Thomas Gramstad on Mon, 2 Jan 2017 22:28:50 +0100 (CET)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> The Guardian's Summary of Julian Assange's Interview Went Viral and

The Guardian?s Summary of Julian Assange?s Interview Went Viral and
Was Completely False

Glenn Greenwald

December 29 2016, 2:41 p.m.

Julian Assange is a deeply polarizing figure. Many admire him and many
despise him (into which category one falls in any given year typically
depends on [1] one?s feelings about the subject of his most recent
publication of leaked documents).

But one?s views of Assange are completely irrelevant to this article,
which is not about Assange. This article, instead, is about a report
published this week by the Guardian which recklessly attributed to
Assange comments that he did not make. This article is about how those
false claims ? fabrications, really ? were spread all over the
internet by journalists, causing hundreds of thousands of people (if
not millions) to consume false news. The purpose of this article is to
underscore, yet again, that those who most flamboyantly denounce Fake
News, and want Facebook and other tech giants to suppress content in
the name of combatting it, are often the most aggressive and
self-serving perpetrators of it.

One?s views of Assange are completely irrelevant to this article
because, presumably, everyone agrees that publication of false claims
by a media outlet is very bad even when it?s designed to malign
someone you hate. Journalistic recklessness does not become noble or
tolerable if it serves the right agenda or cause. The only way one?s
views of Assange are relevant to this article is if one finds
journalistic falsehoods and Fake News objectionable only when deployed
against figures one likes.

The shoddy and misleading Guardian article, written by Ben Jacobs, was
published on December 24. [2]  It made two primary claims ? both of
which are demonstrably false. The first false claim was hyped in the
article?s headline: ?Julian Assange gives guarded praise of Trump and
blasts Clinton in interview.? This claim was repeated in the first
paragraph of the article: ?Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks,
has offered guarded praise of Donald Trump?.?

The second claim was even a worse assault on basic journalism. Jacobs
set up this claim by asserting that Assange ?long had a close
relationship with the Putin regime.? The only ?evidence? offered for
this extraordinary claim was that Assange, in 2012, conducted 8
interviews that were broadcast on RT. [3] With the claimed
Assange-Putin alliance implanted, Jacobs then wrote: ?In his interview
with la Repubblica, [Assange] said there was no need for WikiLeaks to
undertake a whistleblowing role in Russia because of the open and
competitive debate he claimed exists there.?

The reason these two claims are so significant, so certain to attract
massive numbers of clicks and shares, is obvious. They play directly
into the biases of Clinton supporters and flatter their central
narrative about the election: that Clinton lost because the Kremlin
used its agents, such as Assange, to boost Trump and sink Clinton. By
design, the article makes it seem as though Assange is heralding
Russia as such a free, vibrant and transparent political culture that
? in contrast to the repressive west ? no whistleblowing is needed,
all while praising Trump.

But none of that actually happened. Those claims are made up.

Despite how much online attention it received, Jacobs? Guardian
article contained no original reporting. Indeed, it did nothing but
purport to summarize the work of an actually diligent journalist:
Stefania Maurizi of the Italian daily la Repubblica, who traveled to
London and conducted the interview with Assange. Maurizi?s interview
was conducted in English, and La Repubblica published the transcript
online. [4] Jacobs? ?work? consisted of nothing other than purporting
to re-write the parts of that interview he wanted to highlight, so
that he and the Guardian could receive the traffic for her work.

Ever since the Guardian article was published and went viral, Maurizi
has repeatedly objected to the false claims being made about what
Assange said in their interview. But while western journalists keep
re-tweeting and sharing the Guardian?s second-hand summary of this
interview, they completely ignore Maurizi?s protests ? for reasons
that are both noxious and revealing.

To see how blatantly false is the Guardian?s claims, all one needs to
do is compare the Guardian?s claims about what Assange said in the
interview to the text of what he actually said.

To begin with, Assange did not praise Trump, guardedly or otherwise.
He was not asked whether he likes Trump nor did he opine on that.
Rather, he was asked what he thought the consequences would be of
Trump?s victory (?What about Donald Trump? What is going to happen?. .
. What do you think he means??). Speaking predictively, Assange
neutrally described what he believed would be the outcome:

    Hillary Clinton?s election would have been a consolidation of
power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump
is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the
United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich
people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by
themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which
is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network
within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly,
but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for
change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the

Most of those facts ? ?Clinton?s election would have been a
consolidation of power? and Trump is creating ?a new patronage
structure? ? are barely debatable. They are just observably true. But
whatever one?s views on his statements, they do not remotely
constitute ?praise? for Trump.

