Fads make fools of us all from time to time (he wrote reflecting on a red & black pair of Crocs gathering dust in the cupboard) so it was refreshing to note the columnist known as Penbo man up today and admit his shame over signing a “wanky communique” in support of Julian Assange a couple of years ago. The communique is here.
To be fair to Penbo, a reformed student radical turned insightful and brilliant columnist, a lot has changed since the communique was issued or proclaimed (if you prefer):
■ Wikileaks’ unredacted publication of US diplomatic cables is now seen as responsible for multiple murders by Taliban forces of those who’ve helped the US and allied forces in Afghanistan;
■ Assange – despite sitting on a vast pile of donated cash he had solicited for the legal defence expenses of his apparent source Bradley Manning – had to be publicly pressured by Manning’s desperately worried friends into contributing a small amount to his legal defence. Meanwhile Manning languishes in maximum security US military prison and is expected to receive a lengthy sentence if convicted;
■ Assange has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid the Swedish justice system which is investigating him in relation to serious and credible accusations of sexual assault. The Swedish criminal justice system is known for its typically Scandinavian lefty compassion for the rights of the accused and for prisoners, usually housed in places that look like an Ikea showroom. When the Swedes thoughtfully arranged for some Israeli drug dealers to be shipped off home to serve the rest of their sentence in Israel, they declined, preferring to serve out the rest of their time in Swedish jail where they get steak, conjugal visits and comfy accommodations. Assange maintains his refusal to answer claims of sexual assault is because he fears imminent extradition from Sweden to the United States, arguing Sweden is some kind of puppet-state of the US. This is all rather odd given Sweden has long maintained its nonalignment with any superpower (even with the Soviet Union breathing down their neck) independence from NATO, has at times a frosty relationship with US-ally Israel, and that Assange has been fighting for his right to stay in Britain, usually breathlessly accused by anti-American types of being a Washington toady. None of Assange’s spin has credibility or makes much sense unless looked through the frame that Assange is behaving like a sex offender with a great deal to hide.
■ Assange has cosied up to the world’s worst dictators – who only like him because he’s anti-US – like musician-imprisoning Vladimir Putin whose “Russia Today” Krelin-backed TV network paid him a small fortune to conduct grovelling “interviews” with terrorist leaders and Ecuador’s El Presidente Correa who was so impressed with the Assange’s obedient form he’s invited him over to replace the far less compliant local scribes who struggle to keep out of jail for speaking truth to Correa’s power. It’s a publicity stunt but is no less ironic for it.
Of course, publishing embarrassing information about the US government was never the issue. Nothing wrong with a good leak. VEXNEWS could hardly think otherwise.
But Assange’s pre-occupation with hating the US has never sat comfortably with us.
Indeed, our read of the Wikileaks cables and most of the subsequent reporting is that it showed that – almost always – the US government has been on the side of the angels. It confirmed our prejudice in favour of democracies and against tyrannies. While far from perfect, the cables mostly revealed that what you see is what you get with US foreign policy. They generally support people who generally support their values. Mostly, they get it right.
While publicly condemning the publication of confidential cables, Assange’s intended damage against the US government has been privately acknowledged by them as inconsequential. Those murdered or tortured as a result of Assange’s unredacted publications were not so lucky.
David Penberthy, an erudite and decent chap, was not the only one willing to lend his name and masthead to the Death to America zealot, Julian Assange.
What got them excited at the time was the assertion by PM Gillard that there was some illegality involved in the process of obtaining and disseminating the Wikileaks cables. The legal trouble that Assange’s apparent source is currently in suggests she was absolutely right. She accused Assange of being irresponsible, also true, indeed a proposition advanced by Assange’s former publication partners at the lefty newspapers New York Times and the Guardian, hardly seen as blindly following Washington policy on anything.
“As far as I can see, he (Mr Assange) hasn’t broken any Australian law,” he told Sky News.
“Nor does it appear he has broken any American laws.”
So, in that climate, some big names in journalism signed up to Assange’s cause before it became fully apparent what he is. Quite a few are still in their jobs, even after two years.
Clinton Maynard, news director, 2UE
David Penberthy, editor-in-chief, news.com.au
Eric Beecher, chairman, Crikey, (note to self, don’t sign anything also signed by Beecher unless it involves him giving you money in a defo settlement)
Gay Alcorn, editor, The Sunday Age
Garry Bailey, editor, The Mercury (Hobart)
Garry Linnell, editor, The Daily Telegraph
Ian Ferguson, director of news and programs, Sky News Australia/New Zealand
Jim Carroll, network director of news and public affairs, Ten Network
Julian Ricci, editor, Northern Territory News
Kate Torney, director of news, ABC
Mark Calvert, director of news and current affairs, Nine Network
Melvin Mansell, editor, The Advertiser (Adelaide)
Megan Lloyd, editor, Sunday Mail (Adelaide)
Michael Crutcher, editor, The Courier Mail,
Mike van Niekerk, editor in chief, Fairfax online
Paul Cutler, news director, SBS
Paul Ramadge, editor-in-chief, The Age
Peter Fray, editor-in-chief, The Sydney Morning Herald
Peter Meakin, director of news and public affairs, Seven Network
Rick Feneley, editor, The Sun-Herald
Rob Curtain, news director, 3AW
Rod Quinn, editor, The Canberra Times
Sam Weir, editor, The Sunday Times
Scott Thompson, The Sunday Mail (Queensland)
Simon Pristel, editor, Herald Sun
Tory Maguire, editor, The Punch
We wonder what they make of Julian Assange now?
Fabian Loza, 46, was one of Ecuador’s most popular television investigative reporters until he fell foul of the mercurial President, who was elected in 2007.
‘I worked for Gama TV, one of the biggest stations, and I made my name exposing corruption,’ Mr Loza said last night.
‘Once Correa came to power, he began waging war on free speech. If you broadcast or print something he doesn’t like, he shuts you down.
‘He has closed six television stations and dozens of independent newspapers.
‘I lost my job because I broadcast too many critical stories. It is like the old days of the Soviet Union.
‘The news in Ecuador today is run by the state. He has put his cronies in charge of the judiciary, the police and security forces. You have widespread corruption on every level but what you don’t have is a press free to expose it.’
Last August, one of Mr Loza’s journalist colleagues, Emilio Palacio, fled to Miami to claim asylum after he was sentenced to three years in prison for accusing Correa of ordering troops to open fire on civilians during an attempted coup in 2010. Two other journalists who wrote a book criticising the President’s brother were ordered to pay £6.3 million in fines.
Mr Lazo said: ‘It is the ultimate irony that Assange is seeking asylum in Ecuador while journalists here are forced to flee for their own safety. Assange is a pawn in a much bigger game. Correa doesn’t care about free speech – he only cares about sticking it to the Americans.’
UPDATE: Julian Assange’s fans seem oblivious to normal notions of justice when it relates to him. Most impressive of them is a friend of his who has brought him chocolate cake to his Ecuador embassy hide-away. Apparently unburdened by concern about Assange’s accusers who allege he sexually assaulted them, whose claims must rightly be examined in a proper court, she told the Assange-boosting Independent newspaper in Britain:
“I hate the thought of him having prison food, because he has a very sensitive palate.”