Julian Assange has been arrested. See the following articles:
The smears keep piling on, including even multiple comedy bits on Saturday Night Live calling him an “Internet troll” and suggesting that he was stealing passwords and snooping on ordinary people (rather than what he actually did: publish the secret, anti-democratic machinations of the powerful). But even many of Assange’s supporters make numerous distortions.
First (as implied by Pilger, for instance) is to call his situation a roll-back of press freedoms and a new attack on journalism. Aside from the deeply chauvinistic aspect of these claims (which constitute journalists talking about how important journalists are), they present a false history. Specially, they act as if (in the USA), the law protected disclosure of truthful information that government officials wish to keep secret. While this is one possible interpretation of a constitutional provision, it has never been officially adopted or enforced. Hence the prosecution of Assange is not a deviation but consistent with a pattern. What these supporters tend to do, specifically, is distort the Pentagon Papers incident from the 1970s involving Daniel Ellsberg, Beacon Press and the New York Times. The reason Ellsberg, Beacon Press and the New York Times were not ultimately held legally accountable (though there were legal proceedings initiated against each and every one of them) was because then Alaskan Senator Mike Gravel read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record, and legislators are given immunity from prosecution for actions (and statements) on the legislative floor (though Senate rules were subsequently changed to try to prohibit this from happening again). Once the “cat was out of the bag” with Gravel’s actions, the legal cases against the leakers/publishers were dropped or lost — but only because the information was in the public record by that point (judges do not necessarily honestly describe this in their written opinions). There was no grand defense of press freedoms established by the courts though. People who claim otherwise are distorting the historical record and claiming a false victory in order to push a myth about “press freedoms” that obscures the need to actively work to establish those press freedoms for the first time. Yet Glenn Greenwald has carefully explained how the criminal charges against Assange are still different and more expansive than those levied against those associated with the Pentagon Papers publications. Though aside from these judicial niceties, as Jim Kavanagh notes, all this may well have a social impact on the attitudes of journalists.
Second, when Jonathan Cook describes Wikileaks as “a digital platform that for the first time in history gave ordinary people a glimpse into the darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep States” he is only correct is the most semantic sense by saying Wikileaks is “digital”. Really the difference was the speed and volume at which Wikileaks published these things in a “digital” environment. Of course, there was other precedent for ordinary people getting a glimpse into the “darkest recesses of the most secure vaults in the deepest of Deep State”: the publication of the secret allied treaties in the Bolshevik paper Pravda during WWI. This is still a major reason for anti-Russian sentiment a full century later! Cook not so surprisingly avoids mentioning this because to do so would open the door for suggesting that communist politics present a systemic break from the false universalism of liberal “freedoms”.
Agamben has it right here. He echoes this older sentiment about Assange: “he is not spying on the people for those in power, he is spying on those in power for the people.” (“Assange Works for the People – Now We Need to Save Him”). (See also “Jónasson: The Icelandic Minister Who Refused Cooperation With the FBI”). Notice how the SNL skit claims the exact opposite, blaming Assange for the sort of conduct that Facebook, Alphabet/Google, the NSA, the FBI, and countless other organizations do on a daily basis (which, ironically, Assange has helped expose!)?