2011-03-01: Wikileaks & Private Eye

Wikileaks posted a press release responding to the rumour of the day, namely, the one published by Private Eye, and republished here, that Julian Assange attributes The Guardian's recent demonstrable and disproportionate enmity towards his person to a "Jewish conspiracy."

Despite the main thrust of the Private Eye article, the last few paragraphs of it (now excised from the post above, and only available by purchasing the issue of Private Eye) expresses remorse for Assange, in light of the fact that the journalism sector is so constituted as to force him to deal with every futile and irrelevant canard available, all while he is trying to perform activities of genuine benefit to both the public and the media. In short, the end of the article betrays guilt over the balance of it.

Suddenly I got the impression Mr Assange was bored. Bored of me. Bored of answering questions. The energy and anger seemed to have gone from his voice. He was almost weary when he told me that he was not powerful, but had been crushed by powerful global interests and the least I could do was not support them by running pieces critical of him.

I did feel guilty. Briefly. I told him that I would email him the whole piece and that I would happily run a letter from him, answer his points in full, or put him in contact with out lawyers if he wanted. He gave me an address and I sent him the article. I heard nothing back. In the circumstances, I thought the best thing to do was to publish as much as I could remember of our conversation in Private Eye. As a "mode of information flow."

The press release from Wikileaks is as follows:

Because WikiLeaks has some Jewish staff and enjoys wide spread Jewish support, its staff have frequently been smeared by its opponents, political or competitive, as being agents of the Mossad or of George Soros. These smears are completely false. A good overview of some of the allegations can be here:


A Washington intelligence firm was recently exposed as being behind a $2M plan to destroy WikiLeaks reputation and target supportive journalists:

The intelligence firm was referred by the US Department of Justice.

But smears against WikiLeaks cross the geopolitical spectrum. Ian Hislop, editor of the weekly satirical current affairs magazine Private Eye, recently wrote an article "as much as he could remember", about an off the record conversation with Julian Assange who complained that a previous article, appearing in Private Eye, was based on falsehoods spread by opponents and calculated to undermine WikiLeaks strong Jewish support. The problems stem from a November the 1st, 2010 legal dispute with the Guardian, which were trigged by the actions of one particular journalist, David Leigh. Leigh deliberately, and secretly, broke an agreement signed by the Guardian's editor-in-chief stating that 1. the Guardian was not to publish WikiLeaks cables 2. the Guardian was to keep them confidential. 3. the Guardian was to not store them on an internet connected computer system. Leigh had previously shown himself to be a competent journalist, but secretly broke all elements of the contract. On being notified that the German news weekly Der Spiegel was writing a book (in German) that would expose this breach, Leigh attempted to cover his actions, first by laundering an distorted version of the events through a friend at Vanity Fair then by writing his own book, which he had published through the Guardian. WikiLeaks has not previously covered this or many other process and reputational issues, due to the opportunity cost of removing writers from our core mission which has never been more important.

Mr. Leigh has since continued to shore up his own power position by spreading malicious libels, targeted at WikiLeaks principle support bases. A brief look through the focus of Leigh's Twitter account http://twitter.com/davidleigh3 shows the sort of game in play. Although the damage done to the Guardian's reputation by these actions is an ongoing concern to many Guardian staff, Leigh is perceived, by them, wrongly or rightly, to be protected through his marriage to the sister of the editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger.

Julian Assange said "Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase. In particular, 'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and in word. It is serious and upsetting. Rather than correct a smear, Mr. Hislop has attempted, perhaps not surprisingly, to justify one smear with another in the same direction. That he has a reputation for this, and is famed to have received more libel suits in the UK than any other journalist as a result, does not mean that it is right. WikiLeaks promotes the ideal of "scientific journalism" - where the underlaying evidence of all articles is available to the reader precisely inorder to avoid these type of distortions. We treasure our strong Jewish support and staff, just as we treasure the support from pan-Arab democracy activists and others who share our hope for a just world."


The last few months have seen a proliferation of Assange-related rumours doing the rounds in the mainstream press. It is materially evident that the mainstream press - never mind the infamous Private Eye - is sometimes in abandonment of professional diligence.

As anyone following the Wikileaks story will know, it is not necessary for actors to be aware they are party to a conspiracy for a conspiracy to exist. All that need exist is incentives, and institutional constraints which dictate the structure of the conspiracy. In this vein, it does not require that everyone is in on it for there to exist a concerted smear campaign. Certain individuals might be straightforwardly out to besmirch Wikileaks by any means necessary, but no collusion need exist for there to arise a culture of sensationalism and falsehood around reportage on Wikileaks.

Pieces of silver need not have changed hands for a given journalist to rush to press with something he wouldn't stake his life on. This type of journalism is incentivized by higher sales for scandals than for analysis. In many cases, all it needs is a suggestion. Incentives and the rumorous instinct will do the rest. This picture shouldn't be unfamiliar to anyone who reads the news.

While there is certainly a place for serious and honest scrutiny of non-government organizations and news organizations like Wikileaks, there is scant evidence that our investigative media are, at present, equal to that task - no more than they are equal to the same task applied to corporate or official power. Sadly, the requisite standards are met neither by The Guardian nor The New York Times, and certainly not by Private Eye, and the present case is yet one more indication of this.

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