In fact, Assange says Trump ?is part of the wealthy ruling elite of
the United States? who ?is gathering around him a spectrum of other
rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities.? The fact that
Assange sees possibility for exploiting the resulting instability for
positive outcomes, along with being fearful about ?change for the
worse,? makes him exactly like pretty much every political and media
organization that is opportunistically searching for ways to convert
the Trumpian dark cloud into some silver lining.

Everyone from the New York Times [5] and ThinkProgress [6] to the ACLU
[7] and Democratic Socialists [8] have sought or touted a massive
upsurge in support ushered in by the Trump victory, with hopes that it
will re-embolden support for critical political values. Immediately
after the election, Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, [9] Elizabeth
Warren [10] and Chuck Schumer [11] said exactly what Assange said:
that they were willing and eager to exploit the ways that a Trump
presidency could create new opportunities (in the case of the first
two: Trump?s abrogation of the TPP, and in the case of the latter:
fortified support for Israel; [12] as Sanders put it: ?To the degree
that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the
lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives
are prepared to work with him?). None of that remotely constitutes
?praise for Trump.? And if it were anyone but Assange saying this,
nobody would pretend that was so: indeed, in those other cases, nobody

If one wants to be generous and mitigate that claim as sloppy and
deceitful rather than an outright fraud, one could do so. But that?s
not the case for the Guardian?s second and far more inflammatory
claim: that Assange believes Russia is too free and open to need

In that part of the interview, Assange was asked why most of
WikiLeaks? publications have had their biggest impact in the west
rather than in countries such as Russia and China. To see how wildly
deceitful Jacobs? claim was about his answer, just read what he said:
he did not say that Russia was too free to need whistleblowing.
Instead, he explains that any Russian whistleblower who wanted to leak
information would have many better options than WikiLeaks given that
Assange?s organization does not speak Russian, is composed of
English-speaking westerners, and focuses on the west:

    In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and
Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum.
There are also newspapers like ?Novaya Gazeta?, in which different
parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it
is tolerated, generally, because it isn?t a big TV channel that might
have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow.
So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to
WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong
culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local
player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation
with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than
800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so
we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our
publications come from Western sources, though not always. For
example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria,
including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication
about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that
country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how
distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far

What Assange is saying here is so obvious. He is not saying that
Russia is too free and transparent to need whistleblowing; indeed, he
points out that WikiLeaks has published some leaked documents about
Russia and Putin, along with Assad. What he says instead is that
Russian whistle-blowers and leakers perceive that they have better
options than WikiLeaks, which does not speak the language and has no
place in the country?s media and cultural ecosystem. He says exactly
the same thing about China (?The real determinant is how distant that
culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away?).

To convert that into a claim that Assange believes is Russia is too
free and open to need whistleblowing ? a way of depicting Assange as a
propagandist for Putin ? is not merely a reckless error. It is
journalistic fraud.

But, like so much online fake news, this was a fraud that had a huge
impact, as the Guardian and Jacobs surely knew would happen. It?s
difficult to quantify exactly how many people consumed these false
claims, but it was definitely in the tens of thousands and almost
certainly in the hundreds of thousands if not millions. Here?s just
one tweet, by the Washington Post?s Clinton-supporting blogger (and
Tufts political science professor) Dan Drezner, that spread the claim
about Assange?s puported belief that Russia is too open to need
whistleblowing; as of today, it has been re-tweeted by more than 7,000
people and ?liked? by another 7,000:

Nothing illustrates the damage done by online journalistic deceit
better than this: while Drezner?s spreading of Jacobs? false claim was
re-tweeted thousands and thousands of times, the objection from the
actual reporter, Maurizi, pointing out that it was false, was almost
completely ignored. It got a grand total of 14 re-tweets:

Worse still, the most vocal Clinton-supporting pundits, such as The
Atlantic?s David Frum, then began promoting a caveat-free version of
the false claims about what Assange said regarding Trump; he was now
converted into a full-fledged Trump admirer:

Part of why this happened has to do with the Guardian?s blinding
hatred for WikiLeaks, with whom it partnered to its great benefit,
only to then wage mutual warfare. While the paper regularly produces
great journalism, its deeply emotional and personalized feud [13] with
Assange has often led it to abandon all standards when reporting on

