Julian Assange: Trial by media

Julian Assange

Image by acidpolly via Flickr

Tomorrow morning Julian Assange will start his final legal battle over extradition to Sweden in the UK Supreme Court. The liberal media that were once in bed with him however passed judgement a long time ago during his 400+ days under house arrest without charge.

In fact, it seems certain liberal journalists have now declared some kind of media fatwā on both Assange and anyone who dares stand-up for him.  Even I, hardly a high profile target, was recently called an “Assange apologist” by renowned American investigative journalist Heather Brooke who slurs his supporters as “Assangistas”. Meanwhile her former colleague at The Guardian David Leigh has called Assange “some sort of dirty, flaky hacker from Melbourne”.

Other liberal journalists have joined in on the Assange gang-bang. The Guardian’s Nick Cohen has dismissed him as nothing more than “an attention seeker”. In The New York Times,  John Burns described him as “On the Run” and “Trailed by Notoriety”. And in Sweden, Aftonbladet’s Dan Joseffson called him “a lonely and broken neo-liberal who wants to tear down democracy.”

How things have changed. Little more than a year ago, all of the above journalists and their newspapers welcomed Assange with open arms to publish the War Logs and Cablegate. In the case of Aftonbladet, they were even about to sign-him to write a regular column. Now they think he stinks – some of them quite literally. Is this really a particularly strong delayed reaction to Assange’s alleged hygiene or it something to do with the fact that the most powerful government in the world and its corporate backers would like to re-write the law books and charge Assange – and some of those that allegedly collaborated him with him – with espionage?

The way the liberal mainstream have abandoned Assange says a lot about how it operates when power really hits back – it becomes very reactionary. This is because the same corporate interests that own the liberal media, either directly through ownership or through advertising, are under attack from organizations such as WikiLeaks. In liberal societies, a certain amount of dissent has to be tolerated to give the impression of a critical and democratic mainstream media that holds power to account. But there are permissible limits to this dissent as the case of Assange and WikiLeaks has shown.

Some of the journalists and publications involved are also understandably worried. If the US can re-write the rulebook and somehow extradite Assange on “espionage” charges for merely giving whistleblowers a voice, then Leigh, Brooke, Burns and all the other newspapers that worked with him can theoretically be implicated as well.

This hostility from the liberal end of the media spectrum in the West means it’s no surprise that Assange has had to turn to Russia Today in order to continue his work. Assange will surely be under no illusions that he won’t have the freedom to critically discuss anything that compromises Russian interests when working for the Kremlin’s propaganda arm. But he will have the freedom to go beyond what the Western mainstream media are willing to discuss on their own doorstep.

Which only reiterates why WikiLeaks, and projects like it, are still so desperately needed in the West to extend the acceptable spectrum of dissent in the mainstream media.

Al Jazeera’s Listening Post on WikiLeaks

Al Jazeera recently asked me to make a viewer contribution to its thought provoking media analysis show The Listening Post which you can watch above. This week it looked at the mainstream media’s reaction to the release of the Iraq War Logs by WikiLeaks. The point I make is:

The constant media reporting of the Pentagon claim that the War Logs have put lives in danger is not only untrue but monstrously hypocritical. Even NATO have confirmed that none of the Afghan leaks have led to reprisals in Afghanistan but more importantly, since the invasion of Iraq was illegal under international law, it is the Pentagon – not WikiLeaks – that has illegally continued to put lives on both sides in danger since 2003.

I added at the end: “This glaring war crime is almost completely overlooked by the corporate, mainstream media” although they didn’t use that bit along with some more general commentary about the way the War Logs had exposed the impotence of the media.

It’s refreshing to see a mainstream media organization like Al Jazeera taking a critical look at media coverage. It’s very rare that the media actually take a long hard look at themselves because it reveals far too much about how complicit they are in state-corporate crimes. A prime example is the way the liberal media have scrambled in recent weeks to smear both Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, deflect attention onto Iran (as a recent article in The Australian did which appears to have been deleted from their website) or dismiss them, as Obama has, saying that “there’s nothing new” in the revelations.

This New York Times pieces by Robert Burns (which requires you to register for free access to the NYT) is a prime example on smearing Assange and WikiLeaks. Check out the comments on this article (which don’t require registration to view) to see just how out of touch the NYT is with its readers on WikiLeaks. Also do not miss this piece in Salon by Glenn Greenwald which is a brilliant expose of both Burns and the liberal media’s Nixon-esque reaction to the War Logs.

The bailout wake-up to real world capitalism

The post I wrote yesterday about Eric Hobsbawm’s article was picked-up by Tobin Harshaw writing in the New York Times Opinionator Blog which looks at the interesting issue of what socialism really is and what it means to Americans.

Harshaw quotes a Rasmussen poll that found only 53% of Americans feel that capitalism is better than socialism. This result and the results of an earlier poll perhaps indicate that more and more Americans are starting to question whether they really live in a capitalist society. The earlier poll found that 70% of Americans would prefer a “free-market economy” to “capitalism” indicating that Americans feel that the system they’re living in is not as “free” as it’s made out to be.

As the Rasmussen poll notes:

The fact that a “free-market economy” attracts substantially more support than “capitalism” may suggest some skepticism about whether capitalism in the United States today relies on free markets. Other survey data supports that notion. Rather than seeing large corporations as committed to free markets, two-out-of-three Americans believe that big government and big business often work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

Although the telephone poll is hardly representative of the whole country, it should be no surprise that many Americans feel this way. As far back as 1996, Noam Chomsky made a speech on this subject at Harvard University on what he calls “really existing free market theory”. Chomsky points-out that time after time, the public are made to pay for the financial troubles and misadventures of corporations:

So, if Third World debt gets out of control, you socialize it. It’s not the problem of the banks that made the money. When the S&Ls collapse, you know, same thing. The public bails them out. When American investment firms get into trouble because the Mexican bubble bursts, you bail out Goldman Sachs. And — the latest Mexico bail out, and on and on. I mean, there’s case after case of this.

Of course, the latest round of high profile bailout packages passed by the Bush and Obama administrations have brought this fact into the American consciousness more than ever. If this makes them question the authenticity of real-world capitalism, then it may be at least one silver lining in the economic crisis.