To get to the point first, last month I spanked Julian Assange and stood him with his nose in the corner for being a clown who hurts his causes more than helps them, via comparing him to Abbie Hoffman and the Yippie movement of the '60s. And now the story has broken today that Assange threatened to sue another media outlet if they scooped "his" "leaked" stories, basically wanting to monopolize stories for his own glory while criticizing the media for not publishing more revealing news. The leaker got leaked!
Now the rest of this will be an analysis of the events around this story, with emphasis on me having been the Only Right Person In The World About It for the past 30 days. Yes, I might even let it go to my head for a minute or two.
Because this story tends to bring the hottest of hot-headed fools charging out of the woodwork, I will exercise a second paragraph of caution and point out three important facts:
- Good people got tricked into rallying to Assange's cult of personality.
- Bad people barked at Assange for the wrong reasons.
- Wikileaks has been around for years and I've cited them as a source before.
Did, you, too, get rooked into worshiping Assange as a saint? Did you, too, flame me for daring to suggest, only a month ago, that The Emperor was parading around in skivvies? Don't feel bad. You've been had (again) because you didn't listen to me (again) but you're in really good company:
Nobody less than Richard Stallman apparently came out in support of Anonymous regarding Wikileaks. So you see, even my most sacred heroes are susceptible. With every shred of respect due to Mr. Stallman: No, this time you're wrong too. The Anonymous web protests over WikiLeaks are NOT the Internet equivalent of a mass demonstration. They are little boys mooning the cameras for attention. Half of them have no idea why they're there; they were told there would be free pot.
And now for just a soupcon of some of the really scary hysteria out there: If I'm reading this right, Heavy-hitting feminist Naomi Wolf is crying out for the revealing of Assange's female accusers. Again, somebody's misinformed as to the original case; Assange is accused of not using a condom during consensual sex, not rape! And we're not shielding the two women because we're chauvinist, we're shielding them because there's a bloody world-wide lynch mob stirred up against them! My God, what is wrong with people? Think think think!
EDIT: [ As a commenter points out, there is a story reported in the Guardian Dec. 17 which certainly describes an incident between Assange and "Miss A" that sounds like rape to me... however, I've also seen earlier stories like this one that calls it "sex-by-surprise" and comes right out saying it's not rape. And this story introduced the cash fine that works out to the $715 to $750 figure that's been bouncing around... So who knows what to think? Sweden apparently has some very bizarre, obfuscated sex laws. I can't imagine that if the charge were actually rape, the punishment would only be a small fine. But, beside the point, none of that would justify exposing the two female accusers to the onslaught of online crazies who are screaming for their blood.]
People even smeared XKCD for daring to joke about Julian Assange! Whoa, if Lord High Munroe can't get away with making a comic strip about it, what chance do I have?
Now on the bad guy's side, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin have criticized Wikileaks (and by extension Assange) not because they had the slightest fact straight about the situation in their stupid sawdust brains, but simply because, like dogs, they saw a possible threat come too close to their Republican yard and ran out and barked at it. End of story. Also the case with Conservative punditard Judith "WMD" Miller. I'm sure we've heard about this crew enough.
I just wanted to make it clear: just because I'm sour on Assange does not mean that I'm against Wikileaks or ethical news reporting or open information disclosure or any other issue tied up with this one. Just for those few sods in the back row who can't see anything but black and white.
"OK, Penguin Pete," you might say, "what exactly should Julian Assange have done?" Here is what he should have done:
- When he became a household name, he should have thrown up his hands and said "Please, people, I am not the story! Wikileaks is the story! Focus on our work; I just manage the thing."
- When he gets a leak, he should publish it as soon as he makes his mind up to do so. Not tease and preview and hint and threaten for months and months that he's gonna post something someday like a season of Lost.
- He should not use empty threats. 90% of the paranoia about him revolves around his McCarthian threat to post a "data-bomb" or whatever-it-was-called about bank businesses. Put up or shut up. Your stories should be printed, period. Not held back and used for weapons. You are not the Riddler.
- When the story about his sex scandal broke, he should have immediately gone to the press and told them that this is about a sex scandal, involving (a) him, (b) two girls, and (c) sex, period. He should have clarified that civil charges against him are not equal to international attacks on freedom of the press.
- For that matter, he should have paid his stinkin' $750 fine and been done with it.
- He should have come out against all the misguided Internet armchair activism of Annoy-Us/Anonymous.
This is what happens when people get too much of a sense of their own importance. This is what happens when a cult of personality fires up into a lynch mob on the web. Assange used to have a pretty good gig going, but he fouled it up by letting his romantic role go to his head, and now he's caught up in worse trouble than if he'd left it all alone. And it's starting to look like he threw it all away just as a ruse to get out of a sex-crime fine. And worse, he's now given a permanent black eye to grass-roots journalism.
And by "grass-roots", I don't mean pot!