Assange’s claimed motive for seeking political asylum now appears very credible indeed – he was right about US intentions.
With all the cynical comments from the likes of Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, it is a bitter irony that Assange is currently trapped in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, which has been described as ‘Britain’s Guantanamo Bay’. Media Lens takes a look at how the media has changed over the years – and the level of mainstream “scorn” has increased.
Published on Media Lens, Apr 18, 2019
In December 2010, Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore commented on Julian Assange in the Mail on Sunday:
‘Indeed it’s difficult to get a clear picture of the complaints by two women he had sex with in Sweden in August… The sex appears to have been consensual, though his refusal to use condoms was not. His behaviour looks bad rather than illegal but who really knows? The Swedish prosecutors themselves say they believe these women’s stories but don’t believe these are crimes.’
‘Who really knows?’ The answer, of course, was and is that, in the absence of a trial, nobody except the people directly involved knows what really happened.
If Moore was somewhat reasonable in 2010, her stance had changed by June 2012, when Assange sought political asylum in Ecuador’s London embassy – a time when, still, nobody really knew what had happened. She tweeted:
‘Seems like Assange’s supporters did not expect him to skip bail? Really? Who has this guy not let down?’
‘I bet Assange is stuffing himself full of flattened guinea pigs. He really is the most massive turd.’
As discussed in Part 1, the nub of this ‘mainstream’ scorn was the belief that Assange’s concerns about extradition were a cowardly excuse for fleeing possible sex crimes – fears of extradition were a nerdish, paranoid fantasy. Moore wrote in 2011:
‘The extradition hearing last week involved massive showboating on both sides. Assange supporters were gathered outside the courts dressed in orange Guantanamo Bay jumpsuits. Does anyone seriously believe this is what will happen to Assange?’
It is a bitter irony, then, that Assange is currently trapped in the high-security Belmarsh Prison, which has been described as ‘Britain’s Guantanamo Bay’.
The fact that Assange has now been arrested at the request of the US seeking his extradition over allegations that he conspired with Chelsea Manning, means that Assange’s claimed motive for seeking political asylum now appears very credible indeed – he was right about US intentions.
Assange can now be depicted as a cowardly fugitive from Swedish justice only by someone finding it outrageous that he should resist extradition by the Trump regime to spend the rest of his life in jail, or worse.
In other words, if corporate journalists are responding to the facts, rather than power-serving prejudice, recent events should have moderated their stance towards Assange. It is easy to check.
‘Everyone’s Least Favourite Squatter’
Suzanne Moore commented in the New Statesman after the arrest:
‘O frabjous day! We are all bored out of our minds with Brexit when a demented looking gnome is pulled out of the Ecuadorian embassy by the secret police of the deep state. Or “the met” as normal people call them.’
In other words, Assange remains the same wretched, risible figure he was before Moore came to know he had been arrested on charges relating to US extradition. She added bizarrely on Twitter:
‘Assange supporters . Cunt soup babbling about on press freedom.’
In an article for the Sunday Times on April 14, James Ball claimed that:
‘Julian Assange is the architect of his own downfall. Bullish and grandiose yet plagued by paranoia, the WikiLeaks boss is his own worst enemy.’
Ball briefly worked for WikiLeaks, with Assange as his boss, between late 2010 and early 2011. His departure from the organisation was acrimonious. As we mentioned in Part 1, the Guardian has a shameful record in its treatment of Assange. Ball was always happy to act as chief attack dog for the paper. A piece in January 2018 was titled, ‘The only barrier to Julian Assange leaving Ecuador’s embassy is pride’. Below it were the words, ‘The WikiLeaks founder is unlikely to face prosecution in the US’; an assertion that has clearly not aged well. Ball even made the poisonous assertion that:
‘most of those who still support Assange are hard-right nationalists – with many seeing him as a supporter of the style of politics of both Trump and Vladimir Putin’.
John Pilger described Ball as a ‘despicable journalist’; a ‘collaborator’ with those in power who have been attacking WikiLeaks and Assange. Ball has repeatedly stated that he opposes Assange’s extradition to the US. But for years he depicted him extremely unfavourably, and continues to disparage Assange as ‘a dangerous and duplicitous asshole’ after his arrest.
Writing in the Daily Mirror, ‘centrist’ Labour MP, Jess Phillips, commented:
‘Finally Julian Assange, everyone’s least favourite squatter, has been kicked out of the Ecuadorian embassy and into custody on charges of skipping bail after accusations of sexual violence in Sweden.
‘I am sure we will all miss his speeches from the balcony of the embassy as if he were about to launch into Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
‘Assange, once beloved for leaking the secrets of global governments, has essentially been reduced to a grumpy, stroppy teenager.
‘He never left his room, thought he was the best thing since sliced bread and had his internet taken away when he was naughty.’
Phillips offered one serious assertion:
‘His arrest ended a seven-year stint in the embassy, which he chose. He didn’t have to stay there…’
The obvious fact that the US superpower really was, all the time, out to get him, strongly suggests he did have to stay there and wasn’t motivated to avoid facing the far less threatening Swedish accusations.
