The perils of taking Julian Assange seriously


So, in the Twitterverse, this Feb 8 interview with Julian Assange by AgoraVox, a leftist Swiss news agency, is making waves.

(This translation, by Aimee Kligman, of the salient bits is accurate.)

Assange says he withheld Israel cables becasuse he was "afraid" of Israel, and it would have "caused us problems" to release those cables in the first week, and then, well, "that boat had sailed."

This might actually be news, even if it is more than a month old: Assange withheld cables because of perceived fears of Israeli reactions. I backed and forthed with Marcy, our briefs editor, about whether to pick it up.

I decided not to, because Assange is clearly nuts. Not nuts in the psychiatric sense — I’m not a shrink and unqualified to make that call — but "nuts" in the sense that he makes s*** up, freely and without compunction. That "nuts" call is one journalists make every day, because we have to. ("So, you know Obama is a Muslim because you feel it in your teeth? That’s fascinating — wait, my otter has taken me hostage again, gotta run!")

Here’s an example:

"Israel has close ties with the U.S. East Coast. Not just because of the presence of numerous Jews on American soil, but also because numerous Israeli passports have been supplied on the coast to reinforce their ties with the homeland."

Yes. The entity known as the "U.S. East Coast." Where Israeli passports are freely distributed, in the bins next to the discarded bar mitzvah yarmulkes as you enter the sanctuary.

More saliently, WikiLeaks released stacks of Israel-related cables in its first week, and since then, contra Assange’s bizarro claim.

Check out Wikileak’s own chart: Tel Aviv embassy is 13th out of 45 in the number of available cables in the database (12th out of 44 if you take out the State Department), ahead of Cairo, Kabul and Ottawa. And Jerusalem’s consulate gets its own entry, which ups the percentage considerably if you put them together.

Why would Assange lie, and so provably? Who knows — who can read the mind of someone who imagines passport dispensers outside Grand Central Station?

What is true is that WikiLeaks, initially, got considerable Arab world flak for not uncovering scandals about Israel, while those concerning Arab leaders were plentiful.

The reason for this is not that Israel lacks scandals — it is, as I pointed out in my original write-up on the trove, because scandals are well known and well covered in Israel. Why would you need to "leak" a former prime minister’s alleged involvement in real estate back-dealings when it’s on the front pages each morning?

This is not merely a function of Israel’s democracy, but of the inevitability, among a small and voluble people, of secrets being leaked. So, the thinking has evolved, might as well get the info out, early and often.

I can’t count the number of times a spokesman has sworn assembled Israeli reporters to off-the-recordness, only to see the Cabinet minister in question repeating essentially the same points on the evening news.

This doesn’t mean Wikileaks is not useful. It is and has been. 

It does mean that advice and analysis from Assange is about as worthwhile as the political forecast you get from the newstand guy as he hands you your paper.

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