Sep 22, 2011

Assange denounces publication of ‘unauthorised bio’

WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange's much-talked of book is being released in Britain today, following a sudden announcement from publishers Canongate.

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


WikiLeaks leader Julian Assange's much-talked of book is being released in Britain, following a sudden announcement from publishers Canongate. The work -- enigmatically titled Julian Assange: The Unauthorised Autobiography -- is a first draft of the material hammered out by Assange and ghost writer Andrew O'Hagan earlier in the year. Assange has denounced the publication of the book, alleging that it is a preliminary and partial version, and that Canongate seized a copy of the "work in progress" when it was shown to them by O'Hagan's researcher. In a statement issued to the media, Assange noted that:
"[the book] is entirely uncorrected or fact-checked by me. The entire book was to be heavily modified, extended and revised, in particular, to take into account the privacy of the individuals mentioned in the book."
The book is said to cover all aspects of Assange's life and WikiLeaks' work, including his bucolic Queensland childhood, introduction to computers, early days hacking in Melbourne, the creation of WikiLeaks and its rise to global prominence, and last but not least, the encounter with two Swedish women that led to r-pe accusations and almost a year under house arrest, electronically tagged. In Britain, extracts are being serialised by The Independent. The "unauthorised autobiography" title is a rather cute way of dealing with a memoir that the author himself disowns. According to Canongate's announcement, Assange wanted to cancel the book deal in June. Assange denies this, claiming that he wanted to renegotiate the contract to give him more time to do a proper book while he was fighting legal challenges from Sweden and the US. Other reports -- in The Independent, and a rather snide piece in Private Eye -- suggested that Assange believed there was not enough philosophy and "manifesto" in the book, and too much personal material. Canongate's statement has Assange reading the first draft and declaring that "all memoir is prostitution", one of those Assange newsbites that needs to be taken with a grain of... Assange claims, with quotes from correspondence, that he and Canongate had agreed on a spring 2012 release -- before the publisher made its intentions clear in early September and gave Assange one week to obtain an injunction. Since Assange's advance had been paid directly to the account of lawyers FSI (or so his statement claims), both returning the advance or undertaking new legal action was well nigh impossible, something that Assange claims has been central to Canongate's strategy. He also claims that O'Hagan agrees with him -- and indeed, O'Hagan's name appears nowhere in the publicity. But what of the book itself? The three short excerpts run by the Indy today are short on shocking revelations, although they do give a more human view of Assange's progress than usually feature in the coverage. In a section on starting hacking, he notes: "As experiences of young adulthood go, it was mindblowing. By day you'd be walking down the street to the supermarket, meeting people you know, people who have no sense of you as anything other than a slacker teenager, and you'd know you had spent last night knee-deep in Nasa" and finally admits to what everyone knew, that he was the hacker known as 'Mendax' in 'Underground', the book he wrote with Suelette Dreyfus. In a section on building WikiLeaks, he notes the isolation of the activity:
"I was constantly searching for voluntary labour and holding online meetings that I'd scheduled with supporters. Once or twice, though, quite comically (though not at the time), I turned out to be the only person at those online meetings."
While in a section on the Swedish imbroglio he gives a rough description of the week in which his two encounters occurred, he raises again the possibility that there may have been motives behind the accusations, other than the encounters themselves:
"I did not r-pe those women and cannot imagine anything that happened between us that would make them think so, except malice after the fact, a joint plan to entrap me, or a terrible misunderstanding that was stoked up between them. I may be a chauvinist pig of some sort but I am no r-pist, and only a distorted version of s-xual politics could attempt to turn me into one. They each had s-x with me willingly and were happy to hang out with me afterwards."
The sudden appearance of a book that many thought would never see the light of day has surprised literary London. Not only do these things usually leak -- yes, yes, the ironies are multiple here -- but the Private Eye report had taken the line that there was no book, arguing that Assange had changed legal teams, because he had reneged on a promise to produce the tome as a way of funding his defence. Here's the Eye:
"Assange quarrelled violently with his lawyers Mark Stephens and Geoffrey Robertson QC refusing to pay their bills and then also refusing to produce the book he was contracted to write, which should have covered the costs."
Appearing a week before a book -- of sorts -- appeared, this is rather more miss than hit. Assange is in dispute with FSI (Mark Stephens' company) alleging that pro-bono handling of his case was originally promised, and that the fees that have been charged are excessive, but he appears to retain a good relationship with Robertson. The article -- focused on Assange's attempts to negotiate a rapprochement with The Guardian -- appears to be part of a new onslaught against Assange from left-liberal circles, especially following the full release of WikiLeaks' entire unredacted cable archive -- necessitated, the organisation argued, by the revelation of a master password by Guardian journalist David Leigh in his behind-the-scenes book about WikiLeaks (now sold to Hollywood), and most recently, by the revelation of stray copies of the archive on the internet, by former WikiLeaks member Daniel Domscheit-Berg (whose book has also been sold to Hollywood). Last Sunday's Observer (The Guardian's Sunday paper) featured a spittingly vituperative column from Nick Cohen, damning WikiLeaks for everything and nothing, but rehashing an old story about the organisation giving cables to a controversial Swedish-based journalist Israel Shamir. There was nothing new in Cohen's piece, and the fact that The Economist had recently put the blame for "passwordgate" on The Guardian, rather than WikiLeaks. Bizarrely, however, in a "letter to readers" from editor Alan Rusbridger justifying a recent 20p price rise, the first reason for continuing to buy the Grauniad was its investigative journalism such as ... WikiLeaks. Given that the paper's behaviour on the matter made any of us consider giving up on it altogether, it is a, erm, brave claim. Julian Assange: the Unauthorised Autobiography will be at the bookshops tomorrow (a security firm is delivering the books). Kirsty Wilson, Head of Sales at Text Publishing, which has the publishing rights here in Australia, told Crikey that the contract remains in place and it will be released in hard copy and e-book form in Australia on October 10. The decision on Assange's appeal against extradition is expected in early October. There is no sign that any of this will stop, any time soon.

