KNOWLEDGE IS POWER AND POWER CORRUPTS
Ijust finished watching a strange interview with Julian Assange. It was from a TED conference in 2010. It’s strange for a few reasons. Firstly, I’ve become so used to seeing Assange speaking only from his digs at the Ecuadorean embassy in London that I almost forgot that he used to be free to walk around and do things. Secondly, the point of the interview was to discuss Wikileaks as a revolutionary force in journalism, one that delivered more documents to the world than any other media organisation. In this light, Assange is cast as a rock star of the geek world – the Zuckerberg of truth. This is before he was a suspect in a Swedish rape case. Before he went into hiding. Before he went into a one-room exile. Before things got really confusing. The strangest part of the interview occurs about four minutes in. Assange tells the story of a document from Kenya that Wikileaks had published. It was a report that raised genuine concerns about the richest person in Kenya (who also happened to be the former dictator) to whom the current president was now cosying up. Wikileaks published the document in the lead-up to the 2007 Kenyan elections and, as Assange cheerily informs the TED audience, was largely credited with a 10-point turnaround in the polls that changed the outcome of the election. The audience applauds a hero. I’m pretty sure if I’d been in that audience in 2010, I would have applauded too. Unlike the traditional media, Wikileaks felt like a bold experiment in allowing the public to view the facts themselves and make up their own minds about how the world was being run. But, in 2016, I have this nagging suspicion that it may also be a story about an opaque organisation at best affecting, and at worst, interfering with, a country’s election. I feel that way because, in 2016, Wikileaks published internal emails from the Democratic Party in the United States – emails illegally stolen in a hack by, most credible sources believe, Russian criminals, and released during the Party’s national convention to cause maximum damage to one side of politics. In the intervening weeks, Assange has claimed, “The American liberal press, in falling over themselves to defend Hillary Clinton, are erecting a demon that is going to put nooses around everyone’s necks as soon as she wins the election,” and that Wikileaks’ most explosive information about the candidate will be released before the November 8 election. I’d be lying if I said Hillary Clinton was a clean operator. She’s not. She’s kept secrets, made deals, and been economical with the truth for decades. Which is to say, she’s a politician. And for that she deserves intense scrutiny. But for Wikileaks to single her out for specifically targeted scrutiny, timed to inflict maximum political damage, and to describe her potential presidency as a “demon that will put a noose around everyone’s necks” doesn’t even pass the smell test of journalistic impartiality. Assange clearly has a horse in this race. He’s working to see one candidate fail. Which means he’s working to see one candidate win. I’ll leave it to others such as The New York Times to speculate about Assange’s ties to Russia, which he says are false conspiracies. But Assange is certainly not a fan of the US. This month, Wikileaks turns 10. It made a name for itself by being a place where, for better or worse, hidden information could see the light of day. Videos of alleged war crimes, paper trails of outrageous government and corporate malfeasance, and any truth, hidden from view, finally had a conduit to the newly globalised world. The powerful felt threatened by Wikileaks. Wikileaks became powerful. But, like those it’s held to account, Wikileaks has caused its share of collateral damage, such as recklessly revealing the names and personal information of gay men living in Saudi Arabia, as well as the identities of rape victims and those with HIV. All facts, it seems, are not equal. Power has forever been a corrupting force – the kind of corrupting force that Wikileaks claimed to fight. But one wonders if, as it has become more powerful, it has been equipped to deal with its own inevitable compromise. Or if it’s discovered that the powerful sometimes make judicious decisions about which information is for general consumption and which information can do more harm than good. After 10 years of Wikileaks, the world remains a big grey area, and, while villains are everywhere, heroes are harder to find.
“AS SANG E CLEARLY HAS A HORSE IN THIS RACE, WORKING TO SEE ONE CANDIDATE WIN.”