WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by a.powers-fudyma
Anyone following WikiLeaks and the releases of US State Embassy Cables it has been coordinating with newspapers around the world has no doubt been confronted with details on the organization's founder Julian Assange. True or not, many allegations that seem to be nothing more than gross attempts at character assassination have managed to pile on Assange.
Assange has now been accused of suggesting British journalists, including an editor of The Guardian newspaper, engaged in a "Jewish" conspiracy to smear his organization. The allegation is coming from a Private Eye magazine article written by Ian Hislop that suggests he thought The Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger was "sort of Jewish" and that he was particularly concerned with how "Jews" were covering WikiLeaks.
The WikiLeaks founder has the ability to speak for himself. He doesn't need people or anyone outside WikiLeaks to take the time to write op-eds specifically dispelling rumors and allegations that continue to stack up. The author does not intend to make this a regular thing and actually has not written much about Julian Assange, the person, at all. But, as the smears continue to swell, they distract from the mission and objectives of the non-profit media organization. Watch Google News and track mentions of WikiLeaks: You will see the effective impact is that news shifts from coverage of recent revelations in released cables to a considerable amount of coverage of rumors and allegations on Assange instantaneously.
It is worth demonstrating how off-putting the continued barrage of tabloid journalism from respectable news outlets is by noting the various allegations that have been levied. But, first of all, to be clear, this post does not aim to say that government officials should not be allowed to criticize an individual it perceives to be a threat. It does not aim to say that "defectors" from the organization like Daniel Domschott-Berg should not be allowed to publish their own "tell-all" books on what has happened.
Back on August 20, the Swedish Prosecutors' Office issued an arrest warrant that carried two separate allegations, one of rape and the other of molestation. His accusers were two women he had sex with while in Stockholm for a speaking engagement. A day later, the warrant was withdrawn. And days later he was questioned by police in Stockholm and denied the allegations. Nonetheless, as his organization began to commence what has become known as "Cablegate," the Swedish authorities renewed its efforts to charge Assange with rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion and a request to detain the founder was approved on November 18. An Interpol "red notice" was issued on November 30 just as the first U.S. Embassy cables were being released.
The allegations, which are just that at this point, have been reported with little nuance in many cases. As Fast Company pointed out, for example, an AP article up on Huffington Post went up with the headline: "Julian Assange Rape Investigation Reopened: Sweden Probing WikiLeaks Founder." The article included the chief prosecutor's comments noting "no reason to suspect" Assange had raped a Swedish woman but used a headline suggesting just that. Fast Company outlined they could do this because it referred to the "investigation," not what Assange did, an "old libel loophole."
Feminists used this nuanced campaign to launch #MooreandMe to attack Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, Naomi Wolf and any other supporters suggesting this case seemed to be political or that women should not be using this case to advance a women's rights agenda because there are better cases of injustice out there to be used to raise awareness of how rape is often engrained in culture.
Assange and his organization have been accused of being connected to the CIA, Mossad or George Soros, etc. The Telegraph in England, which was given a batch of cables a little over a month ago, had a blogger post allegations from "an unnamed Iranian analyst during an undisclosed interview on Al Jazeera," who said "Wikileaks had to be a front for these organizations given the nature of the diplomatic cables which discredit "the region's leaders and Iran in particular.'" A post on HumanityinChaos.com recently outlined how all of this has snowballed into a belief that Assange is some kind of agent of imperialism.
Allegations of working for Mossad were said to have come from Daniel Domscheit-Berg, who was interviewed by SyriaTruth. Domscheit-Berg denied the allegations saying, "I have been notified about the general rumour a few weeks ago, and shortly after about the appearance of me as involved in those allegations. I have never spoken to anyone at syriatruth or that reporter that is making these claims, nor do I know anything about any deals JA has allegedly made with Israelis."
Domscheit-Berg has made his own allegations, which the media have made the center of news reports on Assange. He claims Assange is incapable of listening to other people's views, he has celebrated philandering and boasted about "fathering children in various parts of the world," preferably with women "younger than 22." He has made Assange seem like someone into animal abuse by spreading a story about Assange suffering from a "psychosis" that led him to spread his "fingers like a fork" and grab his cat by it's throat.
What most reports on Domscheit-Berg gloss over is the charge by WikiLeaks that, as Reuters reported, "WikiLeaks's ability to receive new leaks has been crippled after" Domscheit-Berg "unplugged a component which guaranteed anonymity to would-be leakers." Or, that he took a "backlog" of leaks that his new organization OpenLeaks could publish.
Executive editor for the New York Times Bill Keller, whose newspaper was denied access to cables because for both batches of Iraq and Afghanistan war logs they showed the government the material they had before publishing, has written Assange is "eccentric," "manipulative," "arrogant," "volatile," "thin-skinned," "conspiratorial and oddly credulous." He says Assange was a "source," not a "partner" in previous releases and contends he would hesitate to call what WikiLeaks does journalism.
