private Eye disputed that he was on the scene. "As several witnesses can attest, Hari wasn't there, having hailed a taxi to escape the scene some time before Giuliani was killed," the Hackwatch column stated.

(3) In a January 10 2003 column Hari backed the need for the invasion of Iraq. "Who, you may be asking incredulously, would want their country to be bombed? What would make people want to risk their children being blown to pieces? I thought this too until, last October, I spent a month as a journalist seeing the reality of life under Saddam Hussein," he wrote.

"... If Britain were governed by such a man, I would welcome friendly bombs - a concept I once thought absurd. I might be prepared to risk my own life to bring my country's living death to an end. Most of the Iraqi people I encountered clearly felt the same. The moment they established that I was British, people would hug me and offer coded support (they would be even more effusive towards the Americans I travelled with). They would explain how much they "admire Britain - British democracy, yes? You understand?", Hari continued.

In a February 15 2003 column, the day of the mass anti-war rally in London, Hari wrote "You don't even have to go to Iraq, as I did last year, and see the desperate look on people's faces as they tell you - in the barest of euphemisms - that they 'love British and American democracy', and ask you, 'When will you come to free us? When will we be able to live again?'".

Private Eye noted that an article by Hari in the Guardian the preceding December omitted the plea he wrote of in his February column: "Since these pleas from Iraqis yearning for the bombers to arrive must surely have struck him as newsworthy, why didn't he mention them in his original Guardian feature?".

Private Eye also claimed that Hari was in Iraq for two weeks rather than a month he had written in the Guardian. [4]

Private Eye claimed: "Actually, Hari spent two weeks in Iraq as a holidaymaker, on a package tour visiting ancient archaeological sites. He wrote about the trip in the Guardian on 3 December last year. In that article, however, he complained that it was “very difficult to get Iraqis to express their feelings… I blundered about asking fairly direct political questions, which caused people to recoil in horror…"

In a September 14 2003 column, Richard Ingrams, a former editor of Private Eye, cited the Hackwatch article and described Hari as "not best known for accuracy". In response. Hari wrote a brief letter to the editor in which he protested that "even the slightest factual analysis of Private Eye 's retaliatory accusations causes them to immediately crumble into dust." However, his letter did not address the specific accusations made in the original Private Eye article. [5]

Hari and the 'Kenneth Joseph' story

In 2003, Hari favored the US invasion of Iraq and went so far as to wag his finger at the "left" for not backing the "Iraqi opposition" or not respecting "opinion polls" finding that the majority of the Iraqis welcomed the US war against Iraq. In particular, the article stated:

"Those who still deny all this evidence will know soon enough, once the war is over, what the Iraqi people thought all along. When it emerges – as I strongly believe, based on my experience of the Iraqi exile community and the International Crisis Group's survey of opinion within Iraq – that they wanted this war, will the anti-war movement recant? Will they apologise for appropriating the voice of the Iraqi people and using it for their own ends?
—Johann Hari, "Sometimes, the only way to spread peace is at the barrel of a gun", The Independent, March 26, 2003.

Shortly afterwards, Hari took at face value a story originating from UPI on Kenneth Joseph, who was purportedly an American anti-war "pastor of the Assyrian Church of the East" who went to Iraq as a 'human shield' but recanted.

Writing in Counterpunch in April 2003, Carol Lipton exposed the flaws in the neatly packaged Kenneth Joseph story. [6] The original source of a story was UPI and the Washington Times, both of which are owned by the Unification Church. The fact that the original UPI story was written by Arnaud de Borchgrave should also have raised some questions. [7] In particular, she writes:

He wrote that "Joseph was explaining that his trip had shocked him back to reality". Yet Hari never states to whom Joseph did the "explaining", or where. He recounts Joseph's story as if it were his own, clamining that Iraqis were "willing to see their own homes demolished" in order to end Hussein's tyranny, and proceeds to issue a trenchant indictment of the antiwar movement, accusing its members of being "the real imperialists", for ignoring the "true wishes" of the Iraqi people.
Hari had already written an essay on March 26 for the Independent, a progressive British newspaper, entitled "Sometimes, the only way to spread peace is at the barrel of a gun", where he describes Joseph as an "ardent antiwar activist," whose beliefs were "as fervent as any menber of the Stop the War Coalition".[Lipton, op. cit.]

