We didn’t really learn anything from WikiLeaks we didn’t already presume to be true – but it is one thing to know it in general and another to get concrete data. It is a bit like knowing one’s sexual partner is playing around. One can accept the abstract knowledge of it, but pain arises when one learns the steamy details, when one gets pictures of what they are doing.
Not only have we learned a lot about the illegal activities of the US and other great powers. Not only have the WikiLeaks revelations put secret services on the defensive and set in motion legislative acts to better control them.
WikiLeaks has achieved much more: millions of ordinary people have become aware of the society in which they live. Something that until now we silently tolerated as unproblematic is rendered problematic. This is why Assange has been accused of causing so much harm.
Yet there is no violence in what WikiLeaks is doing. We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the character reaches a precipice but goes on running, ignoring the fact that there is no ground underfoot; they start to fall only when they look down and notice the abyss. What WikiLeaks is doing is just reminding those in power to look down.
The reaction of all too many people, brainwashed by the media, to WikiLeaks’ revelations could be summed up best by the memorable lines of the final song from Altman’s film Nashville, “You may say I ain’t free, but it don’t worry me.”
WikiLeaks does make us worry. And, unfortunately, many people don’t like that.
Last Tuesday, a top lawyer for the New York Times named David McCraw warned a room full of judges the prosecution of Julian Assange for WikiLeaks publications would set a very dangerous precedent, which would end up hurting mainstream news media outlets like NYT, the Washington Post, and other outlets who publish secret government documents.
“I think the prosecution of him would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers,” McCraw said. “From that incident, from everything I know, he’s in a classic publisher’s position, and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.”
Do you know where I read about this?
Not in the New York Times.
“Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself,” activist Ray McGovern wrote in the alternative media outlet Consortium News. “In recent years, the NYT has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.”
So let’s unpack that a bit: It is now public knowledge the Ecuadorian government is actively seeking to turn Assange over to be arrested by the British government. This was initially reported by RT, then independently confirmed by The Intercept, and is today full public knowledge being reported by mainstream outlets like CNN.
Everyone from Donald Trump to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ranking House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff to Democratic members of the US Senate have made public statements clearly indicating there is a US government interest in getting Assange out of the shelter of political asylum and into prison.
The New York Times is aware of this, as evidenced by McCraw’s comments. It is also aware of the dangerous precedent such a prosecution would set for all news media publications.
The New York Times editorial staff are aware the US government prosecuting a publisher for publishing important documents that had been hidden from the public would make it impossible for the Times to publish the same kind of material without fear of the same legal repercussions.
It is aware the maneuvers being taken against Assange present a very real existential threat to the possibility of real journalism and holding power to account.
You might think, therefore, we’d be seeing a flood of analyses and op-eds from the New York Times aggressively condemning any movement toward the prosecution of Julian Assange.
You might expect all media outlets in America to be sounding the alarm constantly about this, especially since the threat is coming from the Trump administration, which outlets like the New York Times are always eager to circulate dire warnings about.
You might expect every talking head on CNN and NBC to be ominously citing Assange as the clearest and most egregious case yet of Trump’s infamous “war on the free press.”
Leaving aside the issues of morality, compassion and human rights that come with Assange’s case, you might think that if for no other reason than sheer unenlightened self interest they’d be loudly and aggressively defending him.
And yet, they don’t. And the fact they don’t shows us what they really are.
Theoretically, journalism is meant to help create an informed populace and hold power to account. That’s why it’s the only profession explicitly named in the United States Constitution, and why freedom of the press has enjoyed such constitutional protections throughout US history.
The press today is failing to protect Julian Assange because it has no intention of creating an informed populace or holding power to account.
This is not to suggest the existence of some grand, secret conspiracy among US journalists. It’s just a simple fact plutocrats own most of the US news media and hire the people who run it, which has naturally created an environment where the best way to advance one’s career is to remain perpetually inoffensive to the establishment upon which plutocrats have built their respective empires.
This is why you see ambitious reporters on Twitter falling all over themselves to be the first with a pithy line that advances establishment agendas whenever breaking news presents an opportunity to do so; they are aware their social media presence is being assessed by potential employers and allies for establishment loyalism. This also is why so many of those aspiring journalists attack Assange and WikiLeaks whenever possible.
