Why all the Assange bashing? It’s no good for journalism

Published on openDemocracy, by Mark Lee Hunter, 23 March 2012.

Julian Assange has been a remarkable source for mainstream media. So why has he been so ill-treated in return? There are many accusations levelled at him and his organisation, and whatever their bases, none of them justifies the reactions. And this hurts journalism as a whole … //  

… There is one serious accusation remaining, partly justified: Wikileaks does not really protect its own sources.  Bradley Manning, in torturous solitary confinement for months in apparent hopes he will testify against Assange, is held up as proof.

That is false:  Manning was taken not through any fault of Wikileaks, but because he talked to a reporter who alerted the Feds (who knows why; perhaps to avoid accusations of complicity and conspiracy).  A wise reporter named Elena Egawhary recently evoked another, more thoughtful angle: Assange, she said, does not really support sources, because they don’t need anonymity, they need counsel that they can’t get if no one knows where to reach them.  In other words, security based on anonymity is not enough for high risk sources.

But Manning’s fate tells us that the MSM have hardly addressed the issues such sources raise, either.  Why talk to a reporter if he gives you to the cops? This isn’t an isolated case.  Annie Machon, the former MI5 agent, told at Kiev how her partner in whistleblowing at MI5 offered confidential documents to a London daily that then offered them to the police in order to get certain unrelated charges dropped.

Which brings us to the betrayal of Assange by the MSM.  Here is what he was promised, according to Leigh and Harding, by reporter Nick Davies of The Guardian: “We are going to put you on the moral high ground – so high that you’ll need an oxygen mask.  You’ll be up there with Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa… They won’t be able to arrest you.  Nor can they shut down your website.” (Leigh and Harding ? , p. 99) I know Nick Davies well enough to believe that he meant every word.  But instead, The Guardian, in the person of prominent reporters, is helping to bury Assange.

This betrayal carries a price for all journalists.  People who try to talk to the media have just been shown, again, that when they blow the whistle they will be briefly applauded and then ripped open and handed to the wolves.  That is precisely why Wikileaks came into being – because people who wanted to be heard did not trust the MSM.  Judging by what’s happening to Assange, they were absolutely right.

Sources need help to reveal the abuse of power.  Journalists rely on the goodwill of sources.  However difficult Assange may be, it does not change those facts.  Nor do the past exploits of his tormentors – Leigh and Brooke have done very good work – justify this campaign.  In fact their reputations just make things worse, because they’re supposed to uphold standards.  They are giving license to the lowlifes who thrive further down the news food chain.  Enough: Whatever is behind the ugly spectacle of Assange’s former allies subverting their source, it has to stop. (full text).

Links:

Julian Assange to run for Australian senate: WikiLeaks founder hopes to enter politics in home country after discovering his ongoing extradition battle would be no bar, on The Guardian, by AP, March 17, 2012;

Julian Assange on en.wikipedia;

The US Government Showed Greater Transparency With Guantanamo Trials Than They Have With Bradley Manning, on Business Insider, by Michael Kelley, March 23, 2012;

Bradley Manning on en.wikipedia;

The video which Bradley Manning released to wikileaks, the reason for his imprisonnement: short version 1.41 min, long version 39.14 min).

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