Private Eye reported that after questions began to be asked in the international media about the Joseph story, Hari said in response to a critic who called him 'a fraud' that he would investigate while protesting "it's cheap and dishonest to try to skip my arguments because you think, on the basis of obviously ridiculous reports [in the Eye], that I'm 'a fraud'." [8]

In response to emails querying him about this story, Hari wrote (May 6, 2003):

If it's a malicious hoax, I'll add a rider to the original article on the Indie website explaining exactly that.
I'm still not able to get in touch with him to ask him about it.
However, have you seen the Indian newspaper poll - by an anti-war paper - of Iraqis which found that 51% of them backed the US invasion, and only 36% opposed? This adds credence to his story. Or have you read the ICG Report?

The above email was followed by this email exchange.

On September 25, 2003, after being informed of the querying of Joseph's veracity, Hari appended a correction to his original column on his own website. "It transpires that Kenneth Joseph was probably a bullshitter, and that his claims were false. I should have checked his story out more rigorously before I used it. The full details of the Joseph affair can be found at the excellent Counterpunch website," he wrote. [9] However, there has been no comment on this issue in the Independent, nor has the rider appeared in the version of the article on the Independent website and archive. (verified February 9, 2005).

Hari on Hitchens

Comments by Johann Hari about Christopher Hitchens:

  • 8 September 2002: "And Amis does not shy away, either, from showing that the evils of Stalin stem directly from Lenin. The dictator - still lauded by Christopher Hitchens, a fact that depresses me beyond measure because I greatly admire the Hitch - 'bequeathed to his successors a fully functioning police state'." [10]
  • 23rd September 2004: "As I luxuriate in the warm bath of his charisma, I want to almost physically drag him all the way back to us. He might be dead to the likes of Tariq Ali but there is still a large constituency of people on the left who understand how abhorrent Islamic fundamentalism is. Why leave us behind? ... Back in the mid-1980s, Hitch lambasted a small US magazine called the Partsian [sic] Review for its "decline into neoconservatism". I don't think Hitch is lost to the left quite yet. He will never stop campaigning for the serial murderer Henry Kissinger to be brought to justice, and his hatred of Islamic fundamentalism is based on good left-wing principles. But it does feel at the end of our three-hour lunch like I have been watching him slump into neoconservatism. Come home, Hitch - we need you." [11]
  • 28 September 2004: "On every single one of these issues – with the (very partial) exception of ending tyranny – the current US administration is on the wrong side. For most of his career, the Hitch would have acknowledged that – and I guess I wanted to hear him acknowledge it still. It's because Hitch is so great that I wish he was still engaged with these fights." [12]
  • 8 November 2004: "Am I saying we must destroy Fallujah in order to save Fallujah? Is that the liberal-hawk position now? Have we sunk so far, so fast? Tony Blair, Christopher Hitchens and most other liberal hawks have a firm answer to this anxiety... I can feel the force of this argument - and then I try to tell it to Abdul [a person who contacted Hari with relatives in Fallujah]." [13]
  • 21 January 2005: "After 11 September, some of the political thinkers I most respect started unexpectedly reading from this script about US foreign policy. Christopher Hitchens is a good example. For decades, he had exposed the monstrous anti-democratic policies of the US, from the Nixon-Kissinger years to Reagan's dirty wars in South America. But after the attacks on the Twin Towers, Hitchens argued that the vicious American foreign policy he opposed had died with Bin Laden's victims." [14]

Support for the war in Iraq, and subsequent retraction

A year after the war in Iarq was launched, The Independent reviewed the views of initially pro-war commentators. [15] In relation to Hari they wrote

  • What he said then: "Those who still deny all this evidence will know soon enough, once the war is over, what the Iraqi people thought all along. When it emerges… that they wanted this war, will the anti-war movement recant? 26 March 2003
  • What he said recently: "The only time British newspaper readers hear about Iraq or Afghanistan is when there is a suicide-bomb… Most experts believe that Iraqi elections will happen this year, and the grotesque, racist idea that Iraqis cannot be democrats because they are primitive tribal people has already been proved wrong." 20 February 2004
  • What he says now: "Before the war I rejected all the WMD arguments. I said that they were rubbish. They were. But I also said that the best evidence we had was that the majority of Iraqis could see no other way to overthrow Saddam and therefore wanted war to proceed. All the opinion polls have shown a clear majority of Iraqis wanted the invasion to proceed." April 9, 2004.