“Everyone hoping to gain admission to the cultural elite must now strenuously cultivate their social media so as to avoid controversy,” journalist Michael Tracey observed recently. “Eventually they will internalize controversy-avoidance as a virtue, not a societal imposition. Result: an even more boring, conformist, elite culture.”
A great way for an aspiring journalist to avoid controversy is to never, ever defend Assange or WikiLeaks on social media or in any media outlet, and certainly under no circumstances allow yourself to look like the sort of journo who might someday publish the sorts of materials WikiLeaks publishes. An excellent way to prove yourself is to become yet another author of yet another one of the many, many smear pieces written about Assange and WikiLeaks.
Why Americans Need to Defend Julian Assange’s Freedom: Criminalizing the act of publishing through the Espionage Act destroys the First Amendment as a guardian of democracy.
Mainstream media outlets and those who thrive within them have no intention of rocking the boat and losing their hard-earned privilege and access.
Conservative mass media will continue to defend the US president, and liberal media will continue to defend the CIA and the FBI.
Both will help advance war, ecocide, military expansionism, surveillance, and police militarization, and none will leak anything damaging to the power structures they have learned to serve. They will remain innocuous, uncontroversial defenders of the rich and powerful at all times.
Meanwhile, alternative media outlets are defending Assange ferociously. Just today I’ve seen articles from Consortium News, World Socialist Website, Disobedient Media, Antiwar, and Counterpunch decrying the persecution of the most important government transparency advocate living today.
Alternative media outlets and independent writers aren’t bound by establishment servitude, so the value of WikiLeaks is clear as day. One’s eyes are only blinded to the pernicious behaviors of power when power is signing one’s paycheck.
Mass media outlets in America and around the world have discredited themselves fully with their failures to defend a publisher who actually holds power to account and brings facts into the light of truth to create an informed populace.
Every day that goes by where they don’t unequivocally condemn any attempt to prosecute Assange is another day in the pile of evidence corporate media outlets serve power and not truth.
Their silence is a tacit admission they are nothing other than stenographers and propagandists for the most powerful forces on earth.
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and investigative reporter John Pilger takes the gloves off in this interview with Dennis Bernstein and Randy Credico.
Pilger talks about Assange’s deteriorating health and the physical dangers he faces during this period of virtual isolation. Pilger also excoriates the western media for their silence and pro-government stand on the marginalizing and potential prosecution of Assange, even after they collaborated with WikiLeaks and major high-profile breaking stories.
The interview is part of a continuing national radio series—Assange: Countdown to Freedom. Pilger was interviewed on August 3rd, 2018.
Dennis Bernstein: John, what is the latest we know about how Julian Assange is being treated and his current state?
John Pilger: His state of health is just about the same, as I understand it. He needs medical attention, the kind of treatment you get only in a hospital. But it has been made clear to him if he attempts to go to a hospital he will not be given free passage and he will be arrested.
Since he was arrested in 2010, Assange has not been charged with a single crime. His treatment amounts to the most unprecedented persecution. Julian could leave the embassy if his own government, the government of his homeland, Australia, applied legitimate diplomatic pressure on behalf of its citizen.
We must ask ourselves why this hasn’t happened.
My own feeling is that there is a great deal of collusion between the Australian, the British and the US governments–meant to close down WikiLeaks completely and/or deliver Julian Assange to the Americans.
Recently the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, traveled with senior officials to London and to Washington and raised the whole matter of Julian. But they raised it in a way that didn’t support the idea a government should represent its citizens.
These people listened to the more powerful governments. In Washington they met Mr. Pompeo, who refused to discuss Assange altogether. I think there is collusion, which amounts to an attempt to try to do a deal with Assange whereby he might be allowed free passage of return to Australia if he shuts down WikiLeaks. I think that is very, very likely.
As I understand Julian, this is something he would not even contemplate. But that might be one of the so-called “wretched deals” being offered Assange.
Some very strange things are being said by senior members of these two governments. The new foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, Jeremy Hunt, said sarcastically the British police would offer Julian “a warm welcome” when he came out, when he would face serious charges.
There are no serious charges. He hasn’t been charged with anything.
Was Hunt referring to a deal which already has been done with the United States on extradition? I don’t know. But this is the milieu of machination around someone who has the right of natural justice concerning his freedom.
Putting aside freedom of speech, the persecution of this man has been something that should horrify all free-thinking people.
If it doesn’t horrify us, then we have surrendered something very valuable.
