What's up with the media chorus on the cornered founder of Wikileaks? "Assange berates U.S. from balcony of Ecuador Embassy," pronounced a Reuters headline from Aug. 19. "Assange berates United States from Ecuador embassy balcony, " echoed CNBC. "_Julian Assange appeared on the first-floor balcony of Ecuador's London Embassy to berate the United States," echoed the San Francisco Chronicle. "Defiant Assange berates U.S.," parroted the Oman Tribune.
"His hypocrisy and cowardice is rivaled only by his self-aggrandizement and arrogance," fulminated the Australian. "In pleading his case for martyrdom, he was quick to berate U.S. and British authorities, but conveniently ignored the serious allegations of sexual assault against him."
As of this Wednesday, a Google search of the terms "Assange," "berate" and "Ecuador" netted 171,000 hits (5,930 hits on Google News alone). The problem is there was no actual "berate," at least according to the dictionary definition of the verb: to "scold, rebuke, reprimand, reproach, reprove, admonish, chide, criticize, upbraid." Rather, the hunted activist calmly called on U.S. president Barack Obama to "do the right thing" and stop the U.S. persecution of his whistleblowing organization and its members.
During his 2008 election campaign, Obama promised protection for whistleblowers, defending their "acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled." Ironically, his administration has turned out to be even more enthusiastic than George W. Bush's minions in targeting men and women of conscience for prosecution. The sixth person to be charged under the Espionage Act, CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, has the distinction of being the only figure charged in connection with the Bush-era rendition and torture program. The accusation: he revealed classified information about the program itself, including names of colleagues.
Is this the endgame for Britain/U.S./Sweden's sport of whack-a-mole with Assange, with the complicity of a mynah-bird media: to turn him into a human hazard light for any insiders who get the funny notion of exposing high-level crimes and misdemeanors? If he is extradited to Sweden, Assange fears he will bounced to the U.S. and jailed like the still-untried soldier Bradley Manning, who has been sitting in solitary confinement for over 800 days for allegedly releasing the infamous State Department cables to Wikileaks.
As for the serious allegations of rape, both accusers agreed they had consensual sex with Assange. A female Swedish prosecutor, since over-ruled, threw out the initial arrest warrant for the Australian activist after finding no evidence of criminality.
If there was a singular voice of sanity in last week's Assange-watch, it belonged to Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian. "Is it not remarkable that one of the very few individuals over the past decade to risk his welfare, liberty and even life to meaningfully challenge the secrecy regime on which the American national security state (and those of its obedient allies) depends just so happens to have become-long before he sought asylum from Ecuador-the most intensely and personally despised figure among the American and British media class and the British "liberal" intelligentsia?"
Assange won the 2011 Martha Gellhorn prize for journalism, with the judges congratulating him on giving "the public more scoops than most journalists can imagine." Since then, the actual reporting on Wikileaks has segued from the content of the cables to the character of its founder, including tabloid-like speculations on his toilet habits and hygiene from the likes of Bill Keller of the New York Times.
The character focus seems like a TMZ-style diversion from the real story-the international secrecy/security complex that has ballooned since 9/11.
In 2010, the Wikileaks-released " collateral damage video" spread like global wildfire on broadcasts, broadsheets and blogs. It revealed a 2007 U.S. air strike in Baghdad against Iraqi civilians that resulted in the deaths of eight men, including two war correspondents for_wait for it_ Reuters. Images and words from the stomach-turning video even made the front page of the Vancouver Sun. (Last week the online edition of the paper reproduced the original Reuters wire story, "Assange berates U.S. from balcony of Ecuador Embassy".)
Hundreds of media outlets across the world took part in repeating, rewording and incorporating the b-word into their copy. To this observer, it smells like something between the manufacture of consent/contempt and lazy, high school cut-and-paste.