The man who tried to co-write Julian Assange’s autobiography says the Australian can be sexist and anti-semitic as well as a courageous pursuer of the truth – so long as it doesn’t relate to himself.
Scottish writer Andrew O’Hagan has penned a lengthy essay about his three-year relationship with Assange, which started when he was asked to ghostwrite the WikiLeaks founder’s autobiography.
Like with journalist David Marr’s essay on former prime minister Kevin Rudd, some might accuse O’Hagan of pop psychology.
But no one will deny his London Review of Books (LRB) article is a riveting read.
O’Hagan argues Assange has a habit of self-regard and truth-manipulation.
“The man who put himself in charge of disclosing the world’s secrets simply couldn’t bear his own,” he writes of the failed collaboration which resulted in an unauthorised biography being published in late 2011.
“The story of his life mortified him and sent him scurrying for excuses.”
O’Hagan believes the computer hacker was worried personal material – about his stepfather’s drinking and the cult leader who followed his mum – would be used to suggest he was “weak”.
“He wanted to cover up everything about himself except his fame.”
The LRB essay – all 25,000 words of it – contains revelations from hours of recorded conversations between the pair who became friends.
O’Hagan notes that, late at night, Assange would utter “many casual libels, many sexist or anti-Semitic remarks”.
The Australian’s girlfriend Sarah Harrison – who in 2013 flew to Moscow to assist Edward Snowden – told him Assange once threatened to sack her as his assistant “because I had hugged another member of staff”.
“He openly chats girls up and has his hand on their arse,” she said, “and goes nuts if I even talk to another guy.”
O’Hagan writes that when Jemima Khan publicly turned on Assange he didn’t ask why a loyal supporter might become aggrieved but rather “made a horribly sexist remark”.
The revelations could damage the 42-year-old who is holed up in Ecuador’s London embassy avoiding extradition to Sweden on sexual assault allegations.
Other titbits appear less newsworthy.
O’Hagan says he often made lunch for Assange who would eat with his hands “and then lick the plate”.
“He eats like a pig … (and) in all that time he didn’t once take his dirty plate to the sink.”
In a damning character assessment he concludes: “(Assange) is thin-skinned, conspiratorial, untruthful, narcissistic and he thinks he owns the material he conduits.”
For good measure, O’Hagan adds the Australian may have Asperger’s.
But it’s not all negative.
The former friend says although Assange was unprofessional he was also courageous.
It was inspiring to see Assange’s crew of “sleepy amateurs” reveal military lies on a global scale and go after a lying politician or corrupt tin-pot government, O’Hagan acknowledges.
During the Egyptian uprising president Hosni Mubarak tried to close down the country’s mobile phone network that came through Canada.
“Julian and his gang hacked into Nortel and fought against Mubarak’s official hackers to reverse the process,” the writer observed.
“The revolution continued and Julian was satisfied, sitting back in our remote kitchen eating chocolates.”
O’Hagan believes in WikiLeaks but says Assange was too obsessed with fame to properly facilitate the editing and presenting of leaked documents in a way that was of permanent historical value.
As for the Australian’s current predicament, the Scot insists he made a massive tactical error in not going to Sweden to clear his name.