The fate of whistle-blowers and tellers of dangerous truth is rarely rock-star celebrity. Count them. Mordechai Vanunu, who exposed Israel’s nuclear program – imprisoned for nearly 20 years. Gary Webb, who exposed the CIA connection to the distribution of crack cocaine in the US – probably murdered. Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, who criticized Putin’s policies in Chechnya – assassinated. Lebanese journalists Samir Qassir and Gebran Tueni, who criticized the Syrian government – killed in car bombings. In 90% of such cases, says the Committee to Protect Journalists, the killers are never brought to justice. Yet, Assange, “the most dangerous man in Cyberspace,” according to the faux-alternative magazine Rolling Stone, lives to tell the tale of his persecution from the cover of Time magazine and the podium of TED conferences, weighted down with awards and honors from such establishment worthies as Economist, New Statesman, and Amnesty International.
And now he is the center of an international man-hunt. Here too, the claims are bizarre. If Wikileaks hasn’t put lives at risk or seriously damaged “national security,” by even the government’s own account, what to make of all these feverish cries for prosecution under the espionage act, for imprisonment and torture, even for execution? Are they for real, or does any one else detect an element of theater? The Wikileaks disclosures have been called cyber-terrorism by many. When before have we seen an international man-hunt for a rag-tag band of terrorists headed up by a charismatic mystery man with a striking appearance and a personal life shrouded in mystery? Now we have Osama-bin-Assange and Al-Wikileaks at war with Joe Lieberman and Sarah Palin, on one hand, and cheered on by David Frum, on the other. Notice that Frum points out that the disclosures actually support George Bush’s rationale for invading Iraq.
This is box-office gold. As some wide-awake journalist has noted, the big winner in all this is the establishment media. Before, it had one foot in the grave. Deservedly. Now it is a “truth-teller.” Readership is up, resurrected by proxy. And the major alternative press, the foundation activists, are bolstering the conclusions of the New York Times. How convenient.
I dearly wish Julian Assange were exactly as he seems – a brilliant iconoclast delivering the death blow to imperialism. But my memory is not so dim. I remember another media circus besides the one around Osama. I recall the mass adulation of a man who exuded brilliance, youth, hope, and salvation. That was in 2008, and he was a young law professor from Chicago. How did that turn out?