Julian Assange Pulls an Oprah

By Giglio, Mike | Newsweek, February 6, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Julian Assange Pulls an Oprah

Giglio, Mike, Newsweek

Byline: Mike Giglio

The bizarre tale of the WikiLeaks founder's star turn--with thanks to Russia.

Julian Assange is an excellent conversationalist--or so Vaughan Smith, the proprietor of the celebrated Frontline Club in London, told Newsweek recently. Assange is under house arrest while he fights extradition to Sweden, where he is accused of sexually assaulting two women in August 2010. While his case worked its way through the U.K. courts, the WikiLeaks founder spent much of the last year as a guest at Smith's magisterial Norfolk estate. There the pair had ample time to talk. "He's damn good company over a glass of wine," Smith said, using the term "walking encyclopedia" to describe Assange. "You can talk about anything."

WikiLeaks announced last week that Assange will be putting his interlocutory talents to work as the host of a new talk show, filmed at Smith's estate. As of press time the guest list had yet to be announced, but according to WikiLeaks, "Assange will draw together controversial voices from across the political spectrum--iconoclasts, visionaries, and power insiders."

Sounds like a good gig for one of the world's leading critics of state secrets. When the new program was announced, though, even some Assange supporters were left scratching their heads. The show is set to air on RT, formerly known as Russia Today, an English-language station funded by the Kremlin--which is fresh off allegations of election fraud and international condemnation for its crackdowns on pro-democracy protests. Russian media tycoon Alexander Lebedev took to Twitter to pillory Assange when he heard the news: "Shame on you, Mr. Assange! Hard to imagine more miserable final[e] for 'world order challenger' than employee of state-controlled 'Russia Today.'"

The station has long been criticized as a vehicle for state propaganda. "RT is seen by Putin's opponents as a government tool targeting Western audiences," says Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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