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WikiLeaks supporters and lawyers spinning with the best of them

Posted on 8 December 2010 | 10:12am

Once a newsworthy event becomes a full-blown media frenzy, there comes a point where separating fact from fantasy, comment from conspiracy, and hard information from spin becomes virtually impossible. That is the point we reached with the WikiLeaks circus yesterday.

The central character, Julian Assange, some of yesterday’s walk-on parts, like John Pilger and Ken Loach, and the freedom of information campaigners who hail Assange as a hero, would normally be front of the queue in denouncing ‘spin’. But spin, if by that we mean the use of the media to control an agenda, and the assertion of your side of the story regardless of all the attendant facts, is now a very important part of the whole operation of WikiLeaks and its media partners.

They continue to control the process by which the US cables are leaked, using well-worn spin techniques for maximum impact – nothing wrong with that of course, though if a government or political party controls access to information to suit its own ends, it’s viewed as a mortal sin.

They are also well into the mode of saying anything that suits their basic case, whether they have the facts needed to support it or not. So Sweden – Sweden!! – has now become a kind of pariah state, almost as bad as big bad U S of A, because their prosecuting authorities would like to see Mr Assange over allegations of sexual assault.

‘Many people believe Mr Assange to be innocent,’ says his lawyer Mark Stephens. ‘Many people believe the prosecution is politically motivated’. But many people – indeed all people apart from Mr Assange and the two women involved – don’t actually know. Certainly, Mr Pilger and Mr Loach and Jemima Khan do not. Yet all felt moved to say that in their view Mr Assange was innocent of anything other than being a fearless campaigner for truth. Two of the three said so whilst admitting they didn’t know him. In other words, whatever the situation they are happy to believe that the allegations are being made for purely political reasons because of Mr Assange’s role in WikiLeaks. But no matter how wise they may be, they don’t know.

Wander around the web for a while and others will go further. The two women are CIA agents – well, yes, once a conspiracy is under way, the CIA have to be in there somewhere.

I don’t know Mr Assange at all. I know Mark Stephens, and like him. But he too, like many lawyers adept in the modern media age, is not averse to playing the spin game rather well. So it is hardly surprising that he claims the case is political.

His main line of defence seems to be that the allegations  are all part of some conspiracy to get his client behind bars and WikiLeaks out of circulation, and that Sweden will be but a stepping stone to the US where some of the barmier elements have been making ludicrous calls for Mr Assange’s execution.

We were softened up for this approach at the weekend when we learned that Assange’s legal team felt they were being followed by secret servicemen. The evidence for this was that cars outside their homes had people in them ‘reading newspapers’. I wonder if they might have been journalists trying to establish Mr Assange’s wherabouts and thinking he might pop by to see his lawyer, but no, spies, secret servicemen, obvious innit?

They then talk of dark forces at work and Channel 4’s Jon Snow asks Mr Stephens – a tough one this – ‘where is the dark force .. is it, frankly … the US?’ Mr Stephens does not demur. He goes on to denounce Sweden’s reputation as a liberal state, saying they acted as ‘lickspittles’ for the US over rendition flights. The lawyer for the two women is denounced because he is ‘also a politician’ and the Swedish authorities are clearly part of the gigantic conspiracy.

Yet nowhere yesterday, nor in today’s papers, could I see anything that could be claimed as evidence either that the US are orchestrating this, or that the Swedes are doing anything other than trying to investigate serious allegations of sexual misconduct which they would be investigating whether they concerned a Stockholm cabbie or a WikiLeaks founder who has made himself a centre of global attention.

But we are now in frenzy mode. Anything goes. Any accusation can be made against any instrument of any State thought to have been angered or embarrassed by WikiLeaks. And of course it suits WikiLeaks’ purpose, politically and financially, for it to be thought that everyone is terribly angry with them, even when they’re not. For anti-authority groups, the sense of victimhood is hard won and best preserving when you get it. Which is why if the ‘authorities’ and their dark forces really were orchestrating this, I suspect the last place they would want Mr Assange right now is in Wormwood Scrubs.

