It will be racism, not plagiarism or libel, that finally topples Johann Hari

Johann Hari, the Independent’s disgraced star columnist, issued an apology yesterday for his rampant plagiarism, and for the appalling behaviour he has indulged in on Wikipedia under the pseudonym David Rose: “In a few instances,” he writes, “I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk.”

Such an admission makes the paper’s decision not to sack Hari an outrage and a scandal. His victims, who include Nick Cohen and Cristina Odone, will doubtless be consulting their lawyers tonight, if they haven’t already. (My sources tell me that at least one of those two is gearing up to bring an action against Hari for libel – a crime he has now admitted in print.)

One of the more amusing aspects of last night’s revelations were the celebrities who came out in support of Hari: Piers Morgan and Sally Bercow. (I can think of no greater condemnation.) More significant, however, are the number of early supporters who have now gone quiet, anxious that their own reputations should not be tainted by association.

The Independent’s spineless response to this crisis is the worst thing that could possibly have happened to Hari, because the remaining evidence of his antics – some of it really quite astonishing – will now begin to seep out, as I warned it would in the event the Independent’s enquiry proved to be a whitewash.

Hari needed to be cut loose for his career to have any hope of recovery, but, as it stands, both his and the Independent’s reputations lie in tatters. Being forced to pay libel damages, by no means an inevitability until yesterday, will seal the deal, scuppering his chances of ever writing for another newspaper or securing a book deal. He will become untouchable. Damaged goods. Toxic.

One thing Hari’s apology fails to mention – by no means the only thing, but an aspect of the grubby saga that has not received nearly the attention I think it merits – is the gay incest porn that was authored under the same pseudonym of David Rose, using an email address identified with Rose – an email address Rose admitted had been associated with pornographic material.

Because this pornography isn’t just incest porn. It’s also racist in content.

The story, titled “How my little brother learned to be a whore,” describes a black man who comes to be sexually involved with his younger brother. It contains multiple references to stereotypical black behaviours, with descriptions that no black person would ever write himself. To give but one example: “I sucked my teeth and muttered,” writes the protagonist (who is imaginatively named Leroy Jones).

I’m not going to forensically examine this disgusting piece of literature any further. Readers can judge for themselves, if they have the stomach for it. But it is worth noting that Hari has dodged the question of whether he authored this material, possibly because he realises that, audacious and shameless though his apology and the Independent’s actions are, even he could not withstand substantiated accusations of racism. Particularly if they are made in reference to a hideously warped work of gay incest fiction.

It is worth recalling that Hari, under his own byline, wrote an infamous article in the Guardian in 2002 practically endorsing incest (it appears that his pseudonym David Rose shares this enthusiasm), and that there is some evidence of the extraordinary – and rather creepy – lengths he has gone to in defending it.

And one need only look at the bizarre, obsessive, frantic editing of Hari’s rivals’ Wikipedia pages by David Rose to realise that clearly, Hari has mental health issues of some kind. The new editor of the Independent, Chris Blackhurst, even said as much on Newsnight last night.

But if we are to believe what we are being told and proffer sympathy, it is reasonable to expect Hari’s own accounts of his illness to be consistent and coherent. Yet they are not. Serious questions need to be asked about the professional judgment of Simon Kelner, Hari’s editor at the time of the offences.

Absent an explanation for why he was allowed to continue writing for so long when he was so obviously under more pressure than he could handle, observers will be forced to conclude that Hari is playing the depression card for all it is worth now, to escape censure and the full consequences of his actions. Actions like publishing racist fiction.

Hari has been asked directly by journalist Brian Whelan whether he was the author of the porn. He must give an answer soon, or be prepared to accept that, thanks to the Independent’s cowardice and his own deceitfulness, the worst is most certainly yet to come.

Milo Yiannopoulos is a columnist and broadcaster who was named one of the top 100 most influential figures in Britain’s digital economy by WIRED magazine

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