Retreat on Iraq

In a debate with Robert Fisk in October 2004, the Independent 's Hari said of his support for the invasion of Iraq: "So what was I supposed to do, as a progressive person who believes the job of the left is to side with oppressed people? How could I march with people like George Galloway and say, 'Give peace a chance', when I knew most Iraqis preferred this war to the alternative, never-ending war waged on them by Saddam? Wouldn't that have been a lie? Wouldn't that have been a betrayal of an oppressed people?... But I would add a very important caveat to what I just said. If you go into a war saying you want to side with the Iraqi people then you damn well have to carry on supporting the Iraqi people afterwards." [16]

The web-based pressure group Media Lens analysis argued: "At the heart of Hari's argument is the assertion that he is above all concerned for the welfare and wishes of the Iraqi people - he wants to relieve their oppression and suffering, and so supported an invasion to topple Saddam's murderous tyranny... Notice that Hari's concern is fundamentally moral - his problem was not with Saddam Hussein as such; it was with Saddam Hussein as a cause of suffering to the Iraqi people. And as Hari himself suggests, "If you go into a war saying you want to side with the Iraqi people, then you damn well have to carry on" working to relieve their suffering afterwards. [17]... We conducted a Lexis-Nexis search of all the articles you have written this year mentioning the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi'. This was by no means a scientific study, but it surely did provide strong clues to the focus and tone of your reporting. We found the following numbers of mentions for these words in your commentary on Iraq:

Cancer - 0 mentions Child/infant mortality - 0 Civilian/s - 1 (sanctions effect in 'weakening', 25.8) Depleted Uranium - 0 Disease - 0 Education - 0 Electricity - 0 Hospitals - 0 Iraqi civilian/s - 1 (killed by insurgents, 21.1) Landmines - 0 Malnutrition - 0 Poverty - 0 Schools - 0 Unexploded bombs/ordnance - 0 Unicef - 0 Water - 0

In April 2004, with Falluja facing massive destruction, Media Lens issued a Media Alert discussing how journalists were covering the episode [1]. They reported: "The Independent's Johann Hari had nothing to say himself on the atrocity, choosing instead to quote a young Iraqi living in London who described US actions as "wildly provocative and wrong". [18] Suddenly, all those accumulated doubts hit me. Was I wrong about the war in Iraq?]", The Independent, April 14, 2004
Hari again quotes polls, this time suggesting "56 per cent of Iraqis say their lives are better than before the war". Still, no one has thought to ask Iraqis if their lives are better now than before the West began demolishing their country with sanctions in 1990 and war in 1991. Referring to the 1980s, a December 1999 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross noted: "Iraq boasted one of the most modern infrastructures and highest standards of living in the Middle East", with a "modern, complex health care system" and "sophisticated water-treatment and pumping facilities." (ICRC, 'Iraq: A Decade of Sanctions', December 1999) According to an Economist Intelligence Unit Country Report, prior to the imposition of sanctions the Iraqi welfare state was "among the most comprehensive and generous in the Arab world". ('Iraq: Country Report 1995-96')
Unbeknownst to pollsters, it seems, this was all changed by the 88,500 tons of bombs of Desert Storm, and more than a decade of vicious sanctions."

