“I am sorry if I have insulted the entire male population of Oz”, says Birgitta Jónsdóttir, the Icelandic MP who caused a stir this week by suggesting the reopened rape investigation against Julian Assange was due in part because he was “a classic Aussie in the sense that he’s a bit of a male chauvinist.”
The original quote, which appeared in an article on Daily Beast alleging “civil war” within WikiLeaks, was part of a longer interview where Jónsdóttir appeared to suggest Assange should step aside from the organisation.
Not true, Jónsdóttir told Crikey, “there was a lot of misquotations and things taken out of context in the Daily Beast“.
Jónsdóttir, who lived for a time in Australia and has an Australian/Icelandic son, also published a statement via her Twitter account, “I did NOT suggest Assange should resign, I think he should not be a spokesman right now. He still has my support for all his other work,” adding that “to claim that there is revolt within WikiLeaks is not accurate. WL is growing fast, needs to adjust to the growth and build structures.”
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So how did Daily Beast get it so wrong?
That is a question for Philip Shenon, gung-ho reporter for the Daily Beast news and opinion website, who has written extensively on WikiLeaks and its co-founder, Australian Julian Assange. Shenon has a long pedigree on reporting on the inner workings of the American military. He was New York Times reporter for 27 years, embedded with the US army during the first Gulf War, and author of a book extremely critical of the Bush administration’s post 9/11 invasion of Iraq.
Shenon was the author of the wildly criticised “US Urges Allies to Crack Down on WikiLeaks” article, which contained nothing but anonymous quotes from US government officials threatening WikiLeaks with unspecified legal action. The article was seen by many as the precursor to a campaign to destroy trust in the organisation, as outlined in a leaked 2008 report by the US Army’s Counterintelligence Centre, which suggested doing exactly that.
It was in Shenon’s latest article, also full of unnamed sources, this time allegedly from inside WikiLeaks itself, that Jónsdóttir claims she was misquoted and taken out of context.
Jónsdóttir’s comment about Australians and male chauvinism, she now says, was meant to “underscore the cultural differences that might lay as a foundation for the troubles Julian Assange is in”. Interestingly, Crikey’s Guy Rundle has written two articles elaborating on those exact cultural differences, noting that “In Anglosphere law, sex gone wrong is either a process of negotiation between parties, or it’s a non-consensual continuation of something initially consensual, in which case it’s rape or assault. The Swedish ‘sexuallt ofredande’ law covers both and more, grouping stalking and harassment with generic ‘ar-ehole behaviour in the bedroom’ that falls well short of coercion”.
In this case, Jónsdóttir appeared to be also highlighting the slightly more binary approach to sexual relations in Australian law, compared to the more gradiated legal definitions in Sweden. The subtly was lost in the sensationalist Daily Beast article.
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks continues to roll on.
And as for Birgitta Jónsdóttir? Her brief foray into the international spotlight appears over, stressing to Crikey that she is “overwhelmed with parliamentary work” and announcing on Twitter that she would “have to focus on that in the next few days”.