Next time you see a negative media report on Julian Assange or Wikileaks, have a think about who is writing it, and why. Behind every character-assassinating "newsy" hit-piece you will discover a writer or a publisher (usually both) with an agenda. And you don't have to look too far to find it.
I was reminded of this after I complained about a particularly nasty article on a Hollywood news site. The author couldn't seem to distinguish Wikileaks' legal activities from illegal hacking by groups like Anonymous and LulzSec. Worse yet, he insisted that Assange and all these hackers were terrorists on a par with Al Qaeda and deserved to be punished accordingly. A little investigation revealed that the writer was heavily involved in the Blu Ray DVD industry - to him, and to Hollywood in general, pirate hackers represent a serious threat to profitability. What's Wikileaks got to do with that? Well, who cares? Just get your hands off our Intellectual Property!
You might expect a more level-headed approach from former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans, a last-minute replacement on a recent Wikileaks public forum. Evans said he was against attempts to “persecute or prosecute” Assange, but nevertheless labelled him an “anarchically-minded autocrat”. He calmly argued that leaks of secret government information “won’t contribute to better government” but would “inhibit internal communication within government” and lead to worse government decision-making.
Evans then wrote an article expounding his views in more detail. He neatly categorised leaks into three categories. While conceding that some leaks genuinely serve the public interest (never mind how or by whom that is defined), he warned that "some leaks are indefensible".
"This category includes leaks that put intelligence sources or other individuals at physical risk ... It also includes leaks that genuinely prejudice intelligence methods and military operational effectiveness; expose exploratory positions in peace negotiations (invariably helping only spoilers); or disclose bottom lines in trade talks."
Now, never mind that even the US government admits Wikileaks revelations have never led to a single casualty. Let's consider Evans' definition of "military operational effectiveness". Did the Afghan War Logs, including the Collateral Damage video, prejudice "operational effectiveness"? Well, um, what exactly IS the operation in Afghanistan anyway? After 10 years and countless deaths, the general public still have no idea. But it obviously hasn't been very "effective", and that's hardly Wikileaks' fault.
Or what about "peace negotiations"? Was it a bad thing when the Palestine Papers revealed that the US-backed Palestinian Authority had offered just about every possible concession to Israel, only to be knocked back? Is it against the public interest to reveal that the Saudi king wanted the USA to bomb Iran? Or what about disclosing the "bottom lines in trade talks"? Which side decides what is in whose best interest?
To gain some insight, perhaps we should consider Gareth Evans' own history with regard to military operational effectiveness, peace negotiations, and trade talks. From his Wikipedia entry:
"In 1991, during a political storm over Indonesian military violence in East Timor, in his capacity as Australia's foreign minister, Evans defended the Indonesian military junta's actions by describing the Dili massacre as 'an aberration, not an act of state policy'. This was despite growing evidence (both within Australian intelligence and the international media) of increasingly violent Indonesian military efforts to protect and extend their business interests in East Timor — interests that included coffee plantations, marble mines and large oil contracts — by utilising starvation, napalm, torture and death camps. Oil contracts that Evans himself had co-signed with the Indonesian military junta that enabled Australian companies to share with the Suharto family in what would later be established as clearly East Timor's oil.
"This connection was highlighted during an extensively publicised video recorded in a private jet over the Timor Sea. Senator Evans, replete with champagne, offered an astonishingly naive toast, characterising the Timor Sea oil contract as "... uniquely unique". Later, in a coincidental occurrence, when carriers of a secretly-filmed video exposing the Dili massacre arrived in Australia, they were inexplicably strip-searched by customs officials."
Obviously, the man has a history of dramas with leaks. But despite such clearly incriminating evidence against his own character, Gareth Evans concludes that "it simply cannot be left to the judgement of WikiLeaks and media outlets to make the necessary calls without consulting relevant officials." M'kay?
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But Mr Evans, the first Australian senator to drop an F-bomb in the Senate, reserves his strongest criticism for a third category of leaks: scurrilous leaks of personal information which serve no public interest whatsoever. One can only wonder how the former Labor Party senator would categorize his own extra-marital affair with former Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot, which was leaked to the press in 2002. Kernot's 1997 defection to the Labor Party had by then led to the collapse of the Democrats, who were once the only serious challenger to the two main parties.
At least Evans was polite in his criticism of Wikileaks and Assange. Gushing over her colleagues' brilliance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, The Atlantic's Jennie Rothenberg Gritz (a senior editor) took a far more personal approach:
"The panelists at the festival's WikiLeaks discussion seemed to agree on one thing: Julian Assange is creepy. As Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain quipped, the only thing the pale, nihilistic Assange needs to be a James Bond villain is a hairless cat.
Lest there be any doubt, the second para confirms that "the WikiLeaks editor-in-chief is the villain in this story". So who are the heroes? One is The Atlantic's national correspondent James Fallows, who bizarrely insists that Wikileaks has made traditional media like the New York Times look better than ever. The other is fellow Atlantic writer Zittrain, who just as bizarrely claims that Bradley Manning's leak of several thousand classified diplomatic cables shows just how fantastically well the US government's network security functions.
"Talk about a glass 999,999 one-millionths full," he drools, "rather than one one-millionth empty."
So what is the "Aspen Ideas Festival" anyway? Politico.com calls it "DC's Summer Camp". Salon.com's Alex Pareene describes it as one of The Atlantic's "little parties for America's ruling elite" - a much better way to make money than "producing a magazine full of good journalism."
"The best thing the organizers could do to solve America's most pressing problems would probably be to encase the city of Aspen in an impenetrable dome on the last day of the festival, trapping all participants and attendees inside, forever."
Of course all this is nothing new. Politicians and the establishment media have been taking pot-shots at Assange and Wikileaks ever since they arrived on the scene. Glenn Greenwald wrote a brilliant expose in December 2010 and things have only gotten worse since then.
But right now, with Assange facing extradition to Sweden, and with a farcically extra-judicial "Grand Jury" seeking to haul his ass to the USA, we should expect even more ruthless mainstream media attacks. So please, before you drink the Kool-Aid, take a good look at who's selling it.
PS: Thanks to Christine Thie (@cthie on Twitter) for inspiring this article. My apologies for losing the link to the original Hollywood Inquirer article - maybe it's for the best! ;-)