2010-12-30 Clearing the Air of Nick Davies' Misinformation

Today, Huffington Post published an article by Nick Davies, from the Guardian, in response to Bianca Jagger's Huffpost article. Jagger had been critical of Davies' role in the publication in The Guardian of the details from the police investigation report on the allegations against Julian Assange.

In his article today, Davies states that the publication of the details from the police report served the purpose of balancing out baseless speculation about the Swedish investigation. He claims it was necessary in particular to counterbalance a campaign of misinformation on the part of Wikileaks, and Julian Assange. This is very misleading. The substance of the claim is laid out below.

From Nick Davies: The Julian Assange Investigation -- Let's Clear the Air of Misinformation:

Jagger calls this 'trial by media'. I call it an attempt to inject some evidence into a global debate which has been fueled by speculation and misinformation. On August 21, when this story first broke, Assange used Twitter to spread the idea that the two women who had gone to the police were engaged in 'dirty tricks'. His lawyer subsequently claimed that a 'honeytrap' had been sprung. Assange's celebrity supporters have announced to the mass media that the allegations are 'without foundation', that 'there is no prima facie evidence'. These statements have gone around the world. Millions of well-meaning people have been persuaded to believe them. The two women, who have been identified on the Internet, have had their reputations ruined by the claim that they cruelly colluded to destroy an innocent man. The Swedish police and prosecutors have been held up to ridicule as corrupt and/or incompetent partners in the plot.

Our story showed: first, that the Swedish police have found no evidence of any such dirty tricks (which would not surprise the conspiracy theorists); secondly, that in his interview with Swedish police on August 30, Assange himself never began to suggest that the allegations were any kind of dirty trick; thirdly, that Assange's supporters in Stockholm had tried to find evidence and come up empty, concluding, as the Swedish WikiLeaks coordinator put it to us: "This is a normal police investigation. Let the police find out what actually happened. Of course, the enemies of WikiLeaks may try to use this, but it begins with the two women and Julian. It is not the CIA sending a woman in a short skirt."

And by publishing our story, we achieved something: Julian Assange was forced to admit, in interviews with the London Times and with the BBC, that there is no evidence of a honeytrap. That matters very much.

Davies here manages to leave the impression that Assange was engaged in a campaign of misinformation against the integrity of the alleged victims since the allegations began, and was only forced to concede that this was not the case after Davies published the details from the investigation.

This is misleading. The tweet Davies refers to, without citation, is the following:

We were warned to expect "dirty tricks". Now we have the first one: http://bit.ly/bv5ku9
21 Aug

It is clear from the text of the tweet that it does not directly impute "dirty tricks" to the alleged victims of the alleged crimes, as Davies claims Assange did, when he says "Assange used Twitter to spread the idea that the two women who had gone to the police were engaged in 'dirty tricks'." The imputation of "dirty tricks" is far less specific than that, and is consistent with the idea that the allegations are being manipulated by the Swedish prosecutor.

In fact, the suspicion that there may be 'dirty tricks' involved has never, when explicated by Assange, in for instance the recent Frost interview, required any misconduct on the part of the alleged victims. Instead, as there, Assange raises the possibility that the alleged victims might themselves be the victim of said "dirty tricks."

One might also wonder whether Assange had any role in the writing of these tweets, since it is a commonly known fact that a number of Wikileaks staffers use the Wikileaks Twitter account. Immediately subsequent tweets quote Assange in the third person:

Julian Assange: the charges are without basis and their issue at this moment is deeply disturbing.
21 Aug

I have compiled, from WL Central's Wikileaks Twitter Archive, a list of all tweets pertinent to the Swedish allegations. It is evident from a perusal of them that the official Twitter account was never, as Davies claims it was, used specifically to impugn the reputation or integrity of the alleged victims. The more extraordinary claims about the provenance of the investigation that can be associated with the official twitter account are to be found only in third party articles linked to by the Wikileaks twitter account. I invite readers to peruse this compendium of tweets, or, if they want, the full twitter archive, or the official twitter account, to find the instances where Assange can be said, as Davies implies that he did, to have alleged a "honey trap."

Davies claims that Assange's lawyer, Mark Stephens, claimed Assange had been the victim of a "honey trap." He fails to cite this claim. I have not been able to locate it. I would appreciate a citation of this claim. Nonetheless, it has to be pointed out that (below) Assange is on record as saying that Stephens claims he was misquoted. Further again, if it is in fact true that Stephens made this claim, it would be a mistake to blame Assange for this misinformation, although it would also be commendable that evidence against the claim might be fielded.

Davies gives the impression, in the last paragraph quoted above, that Assange "was forced to admit" that there was no evidence of a "honey trap". This phrasing insinuates that Assange in fact alleged that he was the victim of a "honey trap" and implies that he lately admitted to having so alleged, while explicitly renouncing the idea. In fact, again, this is misleading. In the BBC interview, for instance, Assange clearly stated that he never claimed that he had been the victim of a "honey trap."