Vice President Joe Biden has claimed Assange is a "high-tech terrorist." He alleged that Assange has risked lives or jobs of people around the world, especially Afghans working with the US as informants. This allegation, however, is dubious when considering a statement from Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell made on December 1, 2010:
...After the release of an enormous haul of US defence department documents in August...We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents...
A Pentagon official, in the story, is cited saying, "Even three months later the US military still had no evidence that people had died or been harmed because of information gleaned from Wikileaks documents." Despite that, the frame for discussion ever since individuals like Sen. Mitch McConnell began to refer to Assange as an "information terrorist" has been whether Assange is a journalist or a terrorist. Media have been largely incapable of any nuance. Either Assange is being discussed as terrorist or he is being discussed as being a journalist, as if this is a reasonable either/or hypothesis to pose.
The discrediting of Assange as a journalist is important for a press whose traditions are threatened by the fact that WikiLeaks has had such a profound impact on journalism. That it is the first "stateless news organization," as NYU professor and press critic Jay Rosen has said, and is the first organization that can truly make a promise with whistleblowers not to reveal who sent the organization information so they can be protected from going to jail is a threat to a news media that considers itself to be savvy and capable of steering public opinion. The material WikiLeaks releases strikes blows at the media's coziness with government and exposes how deferential they are to the US government.
Keep in mind the value of WikiLeaks, as a conduit for information, takes advantage of the inability of news media to cover stories and conduct real investigative journalism. The more CNN and other organizations put resources into word clouds, giant graphic charts, holograms to prop up Election Night coverage and gimmicks like "Reporter Roulette," "Random Moment of the Day" and their "Stream Team," which The Daily Show recently covered, the more valuable WikiLeaks becomes.
The more US cable news networks and newspapers rely on user-generated material from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to pad its coverage of the US and the world instead of investing in getting people to US states or foreign countries to cover news, the more indispensable WikiLeaks is for the world's citizens. The less resources it puts into efforts to get Freedom of Information Act requests approved so people can know the truth about government officials worldwide, the less time it makes prodding government officials for answers, the more accepting the world becomes of WikiLeaks.
Kevin Zeese, with the Bradley Manning Support Network and WikiLeaksisDemocracy.org, recently wrote a widely read op-ed on the Internet that detailed how WikiLeaks is at the forefront of journalism. He quoted Jeff Jarvis of the City University of New York, who has said:
"We in journalism must recognize that WikiLeaks is an element of a new ecosystem of news. It is a new form of the press. So we must defend its rights as media. If we do not, we could find our own rights curtailed. Asking whether WikiLeaks should be stopped is exactly like asking whether this newspaper should be stopped when it reveals what government does not want the public to know. We have been there before; let us never return."
Journalists in US media, however, do not see themselves as watchdogs anymore. They view themselves as people who jump on the latest fads and trends in news and politics. They seem to think they are needed to unpack ideas and teach Americans how to think about issues and conflicts that are unfolding. They do not see it as their duty to challenge government with truth and they certainly do not view themselves as entities tasked with a duty to expose egregious abuses of law and power by government.
All of the attempts at character assassination have led many to suggest Assange needs to relinquish his position as a leader of WikiLeaks. But, Assange may be doing WikiLeaks a favor: so long as he is the one being smeared others in WikiLeaks are not and that gives WikiLeaks breathing room to continue to operate. But, more importantly, the organization will always need a spokesperson and, regardless of who it is, it seems reasonable that the nature of this organization will always invite people to try to attach labels to its leaders.
Is Julian Assange a sleazy anti-Semitic control freak who cannot take criticism and hates America and would like to do lasting damage to the US without regard for humanity, a philanderer who deserves the ire of the Humane Society for how he has treated animals and needs to take more showers and take care of his hygiene because he sometimes smells like a "bag lady"? A debate on an answer to that loaded question is as ridiculous and asinine as any discussion about UFO messages being transmitted by Julian Assange and yet the world can count on news organizations to continue to reprint attacks even as they use cables to inform their news reports on events unfolding in the Middle East and North Africa and rehash such gossip.
The media has exploited WikiLeaks and Assange, using them to produce material worthy of investigative news awards while at the same time engaging in near slander. The only way to insert sanity into discussion of WikiLeaks and reduce the impact of tabloid gossip bandied about my news media is to overlook it, have wide-ranging conversations about how WikiLeaks is changing media and society and really dig into the information it has released.
Listen to episode four of a podcast I host called "This Week in WikiLeaks." Kevin Zeese, who is mentioned in this article, was the episode's guest.