Hari responded by saying the Independent has covered almost all of these issues on its front page and "I'm not allowed to simply repeat the front pages in my column. If they had not been on the front page, I would have dedcicated every column to them", and said his fierce criticism of the role of the IMF and World Bank role in Iraq was in effect a criticism of the crimes listed by Medialens since many of them stemmed from their "forced privatisations". He has also supported a withdrawal of US and UK troops since late 2004, on ethg rounds that the opinion polls then began to indicate a mjaority of Iraqis preferring this option. [19]

In March 2006, Hari wrote that his initial response to the invasion of Iraq had been a "terrible mistake", writing, "The lamest defence I could offer – one used by many supporters of the war as they slam into reverse gear – is that I still support the principle of invasion, it's just the Bush administration screwed it up. But as one anti-war friend snapped at me when I mooted this argument, "Yeah, who would ever have thought that supporting George Bush in the illegal invasion of an Arab country would go wrong?" She's right: the truth is that there was no pure Platonic ideal of The Perfect Invasion to support, no abstract idea we lent our names to. There was only Bush, with his cluster bombs, depleted uranium, IMF-ed up economic model, bogus rationale and unmistakable stench of petrol, offering his war, his way... The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster." [20]

Reporting from Congo, Gaza, the West Bank and Venezuela

Hari has reported from the warzones in Congo, which is the most deadly war since World War II, exposing the key role of Western corporations. [21] Hari has also reported from occupied Gaza and the West Bank. Hari has also reported from the poorest slums in Venezuela and Peru. He has defended the radical left government of Hugo Chavez, and interviewed the President. [22]

All in the name of journalism

In an article entitled "Sleeping with the Enemy", the subtitle reads "Most gay men either confront homophobic neo-Nazis and Islamists, or avoid them. But not Johann Hari – he seduced them instead". He described this as a "victory for gay rights." [23]

Personal website


  1. Who Is This Guy?",, accessed July 2007.
  2. Smells Like Teen Spirit", The Independent, March 7, 2003.
  3. 'Hackwatch', "Hari’s Game", Private Eye, 23 March - 3 April 2003, Number 1076; p. 5.
  4. Johann Hari, "The mother of all package tours", Guardian (UK), December 3, 2002.
  5. Johann Hari, "Eye rebuttal", The Observer, September 28, 2003. (The unedited version of this article is here on Hari's website.
  6. Carol Lipton, "Wag the Kennel?: The Kenneth Joseph Story", Counterpunch, April 12, 2003.
  7. Arnaud de Borchgrave, "Lucky Break for Jordan", UPI, March 21, 2003.
  8. "Secret of Shame", Private Eye, 3-16 October 2003, Number 1090, p. 4.
  9. Johann Hari, "Sometimes the only way to spread peace is at the barrel of a gun", September 25, 2003
  10. Johann Hari, "'Koba the Dread' by Martin Amis", The Independent, September 8, 2002.
  11. Johann Hari, "In enemy territory? An interview with Christopher Hitchens: Islamofascism and the Left", The Independent, September 23, 2004.
  12. Johann Hari, "Late thoughts on the Hitchens interview: Where I differ from the Hitch", Harry's Place, September 28, 2004.
  13. Johann Hari, "Abdul's grandparents are trapped in Fallujah. What do I say to him?: Uncertainty", The Independent, November 8, 2004.
  14. Johann Hari, "Bush's talk of spreading freedom is a sugar-coated lie: I wanted it to be true so badly. But we have to face reality In the article, he argues this perspective was clearly wrong", The Independent, January 21, 2005.
  15. "The pro-war commentators: what do they say now?", The Independent, April 9, 2004.
  16. "Johann vs Fisk...A debate transcript", The Independent, October 26, 2004.
  17. Johann Hari And The Aftermath Of Invasion", "Rapid Response Media Alert: Siding With Iraq - Part 1", MediaLens, October 29, 2004.
  18. "Was I wrong about Iraq?: Doubts and dreams", The Independent, April 4, 2004.
  19. Johann Hari, "Response to Medialens: On Harold Pinter",, December 19, 2005.
  20. Johann Hari, "After three years, after 150,000 dead, why I was wrong about Iraq: A melancholic mea culpa", The Independent, March 18, 2006.
  21. "A journey into the most savage war in the world: My travels in the Democratic Vacuum of Congo", The Independent, May 6, 2006.
  22. Johann Hari, Venezuela: revolutionaries and a country on the edge", The Independent, August 25, 2005.
  23. Johann Hari, "Sleeping with the enemy", Guardian, December 13, 2002.

External resources

Biogrpahical Notes

  • Johann Hari, "About me", undated, accessed January 2005.

Articles By Hari

Interviews With Hari

General Articles