In 2015, Phillips told the Guardian:
‘The difference between me and some of my colleagues – not all of them – is that I protect myself by shooting things out. So if I see something that I don’t like I will say it. I won’t sit in some little cabal and whisper about it … I will go up to Seumas Milne and say: “Why on earth are you friends with George Galloway? Your personal friendships are fine but if I see you are moving in any way to get Galloway nearer to this party, I’m going to go for you.” I’ll just say that to him.’
Phillips has certainly gone for Assange.
Other ‘mainstream’ reaction was a close copy of comments made when Assange first entered the embassy in 2012 (see our media alert, ‘Incinerating Assange’). Despite reports of an alarming decline in his health after seven years trapped in the embassy, journalists mercilessly mocked Assange’s appearance. Ashley Cowburn, political correspondent for the Independent tweeted (and then deleted after we noted them) two pictures before and after Assange entered the embassy, commenting:
‘Political journalists pre and post-Brexit.’
David Aaronovitch of the The Times’ 101st Chairborne ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ Division, tweeted with the same compassion that guides his relentless warmongering:
‘I see Tolstoy has just been arrested in central London.’
Jessica Elgot, political editor of the Guardian, joined the fun:
‘Apparently Julian Assange’s internet access has been cut off since March so he probably thinks we’ve left the EU’
Journalist Chris Cook, formerly of BBC’s Newsnight and the Financial Times, referenced an elderly, bearded character from the BBC sitcom, ‘Only Fools and Horses’:
‘Justice for Uncle Albert.’
ITV Political Editor, Robert Peston, formerly BBC Business Editor, retweeted an image of Christ with his hand raised in blessing paired with a photograph of Assange making a ‘victory sign’ from inside a prison van. Side-on, Assange’s gesture bore a vague resemblance, but Christ was assuredly not signalling ‘V’ for victory. Like so much ‘mainstream’ humour, the tweet was embarrassingly unfunny, strangely callous.
The Daily Express devoted a whole article to comedy takes of this kind:
‘HILARIOUS Julian Assange memes have swept Twitter in the wake of the Wikileaks founder’s arrest including one he tried to pass himself off as Uncle Albert from Only Fools and Horses – here are the best ones.’
As noted in Part 1, in the real world beyond the media crèche, a medical doctor who examined Assange in the embassy, commented:
‘Assange does not leave behind the physical and psychological sequelae of his confinement at the embassy. The harms follow him; they are irreparable.’
The Scotsman supplied more evidence that journalists perceive enemies targeted for destruction by the state as the same ‘Bad Guy’ regenerating over and over again, like Doctor Who. Dani Garavelli wrote of Assange’s arrest:
‘For me, however, the scene brought back memories of Saddam Hussein emerging from his spider hole in Operation Red Dawn…’
No doubt based on impeccable sources, Garavelli added:
‘His dishevelment had more to do with his questionable personal hygiene than his living conditions.’
The Daily Mail published a deeply totalitarian article titled:
‘Assange inside his fetid lair: Revealed, the full squalid horror that drove embassy staff to finally kick him out
‘EXCLUSIVE: Photos of Julian Assange’s “dirty protests” have been revealed’
The ‘Exclusive’ featured pictures of a single unwashed plate, several mugs in a sink and a squeaky-clean toilet.
The BBC’s Jon Sopel North America Correspondent tweeted:
‘#Ecuador president #LeninMoreno tells me #JulianAssange smeared the walls of the embassy with feces and that is why they revoked his asylum. The #WikiLeaks leader exhausted their tolerance, the president told me @BBCBreaking’
Among others, the claim has also been reported by CNN, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Vox, ABC News, Reuters, The Associated Press, Daily Mail, Fox News, NBC News,The Independent, The Daily Beast, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. Reporter Charles Glass described the surveillance he witnessed in the embassy:
‘He [Assange] made coffee, glancing up at surveillance cameras in the tiny kitchen and every other room in the embassy that recorded his every movement.’
Alexander Rubinstein of Mint Press News concluded:
‘Assange was under total surveillance while in the embassy. They didn’t release the footage of him smearing his poop on the walls because it simply doesn’t exist. It’s a crock of shit.’
Ostensibly ‘alternative’ Novara Media’s Ash Sarkar – who has published numerous opinion pieces in the Guardian and Independent, and who is a favoured guest on flagship BBC shows like Daily Politics, Question Time, the Andrew Marr Show and Newsnight – tweeted:
‘Just sayin’ it’s possible to think that Julian Assange is a definite creep, a probable rapist, a conspiracist whackjob *and* that his arrest has incredibly worrying implications for the treatment of those who blow the whistle on gross abuses of state power.’
Sarkar revealed the depth of her knowledge when she wrote:
‘His arrest today came *after* the investigations into rape and the Swedish arrest warrant were dropped.
‘That doesn’t mean he’s innocent of those charges.’