From John Humphries: BBC Interview with Julian Assange (Transcript):

Q: So you're not suggesting that this was a honey-trap? That you were somehow set up by the Americans, by the CIA? You don't buy into that idea because your lawyer's suggested that that's the case.
JA: He says that he was misquoted. I have never said that this is a honey-trap.
Q: You don't believe it?
JA: I have never said that this is not a honey-trap. I'm not accusing anyone until I have proof.
Q: Do you believe it is possible?
JA: That's not how I operate as a journalist because almost everything is possible. I talk about what is probable.
Q: All right, what do you think is probable here?
JA: What is probable? It is less probable that there was that type of involvement at the very beginning. That kind of classic Russian-Moscow thing. That is not probable.

Davies implies in his criticism of Assange's supporters that we must not be "content to recycle falsehood and distortion no matter what damage they may do." I commend Nick Davies' sentiments in this direction, and also commend his injection of scant factual material into an environment of media misinformation.

I cannot, however, commend the partial and inflammatory manner in which he defends his actions, nor the misleading vividness with which he portrays the words and actions of Julian Assange. It is not for me to speculate on why he might have abandoned the emotional distance from his work that one would expect from so apparently conscientious a journalist. It will suffice merely to point out the extent to which he errs, or has misled, and I have tried to do that here.


A link for the honey trap quote

You couldn't find a citation for the honey trap quote. Well, ain't google wonderful.

See 9.19am on here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/blog/2010/dec/07/wikileaks-us-embassy-cab...

"He says Assange's supporters suspect US dirty tricks:

They argue that the whole squalid affair is a sexfalla, which translates loosely from the Swedish as a 'honeytrap'."

Also this: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23904832-libya-threatened...

"His lawyer, Mark Stephens, said he was shocked at the decision to remand Assange in custody despite Jemima Khan and Ken Loach offering to stand surety.

He said: “We saw the smirking American politicians yesterday. The honey-trap has been sprung. Dark forces are at work. After what we've seen so far you can reasonably conclude this is part of a greater plan.”"

Grapevine journalism

They argue that the whole squalid affair is a sexfalla

It's sexfälla and it translates more than loosely. Sex is 'sex' and fälla is 'trap'. Not loosely - literally.

Thank you, epthompson, for

Thank you, epthompson, for contributing where I had made a request. I find it baffling that Nick Davies chose to conceal the origins of these quotes. Perhaps it is down to the fact that they don't really help his case very much.

If the "sexfalla" quote really is to be traced to the Pendlebury Daily Mail article, which I am quite familiar with, then it doesn't really do what Davies wants it to, which is to prove that Assange himself has been involved in a campaign of misinformation designed to smear the alleged victims of the crimes he is accused of having committed.

From: Daily Mail: The Wikileaks sex files: How two one-night stands sparked a worldwide hunt for Julian Assange

Many people believe that the 39-year-old ­Australian-born whistleblower is the victim of a U.S. government dirty tricks campaign.
They argue that the whole squalid affair is a sexfalla, which translates loosely from the Swedish as a ‘honeytrap’.

Assange is not to be blamed for the groundless suspicions of "Swedes" (in the the pull-out quote) or "many people." "Many people" are always very conveniently ready to hand when a bad journalist wants to get in an angle that he can't attribute to anyone. But one thing we can be sure of is that if Assange had said something that brazen, the quote would not have been attributed to "many people."

As for the second quote, thank you for that. It also appears to turn up in some Guardian articles. It appears to date from shortly after the imprisonment of Assange, on Tuesday 7th, although it was reused again in that Guardian article after the bail release, on Thursday 16th.

In both cases, the quote is given, but absolutely no context, where we might determine if it was a statement given on the steps of the court building, or in an interview or statement to the London Evening Standard, or anything else. We simply get the quotes. I'll try to follow this quote to its source.

Nevertheless, I think I addressed in the main text that even if this isn't, as Stephens apparently claims it is, a misquotation, it still doesn't mean that Assange himself was involved in smearing the women.

In his article, Davies clearly accused Assange of having attacked the two women, particularly on the official Twitter feed. This is not true, and the fact that we are now at the point of arguing about a quote of disputed provenance from his lawyer shows the utter dearth of evidence that Assange did any such thing.

I also think that a certain amount of journalistic responsibility has been shirked by Davies, in that these are serious claims he is making about Assange, but he has left the task of testing their truthfulness to people who are not paid for their investigatory work. It would be a lot easier for Davies, who must have the quotes in front of him if he is working from a source, to cite his sources, than for someone like me to go through every possible statement that Julian Assange ever made in order to rule out the possibility that he said what Davies said he said.

But of this I am certain. Davies published a falsehood when he claimed that Assange used the twitter account to smear the alleged victims.

Thanks again, for your help.

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