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14 thoughts on “Assange denounces publication of ‘unauthorised bio’

  1. snesn1

    “a rather snide piece in Private Eye”

    Goodness me, fancy that (he said snidely). Readers of Private Eye shouldn’t have to put up with snideness.

  2. snesn1

    Guy seems determined to hang on to his hero image of Assange when the evidence is mounting that he is a self-obsessed, self-promoting, nerdily intelligent but rather deluded, cock.

  3. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Gee, they published without respecting the ‘privacy of the individuals mentioned in the book’. A saying about sauce, geese and ganders springs to mind.

  4. Janus

    Wow – imagine someone being upset about unauthorised disclosure of information. Shouldn’t this help the universe by having more information out in the open instead of keeping it hidden?? Hypocrite not hero.

  5. John Hamer

    Totally agree Janus. How ironic and appropriate to have Assange’s biography leaked without his permission or any consideration of his privacy.

  6. Oscar Jones

    snesn1 : I disagree. Assange may be his own worst enemy but he has done us all a great service.

    Don’t let Julian’s odd demeanour and sometimes maniacal ways detract from the good.

  7. Oscar Jones

    Cheap shots over Assange’s muddle with a book deal and his complaints about the way it is being published.

    There is big difference between a negotiated book deal and government cables that expose the lies of governments.

  8. Bohemian

    We will just have to ask him about this at the “unauthorised” Festival of Dangerous Ideas. It is tough taking on the powers that be because they own everyone and everything. Our only hope is they turn on each other some time soon. Obviously personal appearances are out of the question Friday week. The current bunch of lap dog scalawags would have him renditioned to parts unknown for their masters as soon as he hit the tarmac.

  9. AR

    Agree with Oscar – so many astroturfers, and/or ignorami, dissing Assange – how odd. Not.
    Re GR’s recent mention of Davies, now turned attack poodle, suggest a flawed character. All praise to him for keeping at the Coulson/Mudorc matter but hardly brilliant journalism, just doggedly, relentlessly pursuing and possibly corrupting a couple of Plod if the Met’s recent Official Secrets sledgehammer is indicative.
    His Flat Earth News, while worthy, was a turgid, scissors’n’paste job of, seemingly, interminable length whichcould, and SHOULD, have been a feature in the G2 or Observer but not a book.
    Assange for Oz of the Year, this or any other.

  10. Socratease

    The cynic in me smells a marketing/publicity stunt.

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