With Julian Assange now roaming the halls of Ellingham in his “South London Rolex” — ankle bracelet to you and me — the cable releases and Swedish prosecutorial zeal winding down for the holidays, it was inevitable that the silly season would begin — and that Assange would begin to be pilloried not merely for the mass release of diplomatic material, or for alleged transgressions in Sweden, but also for, well for being him.
This occurred even as it became clear that the WikiLeaks effect was starting to spread beyond the bounds of the site itself. People are starting to assume that the full story and the raw documentation should be available, and that there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to see them. At the same time, WikiLeaks-like sites are springing up all over the place.
“Why don’t we see WikiLeaks from Iran, China etc,” David Aaronovitch fumed on Twitter when the cablegate releases came out. Aaronovitch, a former Communist Party journalist apparatchik (and a hereditary one at that — his dad Sam was an anchor of the CPGB* for decades) and Iraq war supporter.
Well now we’ve got Indoleaks (Indonesia), a Russia-leaks site, and much more. Aaronovitch is yet to tweet about this development, though he might have said something in his column behind Rupert’s paywall in the Times.
The other WikiLeaks moment was in a story about the sting operation played on poor old Lib-Dem business spokesman Vince Cable, one of the more leftish members of the Lib-Dems who find the Coalition government difficult to stomach.
The Daily Telegraph sent along two junior female reporters to his constituency “surgery” (i.e. where he meets his electors to hear their grievances), and they played old Vince like a three dollar fiddle. Giggling and cooing as this member of the government described how we would wreck the coalition if he had to, that he was going to war against Rupert Murdoch’s bid to control Sky digital, and called local government supremo Eric Pickles a “Maoist” in his root and branch approach to abolishing old local services (actually Eric is an ex-Trotskyist), the gorgeous pouting hackettes really did for him. By the evening we had it all, and Cable had to step aside from any role adjudicating Rupe’s bid for Sky.
But the really interesting thing is … we wouldn’t have had it all at all, if the Daily Telegraph had been left to it. For their editors buried Cable’s thundering denunciations of Murdoch and wrote the bulk of the story without it.
That wasn’t good enough for a Telegraph MP who sent the entire transcript and tape to the BBC, who played it en tout, and pushed the issue to the head of the news. The result? The Telegraph became the story as much as Cable, a media organisation willing to do a favour for one of the Masonic brethren.
What’s crucial about this is that someone somewhere in the Telegraph didn’t shrug their shoulders when the instructions came down to spike the Murdoch material. Far from merely questioning the legitimacy of the decision, they saw the issue in a reversed light — the editors had no legitimate right to do that, and the legitimated thing was to leak the material.
That’s the WikiLeaks effect, the kernel of its radical character — an existing power relationship is not merely questioned, but reversed and becomes a non-power relationship. A newspaper lives by its sources, information, material; once the people who produce that start to assume that the process has some implicit social relations — i.e. that information should not be controlled as if it were a physical quantity to be, as one says, channelled — then everything changes very fast.
The powers that be shouldn’t be worried about WikiLeaks per se — but about bankleaks.org, cabramattaleaks.org, APECleaks.org, ShireofManagatangleaks.org and anything else you can think of. A general process generalises itself, a process that narrows itself ultimately fades to a singularity, a pit without dimensions. That’s happening now.
Possibly it’s happening also at WikiLeaks, this one time wiki project which has become some sort of remake of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Locked in their snowbound Norfolk headquarters, our DC superheroes — Captain Frontline, Assange-Neo, Thor Hrafnson, Quiff Boy, the Wondergirl Twins and Reuben Kincaid (Mark Stephens) — wait for the red phone to ring, and plot their next move.
The media strategy that any half-decent activist would apply here would be to get the message out by a series of simple dot points, press releases, online statements setting out why Assange has a legitimate right to resist extradition, and a reasonable ground for suspecting that he wouldn’t get a fair trial. The process instead appears to be to invite key media players in for a chat, and then stuff up the message.
Today they invited in John Humphrys, the barracuda from Today, the BBC’s roided up AM equivalent. As logs crackled in the background (or perhaps Captain Frontline was putting piglets on the fire), Assange got a full onslaught trading on every innuendo about his s-x life, and essentially equating s-xual freewheeling with r-pe.
“Are you a predator,” Humphrys asked, based not on the charges against Assange but on gossip in the Mail On Sunday about his alleged attempt to make a play for a US journalist in Sweden in August — a figure now supposed by many to be Dexter Filkins, New York Times (and now New Yorker) author of The Forever War, and associate of John F Burns, the NYT‘s veteran foreign correspondent, and habitué of the famous Beirut restaurant in Stockholm, a favoured meeja/pirate party/etc hangout.
Assange misstepped here getting drawn not only into discussion about whether Anna Ardin, one of the two women making complaints against him, was a “honeytrap” — actually a honeypot in the icky Le Carresque terminology — but whether the root of the women’s complaints was that they had ‘got into a bit of a tizz’ about being double-parked.
Delightful as it was to hear that Ednaism again, it was a lapse for Assange who’s rarely ventured into those sort of speculations (as distinct from suggesting they might be Cuban MOSSAD SMERSH operatives), and Humphrys was expert at getting it out of him, a reverse Vince as it were. There are times when I am sure that the second from the bottom on the Westernport Anti-Nuclear phone tree could run better interference than the Frontline Neo gang.
That matters because they are now meeting with a full court press from Claes Borgstrom and Anna Ardin. Having returned to Sweden — her West Bank trip placement cancelled before it began (Crikey was misinformed there) — and restarted her twitter feed as “therealardin” it would appear that the prosecution team is marshalling a powerful counter-attack against the widespread dismissal of the charges by commentators across the world.
Fair enough too. Though the accusations are close to unprovable, more or less unchargeable in other jurisdictions, replete with possibly tampered evidence, and yet to be formally charged after five months of investigation, much of the opposition to them has been so woefully misinformed (as has much of the defence of them it should be said) as to be of no use to the debate whatsoever.
The trouble is there’s no clear set of accusations to reply to, and a process no one could have much confidence in. Leaving aside any questions of CIA etc involvement, there’s ample reason for Assange to have little confidence that he could get a fair trial, a matter I’ll return to this year and next.
So as the piglets crackle in the fire, and the pirates sail the Baltic, we bid farewell perhaps to the great WikiLeaks circus for this year — or do we? My feeling is that this one won’t take a holiday. Though the matters are deadly serious it’s all silly season at the moment. Hej do.
*No not CBGB. Sam Aaaronovitch was not in Blondie