DB: Among those who should be especially horrified are those of us in the journalistic community. John, I would like you to explain once again why Julian Assange is such a significant journalist, why so many journalistic institutions have collaborated with him based on the information he provided. We are talking about a publisher and reporter who has changed history.
JP: Nothing in my time as a journalist has equaled the rise of WikiLeaks and its extraordinary impact on journalism. It is probably the only journalistic organization that has a 100% record of accuracy and authenticity! All of WikiLeaks’ revelations have been authentic. And it has been done “without fear or favor.”
Although there has been a concentration on, say, the release of the Hillary Clinton/Podesta emails, or the Iraq and Afghan war logs, WikiLeaks has released information people have a right to know across the spectrum. It has released something like 800,000 documents from Russia, and now WikiLeaks is accused of being an agent of Russia!
WikiLeaks’ journalism has covered a universal space, and this is the first time this has happened. In Tunisia, the release of WikiLeaks documents foretold the Arab Spring. The people at the forefront of the uprising in Tunisia credit WikiLeaks for informing them of what their repressive government was doing behind their backs.
In Venezuela, WikiLeaks released cables which described in great detail how the United States intended to subvert the government of Hugo Chavez. Some of this was published in the mainstream media, when there was still a collaboration with WikiLeaks.
These emails appear to have made a number of people resentful, as they show the close role that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation played in support of extreme jihadism in the Middle East.
That was a very important piece of information for people to know and understand. By doing that, WikiLeaks performed an extraordinary public service, while at the same time making some very serious enemies.
Randy Credico: People sometimes forget, apart from being a journalist, Julian Assange is a human being. You have known him a long time. Could you give us a feel for the kind of person Julian Assange is?
JP: Julian is a very principled individual. He feels very strongly about the moral basis of WikiLeaks. When he first put up WikiLeaks, he wrote the whole idea of transparency, honoring people’s right to know, was the central aim of the website. He feels this very strongly. Any attempt to do a deal with Julian to shut down WikiLeaks will no doubt be resisted.
As a person, Julian is an extremely interesting man. He is very well read. He studied physics. He has a very good sense of humor, and I have often laughed out loud with him about situations that others might consider too bleak to discuss. His black humor is a part of his survival kit. Obviously, he is incredibly resilient.
Personally, I could never endure what he has, especially in recent years. But this comes with a cost and his health is continuing to deteriorate. Those close to him are extremely worried.
In a letter to the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, Julian’s father, John Shipton, wrote: “I ask the prime minister to do all within his power to return Julian home before Julian’s situation becomes an irreversible tragedy.”
That is why this is such an urgent case of justice toward a single human being as well as a case of a journalistic organization’s right to function and our right to have the information it provides.
Only seven years ago, the current prime minister said that when an Australian citizen is threatened in this way the prime minister should respond.
That was Turnbull before he became prime minister. Now the government is playing its usual role of being the fifty-first state of the United States. It is a true disgrace.
RC: What about Theresa May and the British government? Are they getting pressure from the United States or are there internal reasons they want to keep Julian Assange quiet?
JP: Everything comes down to the relationship with the United States. Australia has an almost totally servile relationship with America, in which its national security structure, much of its academic life and certainly much of its media is integrated into the US system. That is not entirely the case in Britain.
Since the loss of its empire after the Second World War, Britain has been eager to play a secondary role to the new imperial power. In many parts of the world, Britain is still the biggest corporate investor. But it does move in lockstep with the US on much of its foreign policy.
It is interesting to see the corruption this kind of relationship produces. Information has come out that the Crown Prosecution Service tried to prevent the Swedes from giving up the case against Julian on bogus sexual assault charges. The pressure was on from London to keep it going.
Julian is seen as defying a system, and that is not acceptable. There is a real element of vindictiveness here. The Crown Prosecution Service kept this case going when otherwise the European warrant put out by the Swedes would have been abandoned in 2013.
When Julian came up to a bail hearing last year, it was an absolute disgrace. The judge described Julian’s circumstances as if he were on some sort of extended vacation.
What didn’t emerge was the whole conflict of interest in this hearing. The judge’s husband is a figure deep within the national security establishment in Britain who was named in WikiLeaks documents. Because there is no serious media examining the whole WikiLeaks witch hunt, virtually none of this emerges.
DB: The corporate press has a major responsibility if Julian Assange goes down, don’t you agree?
