Not since the height of the Cold War with its synchronous anti-Soviet rhetoric has there been such an overwhelming consensus of the media around a single issue. Julian Assange is the new bête noir, the man to be vilified, smeared and slandered. In all the media hysteria about the rape allegations made in Sweden against Assange by two women he slept with, the real issue is being conveniently buried. Last week with Assange’s short speech from the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy and an unrelated off-the-cuff remark by George Galloway in his defence, Assange’s alleged rape again became front page news in all the papers and was at the top of broadcast media news bulletins. Even papers of the liberal left like the Guardian and the New Statesman were fervently part of the bandwagon to demonise Assange as a sexual predator and eccentric misfit. Only the Morning Star, among the dailies, remained rational and focussed. Seumas Milne in a Guardian feature did courageously challenge his paymaster’s editorial line and encouraged readers to look behind the headlines, but he was the only one on the paper of a whole number of other hacks who willing toed the Guardianista party line.
George Galloway, normally ignored by the media unless he has just won or lost an election found himself pilloried as a misogynist ‘loud mouth’ (Guardian editorial) and an ignorant clown. Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador which has generously given Assange asylum was likewise portrayed as a ‘banana republic dictator’, only seeking publicity for himself and his ‘tin-pot republic’.
Here I don’t want to get enmeshed in the furore around Assange’s alleged sexual misdemeanours or definitions of rape. Anyone who is progressive and aware of what it means to a woman would be loath to offer a fig leaf to anyone who engaged in sexual violence. And Galloway is right in emphasising that rape is too serious an issue to be trivialised in the way the media are now doing around the Assange case.
It is, though, not a question of whether Assange is guilty of a sexual crime in Sweden, whether he is a paragon of virtue or a despicable philanderer that is at issue here. He gained fame/notoriety and is now being persecuted because he and his website WikiLeaks made public classified cables sent by US diplomats. The Guardian, New York Times and German magazine Der Spiegel willingly and lucratively collaborated with Assange in publishing a selection of his WikiLeaks documents.
Bradley Manning, a British-born US army soldier who allegedly provided WikiLeaks with copies of the classified documents has been languishing in a US military jail without being charged and under conditions described by Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture, as such ‘harsh treatment that may amount to torture’. His plight is being ignored by the media which prefer sordid stories about Assange’s alleged rape. Manning’s treatment is certainly inhumane and shames a state that calls itself ‘democratic’ and ‘just’. It amounts to persecution of the most vengeful sort.
Julian Assange and WikiLeaks with their release of these documents pulled off a journalistic coup and performed an incredible public service by revealing the often criminal behaviour of the US government and its agencies throughout the world and the arrogant and supremacist attitudes of its diplomats.
Assange and WikiLeaks appear to have few supporters at present, even though a number, like Daniel Ellsberg (whistleblower who released the Pentagon Papers detailing US mendacity on Vietnam), John Pilger, Jemima Kahn, Bianca Jagger and George Galloway are several of some big-name supporters. It is essential that he also receives the unqualified support of the left for what he has done in the name of freedom of information, not for anything he might have done or not done in his personal life. If he is extradited to the USA it will be a victory for the very powerful over the least powerful and his case will be used, as it is already being used, to intimidate and discourage any one else who dares to challenge the powers of imperialism. Make no mistake, the rape allegations in Sweden, true or untrue, as well as the threat of extradition are being used solely to undermine his credibility as a journalist and whistleblower and to ensure he faces trial in the USA to be given a draconian sentence; a fair trial there would be impossible.