Assange, Once Hailed by the Press, Now Jailed by the Press

© AP Photo / Matt DunhamBanners in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are displayed outside Westminster magistrates court where he was appearing in London, Thursday, April 11, 2019.
Banners in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange are displayed outside Westminster magistrates court where he was appearing in London, Thursday, April 11, 2019. - Sputnik International
In October 2016, David Smith, writing for the Guardian, asked, “How did WikiLeaks go from darling of the liberal left and scourge of American imperialism to apparent tool of Donald Trump’s divisive, incendiary presidential campaign?”

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Of course, the same question could be asked of the Guardian and multiple other mainstream media outlets. In many ways, Assange was their darling, too. These media corporations were more than happy to publish materials released by WikiLeaks and Julian Assange that exposed war crimes committed by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush administration.

The Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and others treated the material released by Assange and WikiLeaks regarding Iraq and Afghanistan as vital news and frequently put stories from WikiLeaks on the front page — above the fold in the print media and as the top story in broadcast media outlets. They didn't then dispute the authenticity or truth of what WikiLeaks published.

The turn against WikiLeaks by the mainstream media didn't happen all at once, but a shift clearly began as WikiLeaks continued to publish embarrassing documents showing government, political and corporate misconduct during the final years of the Obama administration, the tenure of Hillary Clinton as US secretary of state and during the 2016 election campaign.

The final shift by the mainstream media to explicit hostility and animus toward Assange came when WikiLeaks shared materials that embarrassed Clinton during that 2016 race.

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During the 2016 Democratic primary campaign, Bernie Sanders had been demanding that Clinton make public the content of the lucrative, closed-door speeches she'd given for major Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs. Clinton refused. Clinton, it was later revealed, had been paid more than $20 million by the biggest banks to say a few words to them in secrecy. If those bought-and-paid-for speeches had been released during the primary campaign, they would have had an explosive impact: the words of Hillary Clinton herself would have confirmed Sanders' main assertion about her — that she was beholden to the US' biggest banks, not the American people.

WikiLeaks published those speeches in October 2016, and the world was able to read how Clinton described herself in private as close to Wall Street bankers but "far removed" from ordinary Americans. On October 4, 2016, WikiLeaks released copies of Clinton's Wall Street speeches — and that's when the Guardian, once an eager publisher of WikiLeaks damning information, decided Assange and his organization were actually a "prop" for Trump.

The New York Times on October 7, 2016, likewise tried to soften the blow by suggesting that WikiLeaks was doing the bidding of Russia. In their article, the NY Times writes: "In a statement a Clinton spokesman, Glen Caplin, pointed to the United States government's findings that Russian officials had authorized the hacking and leaking of documents in order to sway the outcome of the presidential election, suggesting that the leak of Mr. Podesta's emails was also engineered by Russian officials determined to help Mr. Trump."

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This Clinton campaign's talking points were also echoed in the Washington Post's October 7, 2016, coverage of the released speeches: "‘We are not going to confirm the authenticity of stolen documents released by Julian Assange, who has made no secret of his desire to damage Hillary Clinton,' Clinton spokesman Glen Caplin said." The Post article continues, "He [Caplin] referred to doctored emails that have appeared on websites linked to Russian intelligence recently as proof that ‘documents can be faked as part of a sophisticated Russian misinformation campaign,' although Caplin did not say that the emails released Friday concerning Clinton's speeches had been faked."

It was during the summer and autumn of 2016, as WikiLeaks published documents from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, which included damning exposes of abuse and misconduct by Democratic Party officials, that the mainstream media adopted the position that Assange and WikiLeaks was not publishers of valuable information, but rather a hostile, evil force acting as a proxy of an enemy state.

The mainstream media that once loved Julian Assange and WikiLeaks did a 180-degree turn against this media organization once it embarrassed Democratic Party officials. The same media, acting as a herd — or perhaps a mob would be more precise — asserted a narrative and endlessly repeated without proof that WikiLeaks was nothing other than an instrument of Russian intelligence operations.

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One need only look through the headlines of the various mainstream media outlets to see the repetition of unproven claims all along a theme designed to convict Assange in the court of public opinion. CBS offered "How did WikiLeaks become associated with Russia?" The Atlantic asked, "Is WikiLeaks a Russian Front?"; Vox asserted "The WikiLeaks-Russia connection started way before the 2016 election"; the Washington Post claimed "The image of Julian Assange grows darker by the day." The Hill published "Clinton: WikiLeaks is a ‘tool of Russian intelligence'"; Washington Monthly drew up "The WikiLeaks-Russia Connection"; and the New York Times told us "How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West's Secrets."

Assange, the publisher of one of the most important alternative news sites, is now shackled and chained. Secret grand jury deliberations, endless surveillance, a profoundly biased media narrative — all these factors make a fair trial for him nearly impossible. And the mainstream media whose darling Assange once was, has played a major role in this debacle.

Brian Becker is a host of Loud and Clear on Radio Sputnik.

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