Assange’s victory at a traditional media awards night may be a surprise, as is the fact is he is listed as a journalist at all. He has never worked for a newspaper, broadcaster or major media proprietor. Apart from the occasional contribution as a columnist or blog post, he is not even a curator of editorial content. Prior to Wikileaks, he was most famous as the underground computer hacker “Mendax”. Yet as Glenn Greenwald says, Assange’s Wikileaks produced more newsworthy scoops over the last year than every other media outlet combined.
It was a shock to Wikileaks when Bradley Manning was exposed as the Collateral Murder and Cablegate contributor. Manning was exposed by injudicious conversations with former hacker Adrian Lamo. Manning has always been provocative so it was inevitable he would eventually fall foul of authorities. That does not excuse his shameful treatment by US authorities or calls by wingbats such as Congressman Mike Rogers (R-MI) for his execution.
The depth and scale of the cables Manning donated to Wikileaks astounds. A quarter of a million US diplomatic cables with a quarter of a billion words came from almost every embassy of the world and are a snapshot of international relations at a powerful level. They show what decision makers are really thinking and occasionally what they really do. The embarrassed Americans have hit back by making it difficult for the non profit to receive donations.
Wikileaks decided to share the hoard with trusted media brands. The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel (the latter with Domscheit-Berg connections) began to publish their own spin on selected cables. The media that missed out lashed out and Assange’s relationship with the three papers soured.
Assange could never fully trust anyone nor be trusted in return. His full hacker nickname “splendide mendax” means nobly untruthful and Assange felt he could get away with anything due to his “higher calling”. His acceptance speech to the Walkleys (delivered by video) shows he still has plenty of stomach for the fights ahead. “An unprecedented banking blockade has shown us that Visa, Mastercard, the Bank of American and Western Union are mere instruments of Washington foreign policy,” he said. “Censorship has been privatised”.
Assange is paranoid but he has much to be paranoid about. He has also much to be proud of. Wikileaks may collapse under its own internal contradictions but the idea a whistleblower can anonymously pass their information to a wider public is extremely powerful. Big media could have developed this technology but didn’t. Yet the open slather of Cablegate has ruined Wikileaks’s ability to pass on more mundane but vital information about banks and private companies. Assange’s former offsider Domscheit-Berg is developing Openleaks in the same mould, but more cautiously.
In his book Inside Wikileaks, Domscheit-Berg says Assange tried to do too much, too soon. “The sources uploaded the documents, members erased the metadata, verified the submissions and provided context,” he said. “At some point it became impossible to do all these jobs adequately.” That has never stopped Assange from trying. He is now immersed in a court case which will eat up considerable energies but he will continue to be a freakish force of nature. The Walkley Trustees said Wikileaks was not without flaws. But, they said, by constructing a means to encourage whistleblowers, “Wikileaks and editor-in-chief Julian Assange took a brave, determined and independent stand for freedom of speech and transparency that has empowered people all over the world.”