Assange: the right to know

In the lead up to Assange’s extradition trial, Free Speech campaigner and author Dr John Jiggens writes his opinion of how Hilary Clinton and the ABC’s Four Corner’s program have sought to undermine Julian Assange as a Russian agent and refuse to recognise his credentials as a publisher and journalist. It was Hilary Clinton who, laughing, celebrated the brutal murder and torture of Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi with the words: ‘We came, we saw, he died’.

The ABC’s Michael Brissenden claimed on a 4 Corners program that Assange was “A martyr for free speech and freedom of information to some – a reckless anarchist to others.” The ABC itself under political pressure from the Australian government has relinquished its independent status.

At the end of the Four Corner’s program a range of people may not have stood up for what Assange did, they do not support him being extradited.

ALAN RUSBRIDGER, EDITOR, THE GUARDIAN, 1995 – 2015:
Julian’s not American. He’s Australian. So, if we are saying that somebody who’s not a citizen of a country that he’s writing about is bound by their official secrecy laws and can be extradited to their country to spend time in their prisons, where does that leave us?

Michael Brissenden: While history will remember Julian Assange as the first significant digital information activist even his detractors now fear that if he is ultimately convicted for espionage Assange’s activism could herald a new media environment with even less freedom, and not just in the United States.

P.J. CROWLEY, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS, 2009 – 2011:
I’m very concerned that the decision to revisit the Assange case, the decision to ask for a formal extradition will have an impact in terms of the ability of the United States to be an advocate for journalism around the world, for freedom of speech around the world.

BARRY POLLACK, LAWYER FOR JULIAN ASSANGE:
I hope that he will be remembered as a very courageous individual who published information fearlessly from a sincere and heartfelt and I think what history will judge as a correct belief that the public had a right to know this information.

John Jiggens reports.

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Smearing Julian:  Hillary Clinton and Four Corners’ War on WikiLeaks

On US election Day 2016, the expectation was that the Democratic Party presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, would easily defeat the Republican candidate, Donald Trump.

Clinton believed her victory would become an iconic moment for twenty-first-century feminism. To symbolise this, she planned an elaborate celebration. Wearing a white pantsuit, the colour worn by twentieth-century suffragettes, she would stand on a giant stage shaped like the mainland U.S.A under the vast glass ceiling of the Javitts Centre in New York. Positioned on the glass ceiling were cannons filled with translucent confetti, designed to shower down like shattered glass, to symbolise the breaking of the glass ceiling as Hillary Clinton became the first woman elected President of the U.S.A.!

But it wasn’t the ceiling that shattered that night. It was Hillary Clinton’s dreams. Her loss to a man as shallow and odious as Donald Trump made her humiliation overwhelming. The devastated Clinton recorded her feelings in her book, What Happened. The first sentence of that book is, “Deep breath.” The last two sentences of the book’s short opening paragraph are, “Breath out. Scream later.”

This opening paragraph describes Clinton’s trauma at attending President Trump’s swearing-in ceremony, which other Democrats boycotted. She quotes congressman John Lewis saying the President-Elect was not legitimate because of mounting evidence of Russian interference in the election, introducing the major theme of Hillary Clinton’s scream.

Throughout the 2016 election, the Clinton campaign accused Donald Trump, who wanted friendly relations with Russia, of being Moscow’s man. Unlike Trump, Hillary Clinton championed sanctions and increased pressure on Russia. Clinton played the Russia card relentlessly. Her campaign team regarded Trump as soft on Russia, a stance they exploited in a manner straight out of  Joe McCarthy’s playbook – the Russian smear!

Trump’s brand of populism was nasty; his rhetorical style focused the resentment of his followers onto his chosen scapegoat through scornful nicknames; he christened Clinton, ‘Crooked Hillary’. Clinton responded in her neo-McCarthyist fashion, implying Donald Trump was ‘soft on Russia’ because he was a ‘Russian asset’! And to give substance to the Russian smear, the Clinton team did something very sneaky, something that looks, well, crooked!

They commissioned a report on Trump by a former MI6 officer Christopher Steele that pretended to be an intelligence briefing from a retired spy but was a political hit job, secretly funded by them. The report made devastating and salacious allegations about Trump: that he was a sexual pervert who could be blackmailed by the Russians, and that he was an asset the Russians had cultivated for years.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, but the sources for the dodgy dossier were unnamed, meaning the allegations could not be verified. In the final months of the 2016 campaign, as the season of the October surprise approached, copies of the dodgy dossier circulated among the US media, as well as the intelligence community and the FBI.

The lack of any verifiable evidence meant the media largely ignored the file until it was published online, just before Trump’s inauguration. Then, the dossier and its extraordinary tales about golden showers and Russian interference became a sensation, dominating US politics for a large part of Trump’s presidency. Thoroughly investigated by the FBI and the US congress, the dossier’s claims were shown to be unverifiable gossip, commissioned by Trump’s opponent.

As she wrote What Happened, the suspicion that Trump was a Russian asset grew into a certainty in the mind of the humiliated Hillary Clinton. Reviewing her loss, Clinton embroidered her grudges into a grand conspiracy theory that united all her critics into an imaginary intrigue to steal the election from her and elect a Russian double-agent, Donald Trump, as US President!

Other Clinton targets, FBI director James Comey and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange found their way into Clinton’s growing neo-McCarthyist embroidery. Even Jill Stein, the Greens US presidential candidate in 2016, was smeared by Clinton as being a ‘Russian asset’. The Greens denounced this as ‘brazen Orwellian doublespeak’, replying that Clinton has spent her entire career as an asset of Wall Street, the police state and war. Left-leaning Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was simarly smeared: she responded that the claim was completely despicable.

For the humiliated Clinton, her conspiracy theory was deeply comforting because it saved her from examining why she lost. Thomas Frank in The Guardian called What Happened ‘less an effort to explain than it was to explain away’, and criticised Clinton’s blame-shifting. Rarely one to criticise herself, it was obvious to the thwarted Clinton that her traumatising loss was due to the perfidy of others: Donald Trump, James Comey and Julian Assange, all acting under the direction of Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Since being an agent of a foreign government was an act of treason, this made Donald Trump a traitor, who had to be impeached. Down the impeachment warpath, Hillary Clinton enthusiastically led the Democrats’ charge for most of Trump’s presidency.

Interviewed by reporter Sarah Ferguson on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s flagship current-affairs program, Four Corners, about her book, What Happened, Clinton spoke with little restraint about the four men she blamed. She smeared the first three – Trump, Comey and Assange – implying they were traitors, colluding with the fourth, the sinister foreign bogeyman, Russian president Vladimir Putin, to sabotage her campaign. As Ferguson commented in her introduction, Clinton was not holding back. She had never seen Clinton so angry, she said. Unhinged would have been a more appropriate description.

At the very time the CIA was planning his abduction and murder, Julian Assange was slandered on his own country’s national broadcaster by Clinton, who alleged he colluded with a Russian intelligence operation to damage her candidacy for president. Repeatedly, Clinton claimed that Assange worked for Russia. “Assange has become a kind of nihilistic opportunist who does the bidding of a dictator,” she said.

“I won the popular vote which is obviously well-known in many quarters by three million and I lost the electoral college by about seventy-seven thousand and what we’re finding out is that there had to be some very sophisticated help provided to WikiLeaks which is unfortunately now practically a fully own subsidiary of Russian intelligence, to know how to target both their messages of suppression and their negative messages to affect voters.”

Neither Assange nor Putin wrote the US constitution: California gets the same number of senators as South Dakota; occasionally the electoral college is won by a candidate who got fewer votes overall; you can winge that it is undemocratic, but you should blame the founding fathers, not Putin.

Not once did Sarah Ferguson challenge Clinton’s outrageous smear that Assange was owned by Putin; not once did she ask for evidence. Indeed, only on one occasion did she attempt to ask a difficult question and Clinton simply shouted her down. Corporate journalists like Ferguson are often described as the stenographers of power, and that was the role Ferguson played, broadcasting Clinton’s neo-McCarthyist “truths” without challenge. For both Ferguson and Clinton, truth was simply what they wanted to believe.

Not only was Assange smeared as Putin’s puppet, he was also smeared as a Trump supporter. Assange had made it quite clear he supported neither Trump nor Clinton, describing the choice between the two as being like a choice between syphilis and gonorrhoea! Clearly, Assange had a low opinion of Clinton, but he didn’t need Putin to make him dislike her; this was another home goal by Clinton who had threatened to kill Assange with a drone strike after the US diplomatic cables release. Assange regarded Clinton as a war criminal for her part in organising the Libyan war and as a murderer for her fondness for Hellfire missile homicides.

Further angering Assange supporters, Four Corners Executive Producer Sally Neighbour doubled down on the slander, advertising the Ferguson-Clinton interview by retweeting a post, that read: “Assange is Putin’s bitch. Everybody knows”. News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt replied, mocking Four Corners’ hypocrisy: “Remember when Ferguson was horrified by a sign calling Julia Gillard a bitch?”. Neighbour’s tweet was quickly taken down. Assange requested right of reply to Clinton’s slanders, but none was ever given.

Instead, the ABC’s Four Corners program continued its championing of Clinton’s ‘Russian asset’ allegations in a three-episode special in 2018, which relied heavily on the dodgy Democrat document, largely discredited, that had been secretly commissioned by the Clinton campaign.

The Four Corners reporter was again chief Clinton apologist and fangirl Sarah Ferguson, who continued the Clinton smears, hyping the Clinton campaign’s black propaganda as ‘the story of the century’, though it could be more accurately described as the witch-hunt of the century.

In a narration that sounded more like propaganda than serious journalism, Ferguson posited a US devoid of any agency whatsoever, tricked into a trap, manipulated by the diabolical cunning of the Russian super-villain:

Vladimir Putin’s plot against America was in preparation before the campaign. The plot was multi-faceted, involving human agents, social media manipulation and a devastating cyber-attack.”

Her program was a True Believer’s investigation of Clinton’s Russiagate allegation that Donald Trump was a Russian asset. The dodgy dossier and its author were mentioned thirteen times, but the program was silent on the document’s key allegations because of the unfortunate legal complication that they were massively slanderous and there was no evidence to support them. Since it had become widely known by 2018 that the Democrats had commissioned the dossier, the Four Corners audience were assured that Christopher Steele did not know his work was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s team!

Assange again found himself a target. When republican consultant Roger Stone stated that he didn’t buy the idea that Assange was a Russian asset or that WikiLeaks was a Russian front, Ferguson commented ironically in her voice-over that these were “strange times”. She ended the episode with another neo-McCarthyist fantasy:

“The Kremlin’s puppet master now has America dancing to his discordant tune. He couldn’t have planned it better.”

Cue the evil villain chuckle!

The scapegoating of Putin illustrates how intellectually lazy Fergusson is. The one thing the US political parties are great at is negative attack ads. They have done them for decades, well before Putin, and they pour untold millions into these ads because they know how well their discordant tunes play!

It is blame-shifting on a gigantic scale to hold Putin responsible for the mutual loathing, the dishonesty and the wishful thinking demonstrated by both Trump and Clinton and their many partisans. Russiagate was as deluded and as dishonest as Stop the Steal. Donald Trump claimed the election was stolen from him in 2020, just as Clinton did in 2016, and as the first lie, promoted by the left-of-centre media, fell apart, not surprisingly, it encouraged the right-wing and their media to believe the second lie: US politics descended into a cycle of lie and counter-lie! Neither Trump nor Clinton displayed grace or generosity in defeat. Both decried the legitimacy of the election they lost.

A third case of Four Corners Assange-bashing was Michael Brissenden’s July 2019 effort Julian Assange: Hero or Villain. By then, Assange was languishing in a British jail, facing extradition to the USA and life imprisonment under the US Espionage Act. While journalists worldwide were defending Assange and protesting this outrageous attack on journalism, the Four Corners team were busy sinking the boot into the imprisoned Australian, continuing Clinton’s neo-McCarthyist narrative that Assange was a Russian asset. The program was another more intricate retweeting by Ms Neighbour and friends of “Assange is Putin’s Bitch”.

Jennifer Robinson, a member of Assange’s legal team, participated in the program, believing it would be about Assange’s prosecution. “Instead,” she said, “it turned into a prosecution of his personality.” The final five minutes of Brissenden’s piece did address the implication for journalism of the Assange extradition case, but this was a shabby effort to appear balanced because most of the two-episode, ninety-minute-long report was devoted to recycling the Clinton smear and attacking Assange’s personality.

Brissenden was cruder in his neo-McCarthyism than Sarah Ferguson, getting the answers he wanted by asking leading questions, like this question for Clinton staffer Neera Tanden: “So, you’d go as far as to say that WikiLeaks stole the election from Hillary Clinton?”

Not surprisingly, she responded on cue: “I would say that WikiLeaks was a central reason of why Trump was elected.” Another Clinton colleague, Matthew Miller, accused Assange of functioning as an arm of the Russian intelligence service.

Can you imagine Brissenden asking one of Trump’s team: “So you’d go so far as to say Joe Biden stole the election from Donald Trump?”

Brissenden was puzzled by the idea of citizen journalism, represented by Assange. He asked WikiLeaks editor-in-chief, Kristinn Hrafnsson: “This question about whether he’s an activist or a journalist comes up all the time. Where do you sit?”

Hrafsson replied:

“It’s a ridiculous question, but, as I said earlier, journalism has gone astray. When you practise real journalism, it’s called activism, it’s called politics. And it is activism today. Telling the truth is a revolutionary act they say these days. That’s true. But the question of whether he’s a journalist is a very serious one for a very obvious reason because those who say that he isn’t a journalist are those who are in power who want to decide who is a journalist, and thereby, basically, what is news and what is the truth.”

In their post-truth world, the Four Corners reporters acted, not just as the stenographers of Hillary Clinton, but as major broadcasters of her smears against Assange. Despite their denials, Brissenden, Neighbour and Ferguson were clearly major activists in the campaign to smear Assange, recycling Clinton’s black propaganda without question. And by unquestioningly pedalling Clinton’s disinformation, they were working as agents of a foreign power to destroy a fellow Australian journalist.

Mired in their delusions, the Four Corners crew were convinced they were the true journalists because they were credential by an Australian government corporation, as opposed to Julian Assange who, unlike them, was an independent who published actual government documents and factual information, not lies and propaganda!

John Jiggens
30 October 2021

* Jiggens is the author of “The Sydney Connection” which relates how the US military used opium money to fund the Hmong private army to conduct the war against communists in Laos. [Many of the Hmong people were moved to Minneapolis, USA after the war – a cold and heartless place where many of the men would die in their sleep because of the alienation of one of the coldest places in America.]

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