Anyone who knows anything about Assange knows that he has never been charged. But Sarkar’s damning comments on a leading truth-teller facing the wrath of the US state, play extremely well with the ‘mainstream’ gatekeepers selecting BBC guests and Guardian contributors. Sarkar deleted the tweet smearing Assange, not because she regretted her appalling comments, but because ‘ugly stuff defending sexual assault itself has been turning up in my work inbox’ from ‘men’.
On April 11, we tweeted:
‘”Whatever you think of [Assange]…” means, “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of *them*. I’m not rejecting the respectable, mainstream narrative.”‘
Synchronistically, one day later, Owen Jones wrote in the Guardian under the title:
‘Whatever you think of Julian Assange, his extradition to the US must be opposed’
The Guardian’s George Monbiot tweeted:
‘Whether or not you like Assange’s politics (I don’t), or his character (ditto)…’
At the risk of being annoying, we responded:
‘George, how much time have you spent with Assange and his unpleasant character?’
We received no reply.
Before the arrest, Channel 4 News Chief Correspondent Alex Thomson commented on WikiLeaks’ complaints about police spying on Assange inside the embassy:
‘WikiLeaks – it all adds up to WikiLeaks whining about their privacy being invaded. Can’t quite see how this deserves airtime on @Channel4News Am I wrong?’
One day later, when Thomson found himself reporting Assange’s arrest, we asked:
‘Was he “whining”, Alex?’
‘Yes – clearly’
In fact, Assange was making a political protest, calling on the UK to resist Trump’s attempt at extradition that might see him spending the rest of his life in jail.
A select few journalists managed to retain their dignity in the face of this callous corporate herdthink. To his credit, Andrew Buncombe of the Independent tweeted:
‘There’s been an oddly mocking tone to much of the reporting about Assange, whose organisation has revealed more US state crimes than most journalists. Arrest sets an appalling precedent.’
Odd is the word. Buncombe’s tweet brought to mind a comment made by the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Cody Fidler-Simpson CBE, about ‘mainstream’ journalism:
‘There’s something slightly wrong with most of us, don’t you feel? We’re damaged goods, usually with slightly rumpled private lives and unconventional backgrounds. Outsiders, looking in at others from outside.’ (‘Travels with Auntie’, Lynn Barber interviewing John Simpson, Observer, 24 February 2002)
The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill commented:
‘US did not waste any time putting in extradition request for Assange. Terrible precedent if journalist/publisher ends up in US jail for Iraq war logs and state department cables.’
Remarkably, some supposedly independent, neutral corporate media openly identified with the state. The editorial board of the Wall Street Journal:
‘Julian Assange has done much harm to American interests over the last decade, and on Thursday the WikiLeaks founder moved a large step closer to accountability in a U.S. court.’
Rod Liddle in the Sunday Times:
‘Assange’s publishing of confidential data gravely harmed our interests. In the US he is seen as a terrorist. But a tranche of protesters still believe he is a guardian of truth — and that any wickedness in the world always emanates from the West.’
As Glenn Greenwald commented:
‘If you’re cheering Assange’s arrest based on a US extradition request, your allies in your celebration are the most extremist elements of the Trump administration, whose primary and explicit goal is to criminalize reporting on classified docs & punish WL for exposing war crimes.’
To add weight to the media campaign, more than 70 MPs and peers wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, urging them to focus attention on the Swedish investigations that Assange would face should the case be resumed at the alleged victim’s request. The letter was ‘coordinated’ by ‘centrist’, anti-Corbyn Labour MP Stella Creasy who, appropriately enough, ‘Generally voted for use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.’ Jonathan Cook commented astutely:
‘The 70 MPs who signed the letter to Javid hope to kill two birds with one stone.
‘First, they are legitimising the discourse of the Trump administration. This is no longer about an illegitimate US extradition request on Assange we should all be loudly protesting. It is a competition between two legal claims, and a debate about which one should find legal remedy first.
‘It weighs a woman’s sexual assault allegation against Assange and Wikileaks’ exposure of war crimes committed by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan. It suggests that both are in the same category, that they are similar potential crimes.
‘But there should only be one response to the US extradition claim on Assange. That it is entirely illegitimate. No debate. Anything less, any equivocation is to collude in the Trump administration’s narrative.’
As we have documented, Jeremy Corbyn has been subject to a similarly relentless, cross-‘spectrum’ political and media campaign attacking him for leading Labour towards electoral disaster, for being a serious threat to UK national security, for conspiring with Putin, and above all, of course, for being a menacing anti-semite.
And yet the facts speak for themselves: Corbyn has been a tremendous electoral success; the idea that Trump, let alone Corbyn, ‘colluded’ with Putin has proved laughable; and the idea that Corbyn and Labour have an anti-semite ‘crisis’ simply defies the known facts of racist prejudice in the leading political parties and wider society.
If the smears are fake, what is driving them? A clue is provided in a tweet by The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald:
‘The only 2 times I can remember establishment liberals like @HillaryClinton… uniting with and cheering Trump Admin is when (a) he bombed Syria and (b) they indicted Assange… That says a lot about their values.’
It does indeed. Beyond the relentless fake news, these same ‘values’ are driving the attempts to destroy both Corbyn and Assange.
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