But the Assange supporters will by now be convinced that their man is a victim of all manner of unknown and unseen dark forces. It suits their agenda. So the spin will reach new levels.  The Guardian runs a two page spread on ‘the revenge operation’ which is being mounted by ‘Washington’. It includes the buried but rather inconvenient observation that Barack Obama ‘has not yet said a word about WikiLeaks’.

Ah, but he doesn’t need to. He’s leaving it all to those people sitting in cars reading newspapers. We know who they are. We know what their game is. And even if we don’t, we’ll say we do.

  • Duncan Hothersall

    Of course it’s possible that this is a series of unlikely coincidences, and we have to wait for the truth to emerge – which may or may not happen as part of the legal processes currently underway. But I think there is another level of spin going on here, that being the personification of the wikileaks organisation (and whistleblower websites in general) as Mr Assange. The truth is that this is a movement that requires no figurehead.

    In reality, the very worst that can happen is that Assange becomes a martyr to the cause of information freedom. Like giving terrorism the name “Bin Laden”, the biggest mistake the US and other government are making is to think he is their target.

  • Henry Munns

    Good article really does make you think about what is a real fact and what is a assumed fact.

  • applejunta

    Spin is not the same as conspiracy. I am sure that you will find it hard to prove that the CIA and other similar agencies don’t get up to no good when there is news that is not to their liking.
    I suppose this is a blog and is not any form of investigative journalism. I rather like the scientific approach to journalism now being carried out by the guardian.
    Articles being backed up by real data.

  • “which they would be investigating whether they concerned a Stockholm cabbie or a WikiLeaks founder”

    I think that the thrust of what you say is spot on, but a lot hinges on whether this is accurate. If a Stockholm cabbie had similar allegations made against him, would he be taken into custody in the UK and denied bail? Would he be extradited to Sweeden? There are varying reports about the severity of the alleged offences, some suggest they are very minor and would only result in small fines.. hardly something anyone would go to this much trouble to prosecute.. but, as I don’t have a handle on Swedish criminal law, I don’t know what is truth and what is spin.

    Allegations have been made against Mr Assange, and the way they have been brushed aside by many has been distasteful… with the ‘right on’ liberal brigade being no better than the Mail (which, in essence and true to form, put it all down to a couple of jealous slags). It’s right that he should answer to the alleagations… but if he is being treated differently on account of his other interests then it only pours fuel on the fires of conspiracy.

    • David

      He’d be denied bail if he refused to say when or how he came to the UK, where he would live, where he normally lives, to give a photo, etc, and faced a serious charge. Assange is a massive flight risk, and anyone who is surprised or upset that he didn’t get bail wants to have a long hard think about themselves.

  • Kgill

    Well far be it for me to query an article on spin by the master himself, but its not quite that simple is it? The case in Sweden was originally dismissed by the chief prosecutor within 24 hours, then following a series of embarrassing and high profile leaks it was picked up again by a separate prosecutor and pursued voraciously. The Swedish authorities have been reluctant to communicate with Assange’s defense team. I’m not saying this proves conspiracy but its not as if its just been spun out of thin air by left wing ideologues anxious to blame the US for whatever they can.

  • Sjcoggins

    Sounds like your doing your own version of spin.
    By your own admission you know nothing about this and the only people who do are the women and Julian himself.
    If you know nothing then you should say nothing.

  • Fraser

    True, we don’t know all the facts and truth of the alleged rape case. However, it has been said the original charges were dropped by Sweden’s Public Prosecutor and have only been reinstated after political pressure.
    Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at your negative attitude towards the constant trickle of leaks as it’s likely there could be something lurking in the depths that you would rather didn’t appear….

  • weaver

    A masterclass from the king of spin.

  • Ookami-the-wolf

    And After all this..

    You don’t know either.


  • Anon

    Alastair Campbell accusing people of spin doctoring?! It’s not like you’ve ever done that is it Mr Campbell. Whatever next? The Taliban accusing people of violating womens rights? The US Gvt accusing people of censoring the media?! Oh, wait….

    • Sharon

      Well, if Alastair doesn’t know spin when he sees it, who does?

    • Trevor

      What a brainless, facile comment that truly was, Anon (if that’s your real name). The whole point of the article was that lots of people engage in spin, not just Campbell. Learn to read.

  • Bla

    So this is what you get up to when youre not having eggs thrown at you by anti-war activists?

  • Paul Herwin

    Seeing as you were one of the dark forces that led us into an illegal war I hardly feel you can comment.

  • Colin Young

    Thanks for this … a bit of balance to the argument. I saw the Jon Snow interview too and apart from when he asked the lawyer why Mr Assange didnt just go to Sweden if he was innocent, it was all very much loaded towards letting the lawyer say what he wanted and without much challenge. I couldnt help thinking that Mr Assange – even if jail is not a very nice place – would be enjoying the idea of people saying he was a martyr

    • MrMoriarty

      Because this isn’t about the sexual assault etc charges. It’s about the ruling bodies of the West being caught with their pants around their ankles and then taking it out on the people good enough to expose them.
      For all the moral stance you can take on the ‘legality’ of Wikileaks and their supporters, think of the illegality of the recent wars, the blatant trampling of the common man, the rise of the oligarch/corporate run world bleeding us all dry and a complete lack of government actually serving their purpose; to serve it’s people not the banks and themselves.

  • Kate Lynas

    To b fair to the Guardian, they have always had a generally anti US stance and I think that thy have been reasonably careful in their reporting of this. It is true though that the piece on ‘washington’ trying to do in WikiLeaks was built on not very much and that ‘washington’ by most people would be taken as meaning the President, particularly outside the US

  • Rpjmartin1971

    Mr Campbell,

    The details of any co-ordinated effort to take down wikileaks are unlikely to published in a newspaper. But given that the site has suffered a DOS attack, the Swedes have dug up some old charge that wasn’t deemed worthy of investigation a while back, that Paypal and Mastercard deemed wikileaks to be involved in “illegal” activity, even though no one has been tried and convicted of any criminal offence, I really think you are stretching credulity to suggest that these events are all simply coincidental and that the US and other govts are not feverishly trying to shoot the messenger.

    Of course the US NSA or its contractors are behind the technical attacks and, obviously, the USG has had a word with PayPal and Mastercard. To believe otherwise would be incredibly naïve.

  • Itsnotme

    hate the game not the player, eh Campbell

  • stewart

    If he ends up in the US will you eat your words?

  • notme

    “Whatever next? …The US Gvt accusing people of censoring the media?!”

    Close but no cigar…

    “U.S. to Host World Press Freedom Day in 2011”

  • Cathy Byrne

    I don’t doubt he needed to find bail surety from somewhere but when I saw Pilger up there telling me whether he was or was not guilty, I felt my support for Mr Assange weakening. I don’t object to the publication of US cables, but I do object to the one-sided reporting in most of the media. Freedom of information, yes, but that means informed debate not hero worship of anyone who rocks an American boat

  • Harry Painter

    I wonder if the educated affluent types who so hate America will feel the same towards China when, thanks in part to the incessant undermining of a genuine democracy, China becomes the real superpower of the world, and a not very democratic one at that

  • Sarah Dodds

    Here, as with dodgy dossiers and sexing up, everyone likes to be one of the cool kids who can see the “truth.” Too much “X Files” and “24” for my generation of 30+ somethings means that the “truth” is “out there somewhere” alot more sinister and exciting than reality. But the cool kids don’t realise that there being just one “truth” about anything is a fantasy. My gut feeling about politicians generally is that they spend just as much time responding to events as they do trying to control them. And doing both all of the time can get then in the mire, because there lies in juggling both roles an inherent contradiction.
    Some of the the Wikilieaks stuff has turned my head, some has made me chuckle, and some made me angry at the stupidity of leaking it. But most of it I would class on the same scale as a parent getting something juicy having overheard staffroom gossip. (It seems frightfully important to them because they “know”, but it really does not matter which teacher is moving into year 3 next year…..) As far as I know the world is still turning. And will continue to for a bit longer.
    In terms of “Washington,” my best guess is that the VERY last thing they want on their hands is a martyr for the Wikileaks cause. The cools kids may be cool, but not very clever at times. Sometimes “truth” and reality is a shed load more dull than fiction.