But here, the problem was deeply exacerbated by the role of this
particular reporter, Ben Jacobs. Having covered the 2016 campaign for
the Guardian US, he?s one of those journalists who became beloved by
Clinton?s media supporters for his obviously pro-Clinton coverage of
the campaign. He entrenched himself as a popular member of the clique
of political journalists who shared those sentiments. He built a
following by feeding the internet highly partisan coverage; watched
his social media follower count explode the more he did it; and
generally bathed in the immediate gratification provided by online
praise for churning out pro-Clinton agitprop all year.

But Jacobs has a particularly ugly history with WikiLeaks. In August,
2015, news broke that Chelsea Manning ? whose leaks became one of the
Guardian?s most significant stories in its history and whom the UN had
found was subjected to ?cruel and inhumane? abuse [14] while in
detention ? faced indefinite solitary confinement [15] for having
unapproved magazines in her cell as well as expired toothpaste. Jacobs
went to Twitter and mocked her plight: [16] ?And the world?s tiniest
violin plays a sad song.? He was forced to delete this demented tweet
when even some of his Guardian colleagues publicly criticized him,
though he never apologized publicly, claiming that he did so
?privately? while blocking huge numbers of people who objected to his
comments (including me).

The absolute last person anyone should trust to accurately and fairly
report on WikiLeaks is Ben Jacobs, unless the goal is to generate
traffic by publishing fabrications that will predictably generate
massive traffic for the Guardian. Whatever the intent, that is exactly
what happened here.

The people who should be most upset by this deceit are exactly the
ones who played the leading role in spreading it: namely, those who
most vocally claim that Fake News is a serious menace. Nothing will
discredit that cause faster or more effectively than the perception
that this crusade is really about a selective desire to suppress news
that undermines one?s political agenda, masquerading as concern for
journalistic accuracy and integrity. Yet, as I?ve repeatedly
documented, [17] the very same people most vocal about the need to
suppress Fake News are often those most eager to disseminate it [18]
when doing so advances their agenda.

If one really wants to battle Fake News and deceitful journalism that
misleads others, one cannot selectively denounce some Fake News
accounts while cheering and spreading those which promote one?s own
political agenda or which smear those (such as Assange) whom one most
hates. Doing that will ensure that nobody takes this cause seriously
because its proponents will be seen as dishonest opportunists: much
the way cynically exploiting ?anti-semitism? accusations against
Israel critics has severely weakened the sting of that accusation when
it?s actually warranted.

It is well-documented that much Fake News was disseminated this year
to undermine Clinton, sometimes from Trump himself. For that reason, a
poll jointly released on Tuesday by the Economist and YouGov [19]
found that 62% of Trump voters ? and 25% of Clinton voters ? believe
that ?millions of illegal votes were cast in the election,? an
extremely dubious allegation made by Trump with no evidence.

But this poll also found that 50% of Clinton voters now believe an
absurd and laughable conspiracy theory: that ?Russia tampered with
vote tallies to help Trump.? It?s hardly surprising they believe this:
some of the most beloved Democratic pundits routinely use [20] the
phrase ?Russia hacked the U.S. election? to imply not that they hacked
emails but the election itself. And the result is that ? just as is
true of many Trump voters ? many Clinton voters have been deceived
into embracing a pleasing and self-affirming though completely
baseless conspiracy theory about why their candidate lost.

By all means: let?s confront and defeat the menace of Fake News. But
to do so, it?s critical that one not be selective in which type one
denounces, and it is particularly important that one not sanction Fake
News when it promotes one?s own political objectives. Most important
of all is that those who want to lead the cause of denouncing Fake
News not convert themselves into its most prolific disseminators
whenever the claims of a Fake News account are pleasing or

That?s exactly what those who spread this disgraceful Guardian article
did. If they want credibility when posing as Fake News opponents in
the future, they ought to acknowledge what they did and retract it ?
beginning with the Guardian.




















Se også:

Virtual Reality Allows the Most Detailed, Intimate Digital
Surveillance Yet:

Newly Declassified House Intel Report on Snowden Is ?Rifled With
Obvious Falsehoods?:

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime>  is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info:
#  archive: contact:
#  @nettime_bot tweets mail w/ sender unless #ANON is in Subject: