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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 8/23/12

The bizarre, unhealthy, blinding media contempt for Julian Assange

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"Can anyone seriously believe the dispute would have gone global, or that the British government would have made its asinine threat to suspend the Ecuadorean embassy's diplomatic status and enter it by force, or that scores of police would have surrounded the building, swarming up and down the fire escape and guarding every window, if it was all about one man wanted for questioning over sex-crime allegations in Stockholm?"

Like those who suddenly discover the imperatives of feminism when it comes time to justify the war in Afghanistan, or those who become overnight advocates of gay rights when it comes time to demonize the regime in Tehran, or those who took a very recent interest in Ecuadorean press freedoms, these sex assault allegations -- as serious and deserving of legal resolution as they are -- are being cynically exploited as a political weapon by many who have long despised Assange for reasons entirely independent of this case.

* * * * *

There are several obvious reasons why Assange provokes such unhinged media contempt. The most obvious among them is competition: the resentment generated by watching someone outside their profession generate more critical scoops in a year than all other media outlets combined (see this brilliant 2008 post, in the context of the Clintons, about how professional and ego-based competition produces personal hatred like nothing else can).

Other causes are more subtle though substantive. Many journalists (and liberals) like to wear the costume of outsider-insurgent, but are, at their core, devoted institutionalists, faithful believers in the goodness of their society's power centers, and thus resent those (like Assange) who actually and deliberately place themselves outside of it. By putting his own liberty and security at risk to oppose the world's most powerful factions, Assange has clearly demonstrated what happens to real adversarial dissidents and insurgents -- they're persecuted, demonized, and threatened, not befriended by and invited to parties within the halls of imperial power -- and he thus causes many journalists to stand revealed as posers, servants to power, and courtiers.

Then there's the ideological cause. As one long-time British journalist told me this week when discussing the vitriol of the British press toward Assange: "Nothing delights British former lefties more than an opportunity to defend power while pretending it is a brave stance in defence of a left liberal principle." That's the warped mindset that led to so many of these self-styled liberal journalists to support the attack on Iraq and other acts of Western aggression in the name of liberal values. And it's why nothing triggers their rage like fundamental critiques of, and especially meaningful opposition to, the institutions of power to which they are unfailingly loyal.

* * * * *

With that context established, let us return to David Allen Green. The attacks on those who have defended Assange's extradition and asylum arguments has depended on the disgusting slander that such advocates are indifferent to the allegations of sexual assault made against him or, worse, are "rape apologists."

The reality is exactly the opposite. I have spoken to countless Assange defenders over the last couple of years and not a single one -- literally not one -- is dismissive of the need for those allegations in Sweden to be taken seriously and to be legally and fairly resolved. Typifying this view is Milne's column last night, which in the midst of scorning the attacks on Assange, embraced "the seriousness of the rape allegations made against Assange, for which he should clearly answer and, if charges are brought, stand trial."

That is the view of every Assange defender with a platform that I know of, including me (one can certainly find anonymous internet commenters, or the occasional named one, making actual, horrific rape apologist claims, but one can find stray advocates saying anything; imputing those views to Assange defenders generally would be like claiming that all Assange critics want to see him illegally shot in the head or encaged for life because some prominent American and other commentators have called for this).

Not only Assange defenders, but also his own lawyers and the Ecuadorean government, have worked relentlessly to ensure that he faces those allegations in Sweden. They have merely sought to do so in a way that protects him from extradition to the US to face espionage charges for his journalism -- a threat that could send him to prison for life (likely in a torturous super-max facility), and a threat only the wilfuly blind could deny is serious and real.

In their New York Times op-ed this week, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone correctly argue that it is "the British and Swedish governments that stand in the way of [the sex assault] investigation, not Mr Assange." That's because, they note, Assange has repeatedly offered to be questioned by Swedish authorities in London, or to travel today to Sweden to face those allegations if he could be assured that his doing so would not result in his extradition to the US to face espionage charges.

Time and again, "Correa said Ecuador never intended to stop Assange from facing justice in Sweden. 'What we've asked for is guarantees that he won't be extradited to a third country,' he said." Both Britain and Sweden have steadfastly refused even to discuss any agreement that could safeguard both the rights of the complainants and Assange's rights not to be imprisoned for basic journalism.

These facts -- and they are facts -- pose a lethal threat to the key false narrative that Assange and his defenders are motivated by a desire to evade his facing the sex assault allegations in Sweden. So these facts need to be impugned, and that's where David Allen Green and his "myth-busting" legal expertise comes into play.

One myth Green purports to debunk is the notion that "the Swedes should interview Assange in London." This cannot be, Green argues, because "Assange is not wanted merely for questioning. He is wanted for arrest." He also echoes numerous other Assange critics by arguing that the "he-has-not-yet-been-charged" claim is a mere technical irrelevancy: the only reason this is true, he says, is because he must be in Sweden for that to happen.

But back in early 2011, Assange critics were telling a much different story. Back then, they were arguing that Assange was wildly overstating the danger he faced from extradition to Sweden because the investigation there was at such a preliminary stage and he was merely wanted for questioning. Indeed, here's what the very same David Allen Green wrote on 28 February 2011 when explaining the status of the investigation to his readers [my emphasis]:

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Glenn Greenwald is one of three co-founding editors of The Intercept. He is a journalist, constitutional lawyer, and author of four New York Times best-selling books on politics and law. His most recent book, No Place (more...)
 

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