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article imageOp-Ed: Assange’s Petty Revenge on Journalism

By Jason Li     Oct 8, 2011 in Politics
London - Julian Assange's tirade on journalism is nothing more than an attempt to get back at an industry that hasn't been treating him kindly.
As an aspiring journalist, I’d be remiss if I didn’t address Julian Assange’s outrageous charges in my previous article, where he denounces journalists as “war criminals”, to the surprisingly approving applause of his audience.
According to Assange, wars are the result of lies. Lies that originate from the “transnational security elite”. This basically refers to parties that profit financially from war – weapons manufacturers, the military (from defence spending), politicians (whose backs are rubbed by lobbyists from the defence industrial complex) etc.
Most governments- certainly not in the US or the UK- can’t invade another country without good reason because citizens don’t support needless agression. So the “security elite” has to invent some to garner citizen support, to justify and cloak war with legitimacy, to persuade the taxpayer that his dollars are going to a just cause. A pre-emptive strike against a country which has weapons of mass destruction pointed in your direction, for example.
To get their lies out, the security elite relies on the journalist-operated news media. And thus, Assange argues, journalists are complicit in this transnational conspiracy to cheat ordinary citizens of their money.
What bothers me is the crowd lapping up Assange’s easy offering of the latest here’s-who’s-guilty-for-the-world’s-ills. It’s like journalism is the new super villain everyone’s not considered before and is happy to blame.
Besides the introduction of this sinister antagonist, much of what Assange says is neither new nor revelatory. That some industries benefit from war is old news; it’s been talked about before and discussed to death. Books are written on the subject.
So let’s talk about journalists as war criminals. Here’s my take: To label them as such is utterly absurd and downright offensive for any number of reasons.
First, even though today’s major journalism outlets are owned by big, private corporations, and the unadulterated pursuit of truth has been polluted by a mishmash of other interests, to say that journalists are deliberately peddling lies is simply untrue.
Did the news media portray the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 as a good thing? Yes, but not because they were out to deceive the public – journalists were equally misguided by the Bush administration. Sure, reporters should have been more rigorous and critical, and it definitely wasn’t journalism’s finest hour. But this is a case of negligence, not a crime against humanity. Most journalists sincerely believed then that there was a real chance that Saddam Hussein had a hidden stash of WMD stamped “America Bound”. To agree with Assange is to believe that an entire workforce of journalists is guilty of deliberately perpetrating war. How can anyone seriously believe that?
Truth is, when it comes to access of information, journalists have the same rights as anyone else in the vast majority of cases. The difference between a non-journalist and a journalist is that the latter actually exercises that right. If a government chooses to withhold information, a journalist can fight in court for the release of the information, try other means like badgering public officials, or working their sources. But these, anyone can do too.
If journalists are guilty of war crimes, so is the vast majority of the public who supported the Iraq/Afghanistan war at its inception.
Second, by labelling journalists as war criminals, Assange completely insults the work countless war reporters do out on the warfront. Journalists risk their lives to cover the war, enter combat situations often with less training than soldiers, and suffer from PTSD not because they are concocting lies to feed the rest of the world. They do so because they are committed to finding out the truth first-hand on the ground, and not to blindly accept the government’s version of events.
Third, calling journalists war criminals cheapens the term “war criminal”. You’re putting Lara Logan, Anderson Cooper, Christiane Amanpour, Richard Engel, Nick Kristof and countless other reporters on the same list as Hitler, Goebbels, Pol Pot and the like. Assange is saying that all these people are guilty of similar crimes. Really?
Fourth, if Assange truly believes journalists are liars on the side of the security elite, why did he send the leaked cables to traditional news outlets like the NYTimes and Die Spiegel? And if Assange were right, that journalists are unconcerned about truth, why did these news outlets publish much of the material – to the ire of the authorities, their supposed co-conspirators?
These questions are rhetorical; journalists are obviously not war criminals.
The non-rhetorical question is, why did Assange say what he said?
I believe the story is simple. He’s getting back at journalists for doing their job.
Since the leaks were published, journalists left, right and center have questioned Assange’s motivations for his actions. And rightly so. After all, it was the lack of questions and criticism that got us stuck in the wars we’re in. Assange, while happy to weave grandiose webs of transnational conspiracy, doesn’t like it when he and his organization are under scrutiny. One has to be blind to miss the irony.
He also hates it that journalists have been asking him questions about his personal scandals and criminal charges, which he says are attempts to tarnish his reputation. Yet, instead of directly addressing questions about them, he walks off an interview:
Alas, the initial marriage of Assange/Wikileaks and news media’s shared interests in publicity has obviously tuned into a sour divorce. And like any celebrity ex-spouse on reality tv nowadays, Assange doesn’t pass up an opportunity to diss on the ex.
Unfortunately, the Anti-War Mass Assembly had to be it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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