JP: As you know, Dennis, governments do respond to pressure from powerful media interests. It rarely happens but when it does governments do change their tune. There has been no pressure from media in the United States, Britain, Australia or pretty much anywhere except in programs like yours outside the mainstream.
You are absolutely right in that the responsibility of journalists for what has happened to Julian Assange and what might happen to WikiLeaks is undeniable.
I was looking this morning at a report by Media Lens in Britain describing how the British press has reported on Julian Assange. It describes the tsunami of vindictive personal abuse that has been heaped upon Julian from well-known journalists, many claiming liberal credentials.
The Guardian, which used to consider itself the most enlightened newspaper in the country, has probably been the worst. The frontal attacks have been coming not from governments but from journalists.
I described this recently as “Vichy journalism,” a term which now fits so much of the mainstream media. It collaborates in the same way that the Vichy government in France collaborated with the Nazis.
There used to be spaces within the so-called mainstream for unbiased discussion, for the airing of real grievances and injustices. These spaces have closed completely. The attacks on Julian Assange illustrate what has happened to the so-called free media in the West.
I have been a journalist for a very long time and I have always worked within the mainstream, but the journalism I see now is part of a rapacious establishment, and one of its prime targets is Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
This is precisely because WikiLeaks is producing the kind of journalism that they ought to be doing. WikiLeaks has in fact shamed journalists, which might help to explain the deeply personal abuse he has suffered. WikiLeaks has revealed what journalists should have revealed a long time ago.
DB: Even the attorney for the New York Times happened to mention that if Julian Assange gets prosecuted, the Times could get prosecuted under the same laws.
JP: It could but I don’t believe it would be, because power respects power. The New York Times is part of the establishment. The difference with WikiLeaks is that it is outside of the establishment and is truly independent.
DB: What would be your strongest plea for Julian Assange?
JP: It’s very simple. This is about justice. In a famous speech given in the 1930s, Parson Martin Niemoller said:
That might not be a precise parallel, but if Julian Assange is allowed to literally go under, it represents the conquest of all of us. It means we have kept quiet. Keeping quiet has allowed the great atrocities of histories to take place. If Julian is allowed to be spirited away to some super-max hellhole, it will be a great atrocity.
DB: In the library, silence is golden. In the world of human rights, silence equals mass murder. They say you shouldn’t yell fire in a crowded theater just to get a reaction.
But if you know the theater is in fact on fire and you do not shout out, what happens after is your responsibility.
We call on the government of Ecuador to allow Julian Assange his right of freedom of speech.
If it ever was clear the case of Julian Assange was never just a legal case, but rather a struggle for the protection of basic human rights, it is now.
Following pressure from the US, Spanish and UK governments, the Ecuadorian government has installed an electronic jammer to stop Assange communicating with the outside world via the internet and phone. As if ensuring his total isolation, the Ecuadorian government also is refusing to allow him to receive visitors.
Despite two UN rulings describing his detention as unlawful and mandating his immediate release, Assange has been effectively imprisoned since he was first placed in isolation in Wandsworth prison in London in December 2010. He has never been charged with a crime. The Swedish case against him collapsed and was withdrawn, while the United States has stepped up efforts to prosecute him.
His only “crime” is that of a true journalist — telling the world the truths that people have a right to know.
Under its previous president, the Ecuadorian government bravely stood against the bullying might of the United States and granted Assange political asylum as a political refugee. International law and the morality of human rights was on its side.
Today, under extreme pressure from Washington and its collaborators, another government in Ecuador justifies its gagging of Assange by stating “Assange’s behaviour, through his messages on social media, put at risk good relations which this country has with the UK, the rest of the EU, and other nations.”
This censorious attack on free speech is not happening in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or China; it is right in the heart of London.
If the Ecuadorian government does not cease its unworthy action, it, too, will become an agent of persecution rather than the valiant nation that stood up for freedom and for free speech. If the EU and the UK continue to participate in the scandalous silencing of a true dissident in their midst, it will mean that free speech is indeed dying in Europe.
This is not just a matter of showing support and solidarity. We are appealing to all who care about basic human rights to call on the government of Ecuador to continue defending the rights of a courageous free speech activist, journalist, and whistleblower.
We ask that his basic human rights be respected as an Ecuadorian citizen and internationally protected person, and that he not be silenced or expelled.
If there is no freedom of speech for Julian Assange, there is no freedom of speech for any of us — regardless of the disparate opinions we hold.
We call on President Moreno to end the isolation of Julian Assange now.