Johann Hari is Sliming His Way Back into Public Life, but is He Sorry for What He Did?

Tom Morris / Flickr

Imagine my dismay when, late last night, having located a copy of the Mail on Sunday here in the Bahamas, where I am putting the finishing touches to my book about GamerGate, I turned to the comment pages to see the byline JOHANN HARI. Yes, the very same: disgraced plagiarist and online bully Johann Hari, who bullied and lied about journalist Cristina Odone and made up nonsense for the pages of national newspapers for nearly a decade.

The Guardian, too–perhaps more understandably–has given the formerly flabby fabulist a free pass to act contrite on its pages this week, in a profile written by a close friend, exquisitely carefully worded so as to avoid any serious admissions, contrition or attempt to do right by the people he hurt. Which includes his readers, lest these esteemed organs, so eager to welcome him back, have forgotten.

This is the same Hari who, inexplicably, has been awash with gushing praise from the Left-wing Establishment ever since his crimes were discovered–Stephen Fry, Naomi Klein, Elton John and Russell Brand all adore him and have plugged his new book–despite the fact that he has never properly apologised for his deception and bullying. Why? Well, I think I know the answer: because he’s not sorry at all.

The Spectator’s Nick Cohen, about whom Hari also lied under false names on the internet, says that all it would take is a phone call to make an apology. But Hari has failed even to do that, suggesting that his only real remorse is about getting caught. Reading the Guardian interview you can’t help but be struck by how removed from his behaviour Hari seems; as if he’s commenting on the behaviour of another person, rather than prostrating himself and asking for forgiveness. We have a name for that sort of detachment. It’s called sociopathy.

The first step to rehabilitation for any offender is a full account of the crimes committed and an apology to those harmed. Hari has done neither. He claims to have been utterly humiliated by the revelations about his journalistic malpractice, yet I doubt many readers outside the Fleet Street bubble are truly aware of what he got up to, which included wholesale fabrication of quotes and outrageous plagiarism.

And how could they be? Thousands of his articles remain uncorrected and unmarked on the website of the Independent, a newspaper which went to battle for Hari as soon as the revelations about him emerged, paying for a journalism course for him and helping him weather the storm. Other journalists at the Indy were reportedly incensed–and remain so.

Mystifyingly, Bloomsbury–a respectable publisher awash with cash after its success with Harry Potter–have decided to publish him again, and on a deeply serious subject: the war on drugs. Let’s hope the fact-checkers were paid overtime for this one.

What’s worse, the Guardian has allowed him to insinuate that mental health problems are at the root of his behaviour, the underlying message being that even if Hari did awful things and lied about people, it wasn’t really his fault. Well, Johann: I’ve got news for you. Plenty of us have psychological ups and downs. Some of us have taken medication in the past for them, too. But depression, loneliness, anxiety and even bipolar disorder don’t inexorably lead a person to lie, bully, steal and abuse female journalists on the internet. If that is their effect on you, it is time to find a new profession.

What Hari is trying to do, you see, is suggest–using the time-honoured slimeball’s method of preterition–that he’s the real victim in all this. But he’s not. Author Jeremy Duns has written persuasively about this case, showing that Hari’s supposed mea culpa is barely skin deep. “Johann Hari is still lying to you,” says Duns.

Here’s one last thing I’ve wondered about, too. Hari, the great social justice warrior of our era, apparently deserving of a full pardon from the press without the slightest attempt to give an account of his crimes, is of course implacably opposed to bigotry in all its forms in his published work. How, then, to explain “How My Brother Learned To Be A Whore,” the racist gay incest porn published by an email address identified as his, from his time as Wikipedia sockpuppet David Rose?

That last link is probably not safe for work, by the way. Now look: I don’t blame Hari for having a thing for black guys with large appendages. But all that racially-charged talk of teeth-sucking (I read these things so you don’t have to)… I mean, just imagine if a Right-wing columnist was identified as the author of such a line of prose.

Everyone deserves a chance at redemption as a human being. But not everyone deserves to be welcomed back into a profession whose sole purpose is the pursuit of truth, particularly when that person has shown no remorse for his lies and distortions and, readers are already noticing, is slipping back into bad habits barely a year after his supposed rehabilitation.

There is a single ray of sunshine in all this. In his Mail feature, Hari says he has replaced drugs with the treadmill for his kicks. In a photo accompanying the Guardian interview, taken by top photographer Richard Saker (I know he’s a fancy snapper because he once did me for the Observer), Hari does indeed look thinner. Perhaps, then, we will from now on be spared gruesome rumours about blocked and overflowing latrines at Hari’s flat.