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It is welcome that finally there has been a little pushback, including from leading journalists, to the Guardian's long-running vilification of Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks.
Reporter Luke Harding's latest article, claiming that Donald Trump's disgraced former campaign manager Paul Manafort secretly visited Assange in Ecuador's embassy in London on three occasions, is so full of holes that even hardened opponents of Assange in the corporate media are struggling to stand by it.
Faced with the backlash, the Guardian quickly -- and very quietly -- rowed back its initial certainty that its story was based on verified facts. Instead, it amended the text, without acknowledging it had done so, to attribute the claims to unnamed, and uncheckable, "sources."
The propaganda function of the piece is patent. It is intended to provide evidence for long-standing allegations that Assange conspired with Trump, and Trump's supposed backers in the Kremlin, to damage Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.
The Guardian's latest story provides a supposedly stronger foundation for an existing narrative: that Assange and Wikileaks knowingly published emails hacked by Russia from the Democratic party's servers. In truth, there is no public evidence that the emails were hacked, or that Russia was involved. Central actors have suggested instead that the emails were leaked from within the Democratic party.
Nonetheless, this unverified allegation has been aggressively exploited by the Democratic leadership because it shifts attention away both from its failure to mount an effective electoral challenge to Trump and from the damaging contents of the emails. These show that party bureaucrats sought to rig the primaries to make sure Clinton's challenger for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, lost.
To underscore the intended effect of the Guardian's new claims, Harding even throws in a casual and unsubstantiated reference to "Russians" joining Manafort in supposedly meeting Assange.
Manafort has denied the Guardian's claims, while Assange has threatened to sue the Guardian for libel.
"Responsible for Trump"
The emotional impact of the Guardian story is to suggest that Assange is responsible for four years or more of Trump rule. But more significantly, it bolsters the otherwise risible claim that Assange is not a publisher -- and thereby entitled to the protections of a free press, as enjoyed by the Guardian or the New York Times -- but the head of an organization engaged in espionage for a foreign power.
The intention is to deeply discredit Assange, and by extension the Wikileaks organization, in the eyes of right-thinking liberals. That, in turn, will make it much easier to silence Assange and the vital cause he represents: the use of new media to hold to account the old, corporate media and political elites through the imposition of far greater transparency.
The Guardian story will prepare public opinion for the moment when Ecuador's right-wing government under President Lenin Moreno forces Assange out of the embassy, having already withdrawn most of his rights to use digital media.
It will soften opposition when the UK moves to arrest Assange on self-serving bail violation charges and extradites him to the US. And it will pave the way for the US legal system to lock Assange up for a very long time.
For the best part of a decade, any claims by Assange's supporters that avoiding this fate was the reason Assange originally sought asylum in the embassy was ridiculed by corporate journalists, not least at the Guardian.
Even when a United Nations panel of experts in international law ruled in 2016 that Assange was being arbitrarily -- and unlawfully -- detained by the UK, Guardian writers led efforts to discredit the UN report. See here and here.
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