Originally published at WikiLeaks Central on 25th November 2011.
Ever since Britain's The Guardian newspaper co-operated with WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange to publish the greatest document leaks in history, they have pursued a relentless smear campaign against him. As Assange's likely extradition to Sweden looms, this campaign has now ramped up to a point where it has jumped the shark.
Since March 2010, The Guardian has published over a dozen articles criticising Assange (with only a small fraction of that number published in support). There is a singular lack of substance to these ad hominem attacks, which originate from a small circle of closely-connected journalists. And curiously, nearly every one of these critical stories includes the words “anti-Semite” and/or “Holocaust denier”.
So does The Guardian believe Assange is an anti-Semite? Surprise, surprise, the allegation is never made. Rather, Assange is smeared by a tenuous association with an obscure journalist named Israel Shamir, just one of several hundred journalists with whom WikiLeaks has worked in recent years.
Such a co-ordinated campaign of character assassination amounts to shamefully abusive behaviour for a major media outlet. It's time those involved were held to account...
THE MAIN CHARACTERS
As the Guardian's editor-in-chief, Rusbridger directs editorial policy and has the final say on publication. If the Guardian is pursuing an agenda, Rusbridger is behind it. From Wikipedia: "He is a member of the board of Guardian News and Media, of the main board of the Guardian Media Group and of the Scott Trust, which owns The Guardian and The Observer, of which he is executive editor. Rusbridger received £471,000 in pay and benefits in 2008/9."
Given the nature of these allegations, perhaps it's worth noting that Rusbridger's wife is Jewish and his daughter was involved in an anti-Semitic controversy while working as a Guardian comments moderator.
Rusbridger's wife's brother David Leigh is editor in charge of The Guardian’s Investigations Team. An attitude of hissing contempt for Assange runs throughout his book "Wikileaks - Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy", which Leigh published with Guardian colleague Luke Harding. In that book, Leigh published the password to the CableGate files (plus the "salt") although the Guardian has ever since blamed Assange for the unredacted cables' release.
Leigh has never properly explained what Assange did to deserve such visceral treatment. He frequently refers to a secretive meeting where Leigh claims the Australian wanted to release US cables unredacted because "informants deserve to die". Assange claims he never made such a comment, and WikiLeaks has always worked hard to redact leaked documents. But even if he had said it, would that single comment justify a never-ending campaign of hate from a supposedly respectable newspaper?
Now employed as a full-time journalist under David Leigh, the youthful James Ball is a former Wikileaks staffer who apparently took a few things with him when he left. He has made a career writing about his dissatisfaction with Assange, and his “insider” experiences have formed the basis for most of the Guardian's reporting. Ball claims to support the principles of WikiLeaks, "but not the principals". He previously worked as a researcher for Heather Brooke, the woman who passed the CableGate file to the New York Times and then wrote her own WikiLeaks book slamming Assange's character. Ball is now publishing a WikiLeaks book of his own. Ka-ching!?
The man whom the Guardian regularly labels a “notorious anti-Semite and Holocaust denier” was born to Jewish parents and served with the Israeli Defence Forces before moving abroad and converting to Orthodox Christianity. An independent journalist who claims to have worked with the BBC and Haaretz, Shamir has adopted a variety of aliases while reporting from various locations in post-Soviet Eastern Europe. Is he an anti-Semite? Even some informed anti-Zionist campaigners believe so. Perhaps you should make up your own mind. Here’s Shamir's own explanation of his controversial views.
But here's the thing. Even if you DO believe that Shamir is an anti-Semite, how does that justify The Guardian's vendetta against Julian Assange? Assange claims to have only met Shamir twice; Shamir was given the same level of access to a restricted set of WikiLeaks cables as dozens of other journalists around the world; and WikiLeaks has ridiculed The Guardian's claims that Shamir was paid for his services.
So what's the real agenda behind this Guardian campaign of smear by association?
17th Dec 2010
Andrew Brown's Guardian blog begins: "WikiLeaks's spokesperson and conduit in Russia has been exposed in the Swedish media as an anti-semite and Holocaust denier..." The Swedish media source he cites is Expressen, which is part of a right-wing media group owned by the Jewish Bonnier family.
31st Jan 2011
A Guardian extract from the Leigh/Harding book is titled: "Holocaust denier in charge of handling Moscow cables". The extract quotes “one staffer” and “one insider” - both of whom appear to be James Ball. It also describes “internal WikiLeaks documents, seen by the Guardian” without revealing Ball as the source.
5th Feb 2011
Writing in The Guardian, self-styled Web guru Evgeny Mozorov, pre-emptively declares Assange finished. He throws in an obligatory Shamir reference, albeit fairly recognising him as “a stranger” to WikiLeaks.
16th Feb 2011
Assange contacts Private Eye magazine to complain about an article linking him with Shamir, including leaked emails suggesting Assange does not find Shamir’s writing anti-Semitic. Liberal Conspiracy, "the UK's most popular left-of-centre politics blog", gives a Hat Tip to James Ball for the story. Hmn, I wonder where Private Eye got those leaked emails?
NB: Private Eye, which was "frequently anti-Semitic" until the 1980s, is not always so concerned about anti-Semitism.
24th Feb 2011
David Leigh tries to put the boot into Assange. In an article titled "It's Julian Assange's own 'tizzy' that bamboozles", he ridicules Assange's complaints, casts aspersions on his lawyers, and then (bizarrrely) lectures him about keeping his private life out of the media.
