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.


6 thoughts on “Julian Assange: Trial by media

  1. The Julian Assange phenomenon is an interesting one. I don’t find much sympathy for him as an individual but more importantly, his cause is a just one. I spent 90 minutes listening to him speak and answer questions not long ago and I couldn’t disagree with a single thing he said. He seems to be simultaneously brave, a bit unhinged, massively egotistical but also humble and also aware of being persecuted… but sometimes not bothered by it. Nice to see you back in the saddle again, Nick.

  2. I’m sure that Julian Assange is no angel. But it’s beside the point what he’s like a person – it’s the work of WikiLeaks that should be the centre of attention and for the most part, it was the centre of attention until the rape allegations broke. But one of the aims of this legal circus has been to reduce WikiLeaks to nothing more than the brainchild of “sick rapist” Julian Assange. I’ve also watched a lot of interviews with him and I agree that he comes across as a very thoughtful, lucid and logical speaker when it comes to his work and world affairs which is what should really matter.

    Thanks for the thoughts and apologies for being “off the saddle” for so long. It was my original blog post on the Assange affair when the rape allegations broke that threw me off the saddle for quite some time.

  3. Pingback: 4 things the media won’t tell you about Assange « Nicholas Mead

  4. Pingback: Quatre choses que les médias ne vous disent pas sur Assange « Wikileaks Actu

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  6. Shameless, disgraceful journalism.

    “Despite countless attempts at reassurance, Assange had decided the Guardian was out to get him. WikiLeaks now viewed the Guardian as akin to the Pentagon”, he told me.”Pioneering WikiLeaks collaboration ended in distrust and legal threats”. Ian Katz. The Guardian, Saturday 5 February 2011

    Were the Pentagon Papers checked by the CIA at the Washington Post before publishing? Because equivalent has happened with Wikileaks 40years later. The publishing the Wikileaks file cache password – inexplicable, eventually The Guardian apologized. Julian Assange did not want the NYT involved, with good reason. The Guardian has not publish the Swedish police protocol files in full – why not?
    Are these articles impartial and objective?
    Or just dragging out a dispute, over a year old, which is not longer relevant to unfolding events, or of any interest outside the Guardian office and its books and movie deals. Less generously to The Guardian; if not the previous reason, can its attacks be construed as pure old fashioned “system-supportive propaganda”? Chomsky 1988





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