Interview with Ben Rothenberg

Here is the English version of our interview with Ben Rothenberg about Neil Harman’s plagiarism in the Wimbledon yearbooks:

LetsTalkTennis: Ben Rothenberg, when did you first find out about Neil Harman’s plagiarism? 

Ben Rothenberg: I had heard a couple whispers, but really I didn’t know about how significant the plagiarism was until near the end of Wimbledon this year, when I looked through a 2013 book myself. I then ordered the 2012 and 2013 books on Amazon and found a more. I was already convinced something needed to be done, but I ordered 2011 just out of curiosity and when it arrived I was floored. The 30 examples in 2011, like I said in my second story, are much, much worse.

How long have you been working on this story?

Only since the end of Wimbledon, and even then I took many days off (I was exhausted after eight weeks in Europe, all at tournaments) and did a couple of other stories, too (on Zverev, Tomic) plus a lot of preparations for what lies ahead in August, which with US Open preview work is my busiest month of the year. I didn’t read every single phrase of the three books, but when I found an unusual phrase I would Google it to see if there was a match online. I would get a hit at least 60 percent of the time in the 2011 book. A lot of the original material was easily identifiable because Neil wrote a lot about himself and his own conversations, which he tends to do quite a bit in his own writing style, both in the Wimbledon books, the Times, and especially in his memoir Court Confidential.

Did other people or journalists help you?

I spoke to a lot of my colleagues (and some trusted friends in other industries) for guidance with how to approach this story, and I can’t thank them enough for the help they gave me. Deciding to do this was not a casual decision at all, nor was the way in which I eventually finished it.

Did you contact Neil Harman directly and confront him with your discoveries?

I did. Like I said in the first Slate story, I spoke to him the morning the story came out by phone. I had heard that Private Eye’s report would be coming out that morning in the UK, which sped up my process considerably. We spoke for about 30 minutes, both on and off the record. It was our phone call, and his learning how much evidence I had, which prompted his resignation from ITWA, which was the first thing to explode onto the internet that day. Neil and I have also texted some in the time since the story came out. It’s always been extremely cordial and professional, and honestly I haven’t gotten the sense that he bears any significant resentment toward me for this in our exchanges. He said he appreciated my fairness in the story in sharing his side as accurately as I could. We had always been very cordial before this, which I’m sure helped. It’s a small ecosystem, tennis, especially when you narrow it down to the category of English-language journalists who travel to many tournaments.

Did you expect anything like that from one of the world’s top tennis journalists?

In a word, no. Some have insinuated that this sort of behavior is widespread in tennis or in sports or in media in general, and I completely disagree. The scale of this was really hard for me to believe (and my orders of the 2004-2010 books are still yet to arrive, so who knows how much more there is).

The story is pretty big now. Harman has disappeared from Twitter, Facebook and he might lose his job. Do you sympathize with him?

I wish he hadn’t done what he did, that’s for sure. I’m not happy this happened. Ultimately, he dug his own grave here, and he’s now facing the consequences for that. I’m sure that he never expected this relatively small part of his prolific work to cause this many problems, but I can’t say that any of the consequences he has faced thus far have been unfair (for what it’s worth, he seems to have chosen personally to delete his Facebook and Twitter).

How were the reactions from the tennis world and other journalists?

I’ve never gotten so many DMs in my life. Among the colleagues who have reached out to me directly, it has all been very supportive and grateful, and I really appreciate that. No idea how the rest of them feel, but I’m content with how I did this story and I have no regrets.