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ink-stained wretches

A Very Special Collaboration Between Tina Brown and Johann Hari

Is Hari the angel or the devil on Brown's shoulder?

You might not think these two British journalists have much in common: Brown is one of the world's most unabashed royal idolators, and Hari is one of Britain's leading anti-monarchy voices. But what they share is imagination — often a blessing, but this week, a curse for both. Hari is accused of plagiarism, thanks to his practice of lifting quotes from other reporters' interviews with the same subjects and working them into his own writing as if they were said to him. He even went so far as to add physical details, as if the source had been in the room with him when saying the pilfered line. Hari's defense: It's for the good of the readers, and other (unnamed) interviewers do it too.

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? Would they rather I quoted an unclear sentence expressing a thought, or a clear sentence expressing the same thought by the same person very recently?

His Independent editor, at least, was willing to buy that, even if the "braying Twitter masses" were not.

Meanwhile, Brown's big Newsweek foray into fan fiction, "Diana at 50," was roundly mocked on blogs and Twitter. She went on Morning Joe to mount her own defense, explaining that those unnamed "others" have been weighing in yet again on this journalistic controversy.

Some people think it’s kind of spooky and ‘Should we have done it?’ and others think it’s very effective. I think it’s a very intriguing package to show what she’d be like today. … I wanted to make her a time traveler.

Just this afternoon, we got our hands on an unlikely collaboration between the pair, leaked to us by others in the media (we can't say who). It's from next week's Newsweek, a look at their careers five years hence as imagined by Tina, with additional reporting by Johann.

The king and queen democratically elected leaders of all media would slip out for a quiet moment of celebration, amidst all the public congratulations and clinking toasts on this night when both were being honored for excellence in journalism. They'd clasp hands and raise their fists above their heads, each smiling out contentedly from a remarkably well-preserved, glowing face.

She would be clad, we think, in something classic yet stunning, perhaps a black-and-white Chanel. He would, we suspect, have shed his glasses in favor of Lasik surgery, one of the first small indulgences he allowed himself after that first, smash comeback best-seller. It would, we imagine, have led to a three-year run atop the best-seller lists on both sides of the pond, and a revolution in publishing. Teenagers who had spent so many years reading about wizards and vampires would have been primed to read his trilogy about a time-traveling social democrat who went back in time to December 1945 to stop European countries from signing the agreement to form the IMF. It would, we imagine, have led to his plum weekly column in her renascent magazine, rebranded as TinaBeast in 2013, right around the time that circulation started to top Cosmopolitan's.

And then the pair would be swarmed again by well-wishers. First, Jay-Z, himself a media mogul by then. "If you're feeling like a pimp," he would start, scrambling for the proper way to share the joy he felt on their behalf, and how much he admired them. "Go on ..." and then an idea would come to him, we suspect. "Brush your shoulder off." Next, President Obama. "Yes," he would say, looking between the two of them like a proud father, alluding to all the adversity they'd overcome. "We can." And finally, a time-traveling Lou Gehrig would walk up, with an aw-shucks look on his face, searching for a way to express how honored he was to meet them. "Today," he'd say, shaking their hands in turn, "I consider myself the luckiest man on earth." Gehrig would, we imagine, be wearing Tom Ford with a white Gap shirt and perhaps an American flag pin at his lapel.

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Photo: Getty Images