  • Simon

    How’s that glass house of yours Mr Campbell? Got any windows left in it?

  • Olli Issakainen

    It is for the court in Sweden to decide whether Mr Assange is guilty or not. But WikiLeaks is more than Mr Assange, and will not stop leaking documents even if Mr Assange were in prison.
    His case reminds me of that of Scott Ritter. Mr Ritter told that there were no WMDs in Iraq, and suddenly evidence was leaked to the press about his sex life. Mr Ritter has said that this was done to distract attention from his statements about Iraq.
    Johann Hari wrote in the Independent that the CIA has a long history of smearing people who cross the US state machinery. So this situation cannot be ruled out completely.
    Whether all these leaks from WikiLeaks are in public interest is a matter of another conversation. But let´s leave the juridical points to lawyers – it is not the role of media to pass sentences.

  • fallingcat

    This coming from the archtypical spin doctor of the most spun government in modern times! Is your memory really so short? Or are you in denial?
    Why would you expect to find evidence of US pressure on Sweden? Or any of the commercial organisations that have abandoned dealing with Wikileaks without the website or Mr Assange having been charged or convicted of anything illegal

  • MrMoriarty

    @Harry Painter Well pointed out. Although I’m still steaming that a man such as this and his cohorts can rave about the moral stance of sites like Wikileaks taking action against this worlds mightily corrupt governments and their financial backpatters, the banks, mainstream media and mega-corps and failing to see that they are the ones acting illegally. Starting illegal wars, robbing everyone’s taxes to sort out their already rich friends who lost most of the globes’s wealth and have ventured to place everyone lower than themselves in a world of pain. Where are the trillions of dollars that the banks lost going? People like Alastair Campbell might know, how about leaking a bit of info to cover your hide Al?

  • they are terrible
    they are always spinning and they are always to blame
    any concrete charges you want to bring against anyone with a name?

  • NoWi

    Why is it wrong to point out the botched legal process that happened in Sweden? Is it really unreasonable to question the motivations of people who demonstrably conspired (yes a genuine conspiracy) to defame Mr. Assange before they approached police? Is it wrong to point out the massive pressure US politicians and authorities have been putting on businesses, not to mention the many sympathizers the US seems to have within various European governments? Why can’t just call a spade a spade?

    For someone with your experience it also seems incredibly naive to imply that US intelligence agents are completely ignoring the case.

  • John

    The US Attorney Genera has said he is looking at ways to get Assange. Countless numbers of politicians have expressed a desire to punish him. To think that the US is not actively trying to get their hands on Assange is just silly.
    As far as the “serious allegations of sexual misconduct” that landed Mr. Assange at the top of the Interpol’s most wanted list; do you have any idea what these allegations consist of? From what I’ve read, and this includes quotes from one of the alleged “victims”, I think it is likely this case has everything to do with feminism run amok in Sweden. From what I’ve read both women have said the sex was consensual and they did not feel threatened by him. In one case a condom broke while he was having sex with the person and in the other a condom was used in the evening and not used the next morning. But at no time was there a threat of violence on the part of Mr. Assange. However, in the mind of the current prosecutor it would seem that by virtue of being a male the threat of violence on the part of Mr. Assange is implicit, so it does not matter if no force was used. There is an article in Die Zeit about this prosecutor, who distanced herself from the previous prosecutor who had said Assange should not be charged with rape:
    “In one case of a woman being mistreated she voiced the opinion that men accused by women but not convicted should in any case be preventively locked up – to give the women “space to think things over”.
    “Only when the man is in captivity and the woman in quietude gets time to look at her existence with some distance, does she get the opportunity to discover how she was treated,” she is quoted as saying at the time. And are you familiar with the history of the first “victim”? I’m sure there are worshipers of Assange who feel he can do no wrong. I’m not one of those people. But from what I’ve been able to gather about the victims, Swedish justice, and this prosecutor- it really looks like he’s getting screwed. I would encourage you to read up on the nature of these allegations, get informed, and once you have make another post. If you honestly don’t have any concerns about these allegations after doing that I can respect that. But don’t just assume the allegations are kosher.

  • …the timings of the warrant seem to be almost deliberately provocative. The Swedish court have been sitting on them since august, and interestingly wait till this second wave of leaks to emerge before issuing warrant. Some small international coercion there, perhaps. But by acting in this manner, as you have correctly stated Mr Campbell, the ‘freedom for all information movement’ as it were are playing into the hands of those who would wish to discredit the Wikileaks site. By allowing these, quite possibly and somewhat unfortunately, unfabricated charges, to be classified as an attack on the Wikileaks site and not just Assange, they’re smearing wikileaks themselves! Fools! Gaaaaah!

    And if that’s what those who are pulling the strings behind the timings of the charges et al. wanted, well, i’m sure their very happy right now….

  • VASA

    You seem, unsurprisingly, obsessed with ‘spin’, seeing it everywhere you look. You may have been all about spin, but Wikileaks is not. To equate an organisation who’s sole agenda is the dissemination of concealed truths with your own sickly trade is unfortunate. If you wish to justify your supposed repute in these matters you would do well to recognise that Assange is obviously being spun.

  • Hes

    OMG, you are so funny! :))) Do you really believe what you write? Greetings from Czech Republic.

  • Vaci

    The Guardian article didn’t say anything about the arrest of Assange. It was reporting on the closure of the Wikileaks Paypal account after a request from the State Department.

    Mr Assange’s lawyer will say whatever he needs to bolster his client’s case, but the mainstream media, and in particular Wikileaks’ media partners haven’t confused the two issues at all.

    I’ve read no reports that link the arrest with US pressure on Wikileaks.

    Except… by you.

  • Andyburbidge

    mr campbell, for a man who has so much blood on his hands from the use of spin, i wonder how you have the nerve to even post this blog.
    for shame

  • “Yet nowhere yesterday, nor in today’s papers, could I see anything that could be claimed as evidence either that the US are orchestrating this, or that the Swedes are doing anything other than trying to investigate serious allegations”

    Exactly, Alistair, just as there was nowhere could I see anything that could be claimed as evidence that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction.So, by your gauge, if there’s no substantiating evidence within two days then it doesn’t exist.

  • Primus Designatus

    Assange doesn’t strike me as the type to mug a granny, however, looks like he’s definitely messing with the big boys now…

  • Janete

    I’m with you on this and AC sums up the Wikileaks saga very well.

    I think Harold Evans was right too, recently referring to ‘infantile leftism’ evident in the Wikileaks philosophy.

    It all reminds me of immature rebellious teenagers pointlessly kicking against authority.

  • Asavolume

    BWAHAHAHA. That’s rich.

  • Richard

    As you proved in your “sexed up dossier” vendetta against the BBC, when you were the last man standing, the application of maximum force lets bullies get their own way.

    Look out Assange, your number is up.

  • Robert L Jackson

    The brilliant mathematician Alan Turing – the man who played such an important part in shining light on Nazi secret codes in WW11 – committed suicide when he was threatened with a sexual scandal.

    Many people now know that was such a terrible outcome some 60 years ago for an amazing man.

    So in 2010 we find ourselves seeing a man involved in a sexual scandal after letting the world see the workings of government.

    While we are all shouting and taking sides, drawing parallels and getting indignant, there is an essential difference between these two men’s day jobs.

    Assange has power without responsibility – the prerogative of ladies of the night throughout history.

    Turing used his brains to save a nation.

  • Isaac

    You lose focus very quickly in this post because it becomes unclear at some points who you are referring to; “freedom of information campaigners” or Wikileaks themselves. Starting paragraphs with “they” does nothing to resolve this ambiguity. But I have two points in regards to this quote:

    “They continue to control the process by which the US cables are leaked, using well-worn spin techniques for maximum impact – nothing wrong with that of course, though if a government or political party controls access to information to suit its own ends, it’s viewed as a mortal sin.”

    Firstly, wikileaks content is unable to be spun. Wikileaks do not write original content and so they are as guilty of spinning as the telephone directory. Secondly, when I start paying Wikileaks over a quarter of my earnings and when Wikileaks start deciding how society operates then maybe I’ll feel as entitled to have access to their operations as I do about the government’s.