If you’re still tabulating the pros and cons of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, flip over to Jack Shafer‘s article, “Why I Love Wikileaks: For restoring distrust in our most important institutions.” The headline pretty much tells the story. Shafer is Slate’s estimable and original media critic; his follow-up is: “Julian Assange’s Great Luck: Why his arrest and jailing in the United Kingdom is good news for him.

Our Julian, cyberhero for the common man:


Shafer’s argument boils down to this:
— We shouldn’t be surprised by the recurrence of scandals, but, of course, we always are…
— Information conduits like Julian Assange shock us out of that complacency…
— Assange and WikiLeaks, while not perfect, have punctured the prerogative of secrecy with their recent revelations.*

(*As the Economist put it … “secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy.” But it “is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents.” … “The untold story is that while doing the United States’ allies, adversaries, and enemies a favor with his leaks, he’s doing the United States the biggest favor by holding it accountable.”)

Shafer’s articles backs these assertions with lucid detail, but also a clear-eyed assessment of this strange new cyberhero: “He looks like an alien, talks more insane trash than an NBA point guard (he says he’s practising “scientific journalism”), believes that the ends justify the means, and possesses such an ego-swollen head it’s a miracle that he can walk without toppling over.” And this quip: “But if you want to dismiss him just because he’s a seething jerk, there are about 2,000 journalists I’d like you to meet.” We could substitute any number of professions there.

The Spartacus effect: “The more WikiLeaks leaks while Assange is in jail, the more he’ll become like Spartacus, making him an inspirational figure, not just a controversial one. The mirroring of the WikiLeaks information to hundreds of servers around the globe is one manifestation of the Spartacus effect.” (It’s started happening. And the amazing Spartasian mirror list.)

Our Julian: Larrikin, Leakywick, Not the Messiah just a naughty boy

One unintended side-effect of the circus is the confirmation of Julia Gillard as a Great Disappointment. Her reaction to the case — “Let’s not try to put any glosses on this”: muesli-ejecting laughable — is a nostalgic reminder of Mark Latham’s line: something, what was it? about suckholes and congalines.

It seems Assange is no longer fit to be a citizen, by Prime Ministerial decree. Our export quality pets: Our Nic, Our Russ, Our Hugh, Cate, Shane, Cathy, Thorpey et al … but not Our Julian: this is serious, Mum. On the legal points, lawyer Malcolm Turnbull points out, Ms Gillard doesn’t know what she is talking about. Assange is not the Messiah, though he may be a naughty boy — you don’t crucify him, you respond like a responsible parent.

It seems the larrikin is no longer a suitable Australian character. No doubt Australia will not be represented at the Nobel Prize ceremony as we will be supporting China’s suppression of Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo for protesting human rights, the ungrateful rat.

The American outrage, too, is confusing — the whole point of the Tea Party is distrust in big government. The pale and weedy Assange would fit perfectly into a long line of dissenting American heroes. (Recall the seminal leaks of Watergate.)

As for the Swedish ‘sex-by-surprise’, the most sensible reading comes from the mouth of babes, Assange’s son Daniel, as reported in Crikey: “I haven’t seen any evidence that there was any actual non-consensual sex involved at any point, so it looks to me that it’s just some sort of cultural misunderstanding or general social failure on the part of my father or the women that’s led to the situation.” Shades of Helen Garner’s The First Stone. But it’s also an inevitable conclusion that this hook is to catch a fish they cannot net or web by any other means. A leaky wick, maybe, smell a fish, you bet.

The Big Gov-Industrial-Military-Money complex want Assange gagged and WikiLeaks destroyed. Gosh, I wonder which side is the right side?

+ + +

Leak winks

Julian Assange defends WikiLeaks, in the Australian.

Salon’s fierce and forensic Glenn Greenwald’s reality check: “Anti-WikiLeaks lies and propaganda”

The Time interview.

At 3 Quarks Daily, a very nuanced analysis of a deep reading by Aaron Bady of Julian Assange’s 2006 essays (pdf) explaining the motives behind WikiLeaks. Convolute and sail gliding over the chasm of theory and philosophy, it does seem to lead back to Assange’s original ideas.

The Guardian‘s editorial, “WikiLeaks: The man who kicked the hornet’s nest” makes an ironic reference to “Mrs Clinton’s powerful January 2010 speech on internet freedom…: ‘As in the dictatorships of the past, governments are targeting independent thinkers who use these tools.’ ”

Clay Shirky has mixed feelings in his admirably balanced analysis, “WikiLeaks and the Long Haul.” He does conclude: “If it’s OK for a democracy to just decide to run someone off the internet for doing something they wouldn’t prosecute a newspaper for doing, the idea of an internet that further democratizes the public sphere will have taken a mortal blow.”

Sex-by-surprise: Outside the Beltway is suspicious; Feministe is damning.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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