WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange emerged, at least electronically, from his hideout at the Ecuadoran embassy in London over the weekend. The occasion was a conversation with Australian comedian Chas Licciardello sponsored by the group Think Inc. The event was held in Sydney, with Assange joining by video link.
The conversation, titled “No More Secrets, No More Lies: Julian Assange” gave the self-proclaimed guardian of truth a platform to weigh in on the media and “fake news.” Sounding like Donald Trump with a brain, Assange lambasted traditional reporting and held up WikiLeaks as the standard for what news organizations should be doing.
Assange accused newspapers of offering readers “weaponized text” and ridiculed the entire process of journalism at the same time he praised his 10-year-old organization, saying,
“What is special about WikiLeaks is that it’s not just another damn story, it’s not just another damn journalist putting their damn byline, advertising themselves and their position on another damn story.”
He had this to say about “fake news”:
“When the narrative of fake news came out and was then taken off effectively by the neo-liberal press and pushed around… I could see exactly where that was going. I was rather happy about it.
“WikiLeaks is very happy that there is a narrative about fake news out there because we have a perfect record of having never got it wrong in terms of authentications.”
Assange is muddying already murky waters with those statements, in which he seems to suggest that a reporter who misses or forgets a detail in a story is dealing in “fake news.” He should know as well as anyone that “fake news” refers to stories that have been mostly or completely fabricated, not those where human error or innocent omissions led to inaccuracies in reporting.
But Assange’s biggest failure is in his referral to “weaponized” reporting and his comparison of what newspapers do to what WikiLeaks does. Of course reporters have their own opinions about things. And sometimes those opinions color the stories they write. But even in rare cases where a reporter does allow his or her bias to color a story, the basic facts are usually presented reasonably correctly. The intent is to inform, not to inflame.
WikiLeaks, on the other hand, seems unconcerned with getting information to the public as quickly and accurately as possible. Their interest seems to mainly be timing their releases to draw maximum attention to both the release and to WikiLeaks.
What happened in the case of the leaked DNC emails was a prime example of the weaponized reporting Assange claims to despise. Those emails were released at exactly the time Assange judged they would have the greatest negative impact on the campaign of Hillary Clinton as she prepared to accept the Democratic party’s nomination for president. There was very little in them that would be considered legitimately newsworthy. The release was merely intended to embarrass Clinton and her confidants and make them look bad in the eyes of voters.
In patting himself on the back while attacking traditional reporting, Assange also missed this simple fact: good journalists gather all the pertinent facts and explain the story to their readers. WikiLeaks, on the other hand, just offers a pile of information with no context. It’s like being given all the pieces to build a model airplane, but with no instructions. You might be able to figure out what is going on, but there’s a much better chance that you’ll get things wrong. The entire “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory is a prime example of this.
Julian Assange considers himself a great hero of truth in the information age. But, like the man he helped elect president, he is little more than a self-aggrandizing political libertine. Missing a detail or getting a fact wrong in a story is easily fixed. As anyone who follows the media knows, newspapers and broadcast outlets run corrections all the time. But dumping documents with no background or context at strategic times and allowing the public to run wild with them is, contrary to his assertions, weaponizing text at its worst. And if Julian Assange can’t see how what he does leads directly to “fake news,” he’s not the genius he thinks he is.