Recently, an Icelandic journalist revealed that the key witness in the trial against Julian Assange committed perjury. Here’s the English version of the original article published in Iceland.
A simple blog post cannot cover everything which has been wrong with the Assange trial even before this information about a key witness giving false testimony became public. So I’ll just address one point: The Espionage Act of 1917, the law under which the United States government is prosecuting Assange, should be taken off the books. Either the Supreme Court should declare it to be unconstitutional (it IS unconstitutional, the government has used the Espionage Act to violate the first amendment many times, including when it was first used in 1917 to put antiwar activists in prison merely because they expressed opposition to the United States joining the war in Europe, as I discussed in this post), or Congress should repeal it. Either way, that law needs to be burned in a blazing trash fire.
However, what truly inspired this post is not the revelation that a key witness committed perjury and the case against Assange has collapsed. It’s the lack of coverage of this development in mainstream English language media. If it were covered even somewhat widely in ‘mainstream’ news media, I would have blogged about something else this week.
Even this recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle which claims that Biden is just as bad as Trump when it comes to mistreating whistleblowers and centers Assange’s case leaves out the part about the most important witness testimony being fabricated.
Here’s a mini-linkspam of articles commenting on the lack of coverage in ‘mainstream’ English language media:
“Glenn Greenwald: “Professional jealousy” keeps media “silent on Assange”” (The Hill) (note: this article does not mention the perjury, I only include it to offer Greenwald’s opinion of why mainstream media is silent)
As someone ignorant of how news media, ‘mainstream’ or not, works, I’m not the best person to offer insights into why mainstream English language news media organizations are ignoring this story, despite the threat it poses to their own journalists. The writers of the above articles have more informed opinions.
However, I suspect that the following may be factors: 1) greater concentration in a news media oligopoly means more power in concentrated in fewer organizations, which reduces the odds that one mainstream news platform will buck the trend and report on this story anyway 2) jobs in journalism have been decimated over the past two decades, which increases job insecurity for journalists, and makes them more fearful of pissing off the people who control the jobs with decent pay and 3) small news organizations depend more on sources like WikiLeaks than large news organizations which can coast on oligopoly power, therefore making it harder for small news organizations consolidates the oligopoly power of the largest media organizations.
Recently, I wrote that censorship makes ideas spread more, not less. That specifically applies to cases where people a) believe something is being censored and b) still have some access to the idea despite the censorship. For example, if a topic is banned in schools, people have other ways of learning about it.
Whatever is going on that is causing mainstream news media to ignore the perjury of the key witness in the Assange case is different. First, it’s not obvious that someone is deliberately restricting the information. In theory, it’s just a coincidence that none of the major English language news organizations are covering this revelation. Nobody passed a law, nobody threatened violence, nobody blocked publication in a way which is obvious to the public. Therefore, the public doesn’t perceive this as an artificially imposed scarcity of information. Second, accessing this information is a little harder. To know about this at all, someone either has to follow some of the quirky alternative news media sources (which is how it came to my attention) or have some interesting contacts in social media.
However it came to be that mainstream English language media is ignoring this story, it is denying the story social proof. Because mainstream media isn’t sharing this story, hasn’t affixed its stamp of approval, something must be wrong with the story, right? Even I feel this impulse that maybe this witness didn’t commit perjury and the case against Assange hasn’t completely collapsed after all because I’m not immune to the presence (and absence) of social proof. Intellectually, I know that mainstream news media sometimes misses things and gets things wrong, and sometimes less prestigious news organizations get it right. I’ve seen it at the local level (where I can verify some things through direct experience) so it makes sense to extrapolate that to things which I can’t verify directly.
American trust in mainstream news media has plunged. How many Americans trust CNN and Fox News and NPR to all offer trustworthy journalism most of the time even if they don’t agree with the political slant? Yeah, not many. The overall trust level was much higher when I was a child. Many (most?) Americans still consider at least one of those news sources to offer trustworthy journalism most of the time, so their stamps of approval still matter.
What can I do? I’m writing this post. What can you do? I don’t know.
In any case, I hope Julian Assange goes free as soon as possible and receives the mental health care he desperately needs.