Magazine article The Spectator

The Sensational Truth

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sensational Truth

Article excerpt

What WikiLeaks reveals about our press

For a man who earns his living by publishing other people's email, Julian Assange has a high opinion of himself.

You can hear that in his rhetoric, which combines the paranoia of the early Bolsheviks with the arrogance of a teenage computer hacker. When a subordinate dared threaten him a few months ago, Assange slapped him down by declaring himself 'the heart and soul of this organisation, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organiser, financier, and all the rest'. When others threatened to leave, he declared, in the manner of the young Lenin, that the organisation was in 'a Unity or Death situation'.

His goals are as vast as his self-esteem:

chief among them is the destruction of the American government as we know it. On his website, he describes the leaked US diplomatic cables in dramatic and sinister terms.

He declares that he plans to release them in stages, because 'The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.' Alas, the cables do not live up to Assange's fantasies: these are records of private conversations, not human rights abuse. Some are fascinating - but so far none are shocking.

Almost universally, they show American diplomats pursuing the same goals in private as they do in public - more so than most.

So embarrassing are the cables for some of America's opponents, in fact, that the Iranian P resident, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, claims they were leaked by Washington.

To read the British press, you would not know any of this, however. In fact, in recent days I've started to wonder whether the Guardian 's journalists - perhaps because they've had to keep the cables secret? - have been infected by Assange's conspiratorial sensationalism. On the day the leaks began, its writers declared that 'the United States was catapulted into a worldwide diplomatic crisis', which makes it sound as if World War Three were about to break out. The New York Times, by contrast, declared that 'a cache of a quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables. . . provides an unprecedented look at back-room bargaining by embassies around the world'. …

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