Most liberals in the United States seem to prefer ignoring what is happening with WikiLeaks, particularly its founder and editor-in-chief Julian Assange. Either they are totally repulsed by Assange as an individual, they do not consider WikiLeaks to have provided a valuable service by releasing previously classified documents, the way the United States government is pursuing WikiLeaks founders, owners, managers, staffers and others connected doesn’t bother them or the story at this point is so complicated that they do not have the patience to sort out all the details to figure out the truth.
These various viewpoints inevitably lead to a contention that the era of WikiLeaks is over and, perhaps, the organization never really mattered that much at all. Such views are not surprising given the way that the US press has covered or failed to cover developments in the story of Assange, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of releasing classified information to WikiLeaks, and the media organization. Should WikiLeaks even enjoy First Amendment protection? That is a question for people who do not think Assange is a journalist or that WikiLeaks is a media organization. The dispute over this question is a result of those pundits and commentators in the US media that feel threatened by what WikiLeaks represents. And all of this can combine to form a general disgust toward seeing shows cover issues surrounding Assange, Manning or WikiLeaks.
Chris Hayes, host of the MSNBC show, “Up,” covered Ecuador’s decision to grant Assange asylum this morning. From the outset, Hayes made his view on the situation clear saying, “It’s hard for me to figure out where I am on all of this because there seems to be a lot of conflicting facts.” He said the facts around the alleged sexual assault—why Sweden claims it wants to extradite him from the United Kingdom—are complicated.
Hayes continued, “Assange himself as a figure seems complicated and in some senses a frustrating, maddening figure; also admirable in certain ways. The key thing here is when you look at what happened—how did we get here? He hasn’t even been charged with a crime. He is wanted for questioning in connection” to “serious allegations.”
Rolling Stone contributing editor Michael Hastings, who was on the show because of his interview with Assange published in January, suggested those discussing the situation step back. WikiLeaks is the “most significant journalistic enterprise that we’ve seen in the last thirty years,” he stated. What Assange did with Cablegate, the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs led to many critical news stories. Hastings added, “Over 310,000 stories around the world based off the documents WikiLeaks released,” have been written. Many of the news stories one reads now will reference WikiLeaks cables somewhere in the final paragraphs of the story. And what Assange did “angered the most powerful governments in the world. That is why Assange is in this situation.”
The, “It’s complicated,” view is a safe and neutral viewpoint to take. For anyone not wanting to wade through the weeds and stake out a position, it is easy to say this is all complicated. It also is completely fair because the combination of views from WikiLeaks supporters, who have been extremely active in defending Assange and WikiLeaks, and the condescending or sneering opinions of US pundits or commentators have made it easy for someone not following the story closely to doubt much of what is being reported and think all discussion is typically biased and it is impossible to get the truth. Nonetheless, if one cares, it is possible to sort out what is really happening and the show made a genuine effort to do just that.
Hayes layered in on the critical issue in all this that, besides Assange’s perceived character defects, happens to be polarizing people: whether Sweden is “acting either out of their own desire to punish Assange and want to prosecute him” or is acting as a “proxy” for more powerful countries, like the United States, in their pursuit.
There is uneasiness for liberals when asked to accept that Sweden is acting as a proxy because they think this is something Assange is just saying so he can get away with not being punished for the sexually assault he allegedly committed against two women. WikiLeaks supporters throughout the world, however, say Swedish authorities continue to stand behind the case so Assange remains tied up until the US wants him to be extradited to the United States; in fact, he is likely to be extradited from the United States after he is taken into custody in Sweden and would have much more difficulty fighting extradition in Sweden. But liberals hear this view and, without more evidence of a conspiracy, they do not think he should be seeking asylum in Ecuador. They think he should go to Sweden and confront the allegations because the women who accused him of sexual assault do not deserve to be subjected to this long, drawn out process that is created by him trying to protect himself from persecution.
What ardent skeptics do not know or refuse to factor into their view is that the Swedish government has refused to send someone to question Assange in the Ecuador embassy or in the UK, even though both Assange and Ecuador have requested the authorities send someone. If the Swedish government is genuinely concerned over the women who have made sexual allegations, it is troubling to see the government continue to refuse to send someone to question Assange in London. Not wanting to question just proves that what matters most is not the case itself but getting Assange into their custody.
It is not like Sweden has not acted as a proxy before. If one accepts that US officials likely view the ultimate prosecution of Assange for releasing classified documents as matter of national security, they could probably get Sweden to do as requested. Sweden did allow the CIA to operate a rendition program that violated a torture ban inside their country.
Similar to when the show decided to cover Obama’s policies involving drone executions of alleged terror suspects, there was outrage that Hayes chose to cover Assange:
The opposition to the coverage because people thought Hayes should be talking about voter suppression instead is funny, given the fact that his Sunday program tomorrow will be addressing the issue of voter suppression. It also is not like Assange dominated the broadcast this morning. He covered GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan before talking Assange. Plus, the Ecuador decision to grant asylum was a much-anticipated major breaking news story this week (as Firedoglake readers know well). Liberals were just outraged because Hayes spent time talking about Assange and WikiLeaks on the show. They don’t want to be given information that might given them a reason to care about what is happening.
Finally, Josh Barro, who is a lead writer for Bloomberg View’s The Ticker, jumped into share his reactionary viewpoint. He said having these documents released “did nobody good.” That hundreds of thousands of stories were written and that change might have occurred did not make the release a “good thing.” He argued, “The government should be able to keep some secrets,” as if it is increasingly has trouble with preserving its culture of secrecy. “It doesn’t do anybody good that it’s known that we think the foreign minister of Germany sucks and we like the one previously,” he declared.
That reaction is born out of the fact that most media organizations did not cover the substantive or key revelatory stories that showed the true corruption of the American empire and instead focused in on sections of the cables that made it seem like Assange had gotten his hands on a high school girl’s diary. The Bradley Manning Support Network highlighted key revelations showing that Manning did not simply uncover gossip. He uncovered serious abuses and crimes that, if released by him, the network of supporters believes are to his credit.
Barro continued saying there’s “lots of private information that would be fun for journalists to know but part of the way diplomacy works is to be able to be discreet and be able to have tact. For example, cables showed the US did not have faith in elements of the Mexican government and that undermined diplomatic relations. The problem with this view is wouldn’t it be better for the Mexican people and American people to have it out in the open that there was a high level of distrust? The transparency would hopefully force people to resolve issues that were creating precarious situations and perhaps even fueling violence or conflict.
The viewpoint is less authoritarian than something Representative Peter King might say but still backward because what being able to operate discreetly means is the US can engage in underhanded diplomacy—blackmail, bribery, coercion, deception, fraud, misconduct, etc, and engage in coverups of crimes. They can work on behalf of multinational corporations and overlook the brutality or criminal aspects of a country’s government just to keep relations with a country smooth. That is why so many countries in the world have descended into chaos and suffer from increased repression. The culture of secrecy—the fact that diplomacy between countries is not more transparent—fuels and enables corruption amongst world powers. Other countries are reluctant to come to the aid of populations in countries by confronting countries’ leaders because it could make diplomatic relations unmanageable.