1st March 2011
A week after a judge rules that Assange should be extradited to Sweden, Private Eye's Ian Hislop opens fire in The Guardian. Assange responds: "Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase. In particular, 'Jewish conspiracy' is completely false, in spirit and in word."
3rd March 2011
John Kampfner, CEO of Index on Censorship, cites Israel Shamir as his central reason for not supporting WikiLeaks.
9th April 2011
Esther Addley writes in The Guardian: "Douglas Murray, director of the centre for social cohesion, challenged Assange over the website's sources of funding, its staffing and connections with the Holocaust denier Israel Shamir, who has worked with the site."
2nd Sept 2011
A Guardian editorial blames Assange for releasing the unredacted Cablegate files: "[WikiLeaks] has dwindled to being the vehicle of one flawed individual... occasionally brilliant, but increasingly volatile and erratic." There is no mention of David Leigh's password gaffe, nor of disgruntled ex-WikiLeaks staffer Daniel Domscheit-Berg, whose comments to German media triggered the public exposure of the files.
2nd Sept 2011
Former WikiLeaks insider James Ball writes: Why I Had To Leave WikiLeaks. In this article, Ball cites Shamir as his reason for leaving WikiLeaks, although he also says "the last straw" was Assange's decision to publish the full, unredacted CableGate file (never mind it was his new editors at The Guardian who published the password). Ball also claims that he was worried that after the most important cables had been redacted, "a large volume of cables would remain, of little interest to any media organisation." And yet, when the unredacted cables were released, Ball took no further interest in them. He nonchalantly Tweeted that the media had “had their turn” with the cables, and it was the public's turn now.
18th Sept 2011
Nick Cohen goes to town with a disgusting smear piece in The Guardian: "The treachery of Julian Assange". Cohen claims that the Shamir allegations render anything Assange ever says or does meaningless: "One can say with certainty, however, that Assange's involvement with Shamir is enough to discredit his claim that he published the documents in full because my colleagues on the Guardian inadvertently revealed a link to a site he was meant to have taken down."
26th Sept 2011
Ignoring basic media principles, David Leigh reviews the “unauthorised autobiography” of Assange: "It's a shame Assange couldn't get on with the Guardian... Assange shows, regrettably, that he is living in a fantasy world."
2nd Oct 2011
Karin Olsson, Culture Editor at Sweden's Expressen, is invited by a Guardian editor to write another substance-free smear piece: "Julian Assange: from hero to zero". She calls Assange “a paranoid chauvinist pig [who] cuts an increasingly pitiable figure”. As with the Nick Cohen article, this smear is widely reprinted in newspapers around the world, including Australia's Fairfax media. Once again, Assange's over-hyped association with Shamir is the central pillar of the attack. And as usual with these Guardian smear pieces, readers' comments are overwhelmingly disgusted at the author.
8th Nov 2011
James Ball wades back into the fray, ostensibly in protection of women's rights: Israel Shamir and Julian Assange's cult of machismo. While slammming both men as misogynists, Ball repeats tired claims that Shamir gave unredacted US cables to the President of Belarus. Readers comments – including mine – are again overwhelmingly hostile to the author.
The stories above are by no means a conclusive list of Guardian attacks on Assange. And of course WikiLeaks has been unfairly treated in many other media outlets – particularly in the USA – although curiously the Shamir controversy is generally ignored elsewhere.
So why is The Guardian, of all papers, pursuing such a petty, unprofessional, and unsubstantiated smear attack on Julian Assange? Is his barely noteworthy association with an obscure journalist really cause for so much fuss? Is this an embarrasingly unprofessional editorial grudge born from personality differences? Or can it all be about maintaining control of target audiences in the newly digitised media world?
Wikileaks has laid bare the naked corruption of our ruling elites and their media enablers. So what is The Guardian's agenda here? Who is driving this vendetta and why? Alan Rusbridger has some explaining to do.
PS: More discussion on this post: http://jaraparilla.blogspot.com/2011/11/guardians-vendetta-against-julian.html
An interesting timeline from the comments at my blog:
17/12/10, 4pm - Andrew Brown publishes blog with all source links still in Swedish language. Obviously a rush job as they didn't even bother to translate these sources. Brown even apologises for this at the end of the article. As well as smearing Israel Shamir it also seeks to smear his son, Johann Walstrom - Witness E in the Swedish case and a favourable witness for Assange - by association with his father.
17/12/10, 7pm - The Guardian writes 3 articles on the Belarus cables and 3 on the Cuba cables. It then uploads all its redacted Belarus and Cuba cables to Wikileaks. Some are very heavily - and apparently unnecessarily - redacted. Bear in mind that Israel Shamir was the first journalist to write about the Guardian "cable cooking".
17/12/10, 9pm - Nick Davies publishes the notorious "10 Days in Sweden" hit piece, which shamelessly distorted the leaked police protocol, kicking off the personal smear attacks against Assange in the English-speaking media.
Andrew Brown is the religious ("belief") editor at the Comment Is Free (CIF) section of Guardian. He lived in Sweden previously and still writes about it regularly. He invited Karin Olsson to write the Assange smear, as she admits here.
Following Channel 4's "WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies" smear-filled TV documentary, wikileaks.org has published full details of the Guardian's involvement and producer's correspondence: http://www.wikileaks.org/Guardian-s-WikiLeaks-Secrets-and.html