Monday, October 25, 2010

Kid -- We Don't Like Your Kind

Back in the Sixties, in his epic Alice's Restaurant Massacree, Arlo Guthrie told how he'd been rejected for military service because of his criminal record -- for littering.
I went over to the sergeant, said, "Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench 'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug."
Julian Assange of Wikileaks walked out of a CNN interview yesterday (h/t) when the interviewer insisted on asking questions about "internal disputes within Wikileaks" instead of the issues raised by the latest cache of documents released by Wikileaks last week, on the US war in Iraq, as he had evidently been led to believe it would be.

This exchange increases my admiration for Assange, who remains remarkably calm and rational. He puts the interviewer on the defensive immediately and keeps her there throughout. The interviewer's performance is contemptible; no doubt she was Just Following Orders, as we used to say, and CNN's treatment of these important issues is, as Assange says, completely disgusting. "I'm going to walk," he says calmly, "if you're going to contaminate us revealing the deaths of 104,000 people with attacks against my person." And then he walks.

Also disgusting has been the conduct of the US government in response to these new documents. First there was the bogus claim, recycled from the release of the Afghanistan documents (via), that Assange and Wikileaks 'potentially have blood on their hands' because the documents put US personnel and local informants and collaborators at risk -- outrageously shameless coming from a government that is wading in the blood of thousands of innocent people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The claim about Afghanistan has been shown to be false, and so probably will be the current one about Iraq.

I imagine the CNN interviewer really felt as baffled by Assange's refusal to go along with her script as she claimed she was. CNN, like most American media, are basically tabloids, preferring to dodge issues in favor of personalities. In The Bush Dyslexicon Mark Crispin Miller describes at length how, after the third debate between Al Gore and George W. Bush in October 2000,
the "analysts" at CNN said not one word about the substance of the candidates' exchange but just kept harping on the general "statements" were putatively "trying" to make about themselves through their tone and body language.

Although a waste of time, the postdebate bull session was at least not strongly biased, nor was its anti-intellectualism too pronounced. On ABC there was a far more noxious session on the subject of the third debate.
This session, featuring Sam Donaldson, George Stephanopoulos, Cokie Roberts, and George Will, "captures perfectly the the barbarous synergy between the right and TV news, each feigning populism for its own elitist purposes." Roberts complained that the issue debated by the candidates wasn't "the important point there. ... Because that's not what comes across when you're watching the debate. What comes across when you're watching the debate is this guy from Washington doing Washington-speak" [pages 68-69]. The irony of four Beltway media insiders denouncing Al Gore for being a Beltway insider, while delicious, was totally lost on Roberts. It's a reminder of how little facts matter, but personalities do matter, to the corporate media. The New York Times' hatchet job on accused leaker Bradley Manning is another reminder.

But even a lot of liberals and progressives distrust Assange and Wikileaks and are willing to focus more on Assange's personality than on US crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Assange was accused (inaccurately, if not outright falsely) of rape in Sweden a couple of months ago, I remember some writer (on Salon, maybe? I can't find it) saying that maybe Assange just likes "rough" sex, as some aggressively intellectual or political men do, so maybe there was a misunderstanding between him and one of his partners. This writer had, if I recall correctly, no basis for the speculation that Assange likes "rough" sex; it was as if the writer was trying to give as much benefit of the doubt as possible to the people who were trying to smear and discredit him, while technically asserting his quasi-innocence. I have no idea what kind of sex Assange likes, any more than I know what kind of sex, say, Dan Choi likes. I'm quite willing to investigate personally in both cases, but until I can do so, I prefer to refrain from irrelevant speculations.

It's also irrelevant whether Assange is "imperious," at one commenter claimed at, linking to an article from Der Speigel. If he is, that would not diminish by even one the death toll of American and American-supported violence in Iraq or Afghanistan. It would not affect the value, for better or worse, of the documents Wikileaks has released. If Assange's motives or mental state should be subjected to such scrutiny, why not extend that scrutiny to Presidents Bush and Obama, their administrations, and their many apologists? Obama has told us at length about his father issues, in print. Why not use this information to analyze his relationship with, say, Hamid Karzai? Why not speculate about the psychic health of the Bloomberg reporters who wrote about cash from Iran being funneled to the Karzai regime but managed to avoid mentioning cash Karzai receives from the US, and reported with straight faces a State Department spokesman's rebuke that "Iran should not interfere with the internal affairs of the Afghan government"? Oh no, only the US is allowed to interfere with the internal affairs of the Afghan government. But I'm being facetious.

I imagine there's a lot of stress at Wikileaks these days. The US government, along with others, will try to exploit it. It's standard operating procedure to try to discredit dissidents by calling them crazy, delusional, paranoid. But no one should fall for their game.