Assange: Ask not for whom the bell tolls

9 September 2020 — Off Guardian

Philip Roddis

I began a recent post with this assertion:

The western world is inhabited by those who know we are ruled by sociopaths … and that much larger group which, taking at face value the surface forms of democracy informed by independent media, either cannot or will not accept this admittedly frightening truth.

You find me hyperbolic? I’d love to hear your factually based reasons. Ditto if you had a similar reaction to my many allusions to the USA – and other imperialisms defined as such by financial domination of the global south – as lawless.

I look to facts rather than lifelong imbued depictions, powerfully impressionistic and implicitly racist, of a morally superior West when all the evidence points quite the other way. Take the US Empire. It really is an extraordinary achievement by narrative managers that slavery, colonial plunder, land grabs, coups, colour revolutions to install US puppets and genocidally internecine quarrels (the last one ending in the Pentagon testing newly acquired death technology on the Japanese people) have been variously ignored, justified by half truths and flat out lies, or simply filed under the Bad Old Days before “we” learned to behave better.

The agents of this PR success story are by no means confined to news media. They also take in our entertainment industries, education systems and other ideological gatekeepers. What’s more – see my July post, political economy of our media – this success does not presuppose consciously mendacious actors. In the main, the normal incentives of career motivation apply.

Here’s what I wrote in 2016:

Journalists who know what’s good for them please editors. Editors who know what’s good for them please proprietors. Proprietors need advertisers and crave honours.

And here’s a now famous exchange from February 1996, between the BBC’s Andrew Marr and Noam Chomsky:

Marr: How can you know I’m self censoring?

Chomsky: I’m not saying you are self censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you say. But what I’m saying is that if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.

By 2017 Marr had honed his riposte:

I was nervous of Chomsky. When he said “if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be where you’re sitting”, I immediately realised this was not so much brilliant as unanswerable […] I had said that the Guardian and the Telegraph posed very different world views. And that journalists varied hugely in politics and temperament. Chomsky is brilliant, but a brilliant conspiracist, so no, it wasn’t a matter of the penny dropping, still less an epiphany.”

Which tells me several things. One is that Marr is intellectually vain. “I immediately realised …” can be read as defending his being lost for words at the time. Another, more important, is that he really does believe Guardian and Telegraph pose very different worldviews.

For reasons I’ve set out many times, on issues that most matter to class rule, Marr, product of a privileged but narrow education (Dundee High, Cambridge), is quite wrong on this point.

(Or have I missed some profoundly subtle yet shatteringly radical difference between Guardian and Telegraph coverage of Assad, Assange, Chavez, Corbyn, Maduro, Mugabe, Putin and Xi? My, in a world of thugs and robbers, mostly in the global south, we can thank our lucky stars that the West, with its 500 year history of altruism, is ready and willing to act as the world’s selfless gendarme!)

As for “journalists varying hugely in politics and temperament”, that is so spectacularly point missing, from an otherwise sophisticated man, as to corroborate an opinion I’ve long held. In a corrupt status quo, career mindedness begets cynicism which in turn begets, for reasons to do with our limited capacity to tolerate cognitive dissonance, its own forms of obtuseness.

Finally, Chomsky is emphatically not a conspiracy theorist in any meaningful sense of the term – read him at source on these matters – far less in the degraded sense now routinely used to dismiss arguments – not just any old argument but those fatal to illusions which enable class rule to go quietly about its business – without the inconvenience of addressing their specifics. Implicit in Marr’s usage is the very circularity of reasoning he – and this too is implicit – lays at Chomsky’s door.

Not that self interest leading to self censorship, without our being consciously involved in the process, is confined to news media. It can be detected in all ideological agencies, aided by the reality that homo sapiens sapiens, for all her remarkable powers of reason, is first and foremost a psychological rather than logical animal.

Which goes some way to explaining why myths imbibed since infancy, of the fairness of our political and judicial systems, of media independence and of a moral entitlement – nay, duty – to police the planet so often trump cold facts. Especially when, on matters which do not cut to the heart of ruling class interests, the myths are not wholly inaccurate.

It is Julian Assange’s misfortune – and ours, if we could but see beyond the ends of our noses – that the threat he posed through truthful journalism did indeed cut to the heart of ruling class interests.

But that’s quite enough from me. Here’s Oscar Grenfell, writing today in WSWS.1

The working class must defend Julian Assange!


The latest stage in the decade-long persecution of Julian Assange begins today, with the final three weeks of British court hearings for the extradition of the WikiLeaks publisher to the US, where he faces 175 years in prison for exposing American war crimes, human rights violations, coups and meddling operations around the world.

Whatever the court decides will likely be subject to years of legal appeal, but the scenario that Assange has warned of for the past ten years—that he risks being hauled before a secret US court, prosecuted for lawful publishing activities and thrown into a hellhole run by his CIA persecutors—is all too real.

The innumerable pundits and media commentators who derided these warnings as a conspiracy theory and promoted the slanders used to undermine public support for Assange have fallen silent.2 The legal travesty underway in the land of the Magna Carta either goes unmentioned in the official press, or is discreetly buried in brief columns halfway through the papers.

The hearings are only proceeding because the attempt of the British state to kill Assange by exposing him to the danger of coronavirus infection has so far failed.

Throughout the pandemic, Assange has been held in the maximum-security Belmarsh Prison, where he has been denied a mask or any other protection, even as dozens of inmates and staff have contracted COVID-19. A bail application has been contemptuously dismissed, despite the fact that Assange has been convicted of no crime, as have warnings that his health continues to deteriorate.

Assange, facing the most consequential legal proceedings of his life, has been unable to meet with his lawyers for the past six months. Weeks before the resumption of the trial, US prosecutors filed a superseding indictment, based on the lies and slanders of FBI informants, over a year after they were required to submit their final charge sheet. The transparent purpose was to inundate Assange’s legal team with tens of thousands of documents, after they had finished preparing their case, to prevent even the possibility of a defence.

As a matter of law, the US extradition request should have been thrown out as soon as it was submitted.

It violates innumerable treaties, laws and international conventions, including a ban on extraditions from Britain to the US for political offenses…

Read the full piece here.


[1] See also the observations of former UK Ambassador Craig Murray, present at the Old Bailey today for the resumption of Julian’s Extradition Hearing.

[2] Emphasis here is mine. It is my view that of all the media vilification of Assange, the worst was from the Guardian. Its columnists – from Luke Harding to Marina Hyde and Suzanne “massive turd” Moore – led the way in cutting Assange loose from what should have been his natural support base, the liberal intelligentsia.

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