Once a newsworthy event becomes a full-blown media frenzy, there comes a point where separating fact from fantasy, comment from conspiracy, and hard information from spin becomes virtually impossible. That is the point we reached with the WikiLeaks circus yesterday.
The central character, Julian Assange, some of yesterday’s walk-on parts, like John Pilger and Ken Loach, and the freedom of information campaigners who hail Assange as a hero, would normally be front of the queue in denouncing ‘spin’. But spin, if by that we mean the use of the media to control an agenda, and the assertion of your side of the story regardless of all the attendant facts, is now a very important part of the whole operation of WikiLeaks and its media partners.
They continue to control the process by which the US cables are leaked, using well-worn spin techniques for maximum impact – nothing wrong with that of course, though if a government or political party controls access to information to suit its own ends, it’s viewed as a mortal sin.
They are also well into the mode of saying anything that suits their basic case, whether they have the facts needed to support it or not. So Sweden – Sweden!! – has now become a kind of pariah state, almost as bad as big bad U S of A, because their prosecuting authorities would like to see Mr Assange over allegations of sexual assault.
‘Many people believe Mr Assange to be innocent,’ says his lawyer Mark Stephens. ‘Many people believe the prosecution is politically motivated’. But many people – indeed all people apart from Mr Assange and the two women involved – don’t actually know. Certainly, Mr Pilger and Mr Loach and Jemima Khan do not. Yet all felt moved to say that in their view Mr Assange was innocent of anything other than being a fearless campaigner for truth. Two of the three said so whilst admitting they didn’t know him. In other words, whatever the situation they are happy to believe that the allegations are being made for purely political reasons because of Mr Assange’s role in WikiLeaks. But no matter how wise they may be, they don’t know.
Wander around the web for a while and others will go further. The two women are CIA agents – well, yes, once a conspiracy is under way, the CIA have to be in there somewhere.
I don’t know Mr Assange at all. I know Mark Stephens, and like him. But he too, like many lawyers adept in the modern media age, is not averse to playing the spin game rather well. So it is hardly surprising that he claims the case is political.
His main line of defence seems to be that the allegations are all part of some conspiracy to get his client behind bars and WikiLeaks out of circulation, and that Sweden will be but a stepping stone to the US where some of the barmier elements have been making ludicrous calls for Mr Assange’s execution.
We were softened up for this approach at the weekend when we learned that Assange’s legal team felt they were being followed by secret servicemen. The evidence for this was that cars outside their homes had people in them ‘reading newspapers’. I wonder if they might have been journalists trying to establish Mr Assange’s wherabouts and thinking he might pop by to see his lawyer, but no, spies, secret servicemen, obvious innit?
They then talk of dark forces at work and Channel 4’s Jon Snow asks Mr Stephens – a tough one this – ‘where is the dark force .. is it, frankly … the US?’ Mr Stephens does not demur. He goes on to denounce Sweden’s reputation as a liberal state, saying they acted as ‘lickspittles’ for the US over rendition flights. The lawyer for the two women is denounced because he is ‘also a politician’ and the Swedish authorities are clearly part of the gigantic conspiracy.
Yet nowhere yesterday, nor in today’s papers, could I see anything that could be claimed as evidence either that the US are orchestrating this, or that the Swedes are doing anything other than trying to investigate serious allegations of sexual misconduct which they would be investigating whether they concerned a Stockholm cabbie or a WikiLeaks founder who has made himself a centre of global attention.
But we are now in frenzy mode. Anything goes. Any accusation can be made against any instrument of any State thought to have been angered or embarrassed by WikiLeaks. And of course it suits WikiLeaks’ purpose, politically and financially, for it to be thought that everyone is terribly angry with them, even when they’re not. For anti-authority groups, the sense of victimhood is hard won and best preserving when you get it. Which is why if the ‘authorities’ and their dark forces really were orchestrating this, I suspect the last place they would want Mr Assange right now is in Wormwood Scrubs.
But the Assange supporters will by now be convinced that their man is a victim of all manner of unknown and unseen dark forces. It suits their agenda. So the spin will reach new levels. The Guardian runs a two page spread on ‘the revenge operation’ which is being mounted by ‘Washington’. It includes the buried but rather inconvenient observation that Barack Obama ‘has not yet said a word about WikiLeaks’.
Ah, but he doesn’t need to. He’s leaving it all to those people sitting in cars reading newspapers. We know who they are. We know what their game is. And even if we don’t, we’ll say we do.