Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ecuadoran Asylum or Not, Assange’s – and WikiLeaks’ – Credibility is Shot

In a desperate bid to dodge extradition to Sweden – where he’s wanted for questioning on a sex-crime accusation and which would likely turn him over to the US government – Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and document dumper extraordinaire has found political asylum in Ecuador.

The WikiLeaks founder, who has been ensconced in the Ecuadoran embassy in London since June 2012, got confirmation today that Rafael Correa, Ecuador’s president, has decided to shelter the beleaguered Assange in his country, believing the latter’s human rights are likely to be violated if English police arrest him.

I absolutely agree with the Miami Herald’s South American Bureau Chief Jim Wyss, Ecuador is a bizarre choice for Assange, (I’ve written about Wikileaks in my MediaPost column back in 2010 and 2011) whose website has  leaked reams and reams of classified government documents, videos and photos. Correa, on the other hand, has a penchant for clampdowns on – and multimillion-dollar lawsuits against - the country’s press.

But in the end it may not really matter, not for Assange or WikiLeaks. At least it won’t matter when the organization is now pulling sophomoric rubbish like faking an article to make it look like a New York Times columnist supports its iffy “mission.”

This summer seems to have been one long string of assorted PR fiascos that, I admit, have been somewhat fun to skewer on this blog. And yet, to the PR professional in me, these calamitous blow-ups still have a nails-on-the-chalkboard effect. I have to cringe.

And cringe I did when I read WikiLeaks’ smug tweeted admission of responsibility for the fake op-ed piece, which has since been taken off the Web, attributed to the New York Times’ Bill Keller. In the bogus column, Keller seems to say that WikiLeaks’ activities should be protected under the First Amendment. Once the article was outed as fake, Keller took to his own Twitter feed to deny any connection with it.

Whoever is tweeting for WikiLeaks actually characterized the hoax as “successful.” Well, I guess if their intention was to blow their own credibility out of the water, then yes, it was very successful indeed. Particularly for an organization which purports to increase transparency and challenge our world’s corrupt power arrangements by exposing their innards, credibility is the very cement holding together the cinderblocks of its purpose.

Without it, the whole house falls apart.

Uncovering the truth is supposed to be WikiLeaks’ entire raison d’ etre. So, when it brags about having fooled the NYT and everyone who pays attention to these issues, it’s cutting off its own nose to spite its face.

After all, what did WikiLeaks really accomplish by pulling that stunt? Did it help itself in any