Wednesday, February 02, 2011

the bbc goes in on wikileaks and assange

Counterpunch | The campaign by the establishment press against Julian Assange is intensifying. CBS’s 60 Minutes tried to trash him last Sunday, but Assange left CBS’ interviewer, Steve Kroft, floundering. Last Sunday also saw New York Times editor Bill Keller consume several thousand words in the NYT’s Magazine abusing Assange with disgraceful lack of scruple, Assange being a man who gave the New York Times some actual news scoops, instead of its regular staple of gastroporn from Sam Sifton. Here Israel Shamir reports, with some personal involvement, on the impending slurring of Assange on the BBC, and the attacks on him in The Guardian.

I picked up the phone on the third ring, and a melodious British voice informed me that the BBC wanted to include me in its Panorama program. The BBC wanted to hear my views on the world, and was especially interested in Wikileaks. Oh what a glorious moment! I felt myself puff with pride. There is something about “the Beeb” that makes my heart flutter! I have always been partial to their style, and I considered it an honour to have the BBC listed on my CV, even though it was over thirty years ago. When I worked in Bush House on the Strand, the BBC’s Panorama was one of the best investigative programs anywhere - and suddenly here they are, soliciting my comments! Eager to build a relationship of trust, I answered all their preparatory questions with an unvarnished honesty. I thought I had done well; they offered to fly me to London, or if that were inconvenient they would fly out and speak to me in Moscow – civil chaps, aren’t they?

Looking back, the signs of danger were easy to see. They were producing a program about Wikileaks, but they had no plans to interview Julian Assange. Perhaps he is too busy? Furthermore, the questions began to take on a sinister tone. I shrugged off the feeling as a by-product of all the dirty politics we were discussing, but a few telephone conversations later my ill feelings finally seeped into my swelled head and it dawned on me what was going on. These nice chaps from the BBC were actually collecting dirt to use against Wikileaks! I was being played for a sucker. Suddenly I felt like Julian Assange, face to face with the honey trap.

The clincher was a letter I just received from producer John Sweeney, outlining the substance of the broadcast. It does not read like a television show, it reads like a criminal indictment. Every wild accusation is listed, and those without a shred of evidence are given pride of place. Most amazing of all, the Sweeney letter includes some lines lifted from a missive I had sent to Julian some time ago. The words were taken out of context and they were a misquotation of the original, but I recognise my prose. Some questions immediately spring to mind. How did the BBC get their hands on my private correspondence? Does the BBC actually steal private mail, or do they hire out? Ominously, this is not the first time this has happened to me. Another private letter of mine was (mis)quoted by The Guardian’s investigative editor David Leigh. Is it too conspiratorial of me to recognise a disturbing pattern? Could it be that the alleged three stolen laptops of Julian Assange found their last resting place at Leigh&Sweeney after a brief sojourn at Langley?

John Sweeney and David Leigh are cut from different cloth, but they both know how to play the journalism game. Leigh smoulders with jealousy. He plays the Salieri to Assange’s Mozart, but he thinks of himself as the unsung hero of Wikileaks. A hero? Rather, a villain. As Bill Keller of the New York Times admitted it was Leigh who “concluded that these rogue leaks (he engineered them) released The Guardian from any pledge”. Since then, he’s started his own private war against Wikileaks. His liaison with Sweeney was a convenient one. Sweeney is the sort of guy you assign to smear Mother Theresa. He has skated along thus far because only the very rich might contemplate suing the BBC, but he has been found by a court to be a libeller at least one time. Sweeney’s lunatic outbursts of fury are calculated to intimidate interviewees and have been preserved for posterity. It is all too plain to me now why Assange and company refused to have anything to do with Panorama and its pre-planned outcome. It is all too obvious to me now why they came hunting for your humble narrator.

The Panorama program on Wikileaks will run on February 7, 2011, the very day that the trial of Julian Assange will be reopened. The result of the trial is unpredictable, not so the program. Assange has more than a chance before the British courts, but if this Sweeney letter is anything to judge by, Panorama will leave no survivors. This is the British version of The Empire Strikes Back, the ultimate response to those who try to challenge mainstream corporate media’s hold over the public mind. In the meantime, the FBI and Scotland Yard have been keeping busy, making as many as 45 raids on various premises connected with Wikileaks, so that the alliance between the BBC and The Guardian is an ethereal mirror of some very earthy, if not subterranean, activity.