Noble Mendaxity: Assange and Wikileaks win a Walkley

Julian Assange has won the Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism at this year’s Australian journalism Walkley awards– a win that labels him firmly as a journalist of the first rank. Assange won for Wikileaks which organisers said had a courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: “justice through transparency.” Walkley judges said Wikileaks applied new technology to “penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup.”

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 is “Assange’s Wikileaks” as he never stopped reminding his former co-pilot Daniel Domscheit-Berg. Assange’s biggest fear was that Domscheit-Berg, the other half of a two-man operation, would claim to be “co-founder.” Assange’s towering ego made him insufferably vain and uncaring of others, but his steadfastness to a great idea made it all possible. Wikileaks changed the relationship of whistleblowers to media by protecting anonymous material. The reason disenchanted staff from Julius Bär bank or escapees from Scientology trusted Wikileaks was it was deliberately set up so they could never track the whistle blower. The guaranteed anonymity set it apart from all classical forms of investigative journalism.

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.”

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3 thoughts on “Noble Mendaxity: Assange and Wikileaks win a Walkley

  1. This story assumes it is true the Manning confessed to Adrian Lamo. Manning has not yet been tried in court. Before one concludes that Manning did this, they should read about the background, friendships, and connections betweet Adrian Lamo, Poulsen, Chet Uber, Ruhe and others who knew each other for years and worked for FBI and other govt agencies. I posted 4 meticulously researched blogs about these people in Dec 2010 and Jan 2011 at salon.com. My research calls into question the credibility of those who turned in Manning.

    Disturbingly, salon.com deleted all of my blogs. On Feb 4, 2011, I reposted them under my salon.com name, Dr. Amy L. Beam at http://open.salon.com/blog/dr_amy_l_beam/popularity . The title of the blogs begin ‘Connecting the Dots Part 1 (through 4), Manning’ . It will be interesting to see if they are deleted again. If one does a Google search for my old blogs, they appear on the results list with dead links, proving my blogs existed and were deleted at salon.com.

    I have emailed Glen Greenwald asking for an explanation of why my blogs in support of Bradley Manning and Julian Assange were deleted. I hope he will investigate how this happened. The internet is under severe and escalating attack to make information disappear. There is an effort to make all evidence in support of Manning and Assange disappear as if it had never existed. That’s how the winners rewrite history.

    1. Amy,

      thank you for your response. Yes, I guess it does assume that. Your allegations, if true, are disturbing. Why do you think Salon deleted your posts?

      cheers
      Derek

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