By now, most people know the Wikileaks story. It is a website that purports to be all about openness and freedom of information. They’ve released, over the internet, thousands and thousands of leaked tidbits of information on many things, the most damaging being a cache of 250,000 U.S. Embassy diplomatic cables that have set the world in a tizzy. The U.S. Government wants to try founder Julian Assange for espionage, and there has already been a concerted effort to compel or otherwise force Wikileaks “off the air”, as it were, by pressuring companies to cut ties with the site, including dropping their site hosting and even companies like Mastercard and Paypal no longer accepting donations to the site. Cut off their hosting and bleed them out financially, that’s the plan.
There’s also some issues with Assange, namely he’s wanted in Sweden for some rather nasty doings with two Swedish women. Assange says the Swedish charges are trumped up to get him into their system where it will be easier for the U.S. to have him shipped stateside and wind up in Guantanamo or worse yet, executed as a spy. Sounds a little melodramatic, doesn’t it? But it gets worse.
Now Assange is purported to have held back what he calls “an insurance file” filled with damning secret information on the the U.S. Government’s activities in Iraq, among other things, and, perhaps most interestingly, Rupert Murdoch. Assange claims to have 504 embassy wires relating to “one specific news organization” and some files about Murdoch and News Corp. The files will be released “if something happens to him.” Sounds like the plot of a bad thriller, doesn’t it?
This is a perplexing situation that I’m a little torn over. On the one hand, I have no problem with the exposure of untoward things any government does, even our own. In fact, in that regard, what Wikileaks has done is a positive thing. I also have no issue with exposing untoward things various corporations have done. In fact, if we still had an actual functioning press, would we even have needed a Wikileaks in the first place? As the media has been sucked up more and more into a small little nest of giant conglomerates, the kind of investigative reporting and holding people in governments and businesses feet to the public fire, as it were, has fallen by the wayside. Unless, of course, you’re a celebrity or an athlete, in which case we’ll hound every person you’ve ever spoken to trying to find a quote that makes you look bad.
But holding back information in order to save his own ass? Now that’s a little too much like blackmail for my taste. In fact, it is straight up blackmail. If I get this right, Assange and Wikileaks has information so damning that major news organizations and governments should be shaking in their boots. But, he’s going to hold on to it until he gets out from under the criminal charges he’s facing, and then what? He destroys it? He turns it over to the people in question? What, exactly? If this information is as damning as he says, then it needs to be out there. We need to know why, exactly, the U.S. Embassy was talking so much about a particular news organization, and what, exactly, he has on Murdoch that would make him look like more of a self-serving scumbag than the media mogul already does?
What happens if we find out that members of the press and the U.S. Government were working in conjunction spreading information as independent news that was really just propaganda? Oh, wait, we already know that goes on. I would definitely like to know what he has that could possibly make the mainstream media look worse than we all already know it is.
Assange started this fight when he knowingly released documents that the authorities all around the world don’t want out there. He had to know that he would be the object of scorn, derision and possibly trumped up charges like espionage. In an ironic twist, lawyers for Assange have recently thrown a fit about confidential police files relating to the sexual assault charges in Sweden being released over the internet. What’s good for the goose, I suppose. But my point is, if you going to be the champion of openness and the enemy of secrecy, face the music. Put the information you have out there if you really believe it’s in the public’s interest to know. But don’t blackmail someone with it to get your way. That just makes you the same kind of hypocrite jerk that you’re purporting to want to expose.
That’s the funny thing about revolutionaries, they may be charismatic and they may have an important or valuable goal to strive toward, but too often, they’re also extremely flawed and insecure people. Some of the elements of Wikileaks are very important for the future of communication and information, but Assange needs to go before he takes the whole ball down in flames with him, good and bad. If that happens, it’ll be a huge setback for openness, freedom of the press and our ability as citizens to hold those in authority accountable for their actions.
Release it all, Assange, on your way to turn yourself into the Swedish police. Any other way and you undermine the very purpose Wikileaks was founded for in the first place, making it and you just another footnote in history, if that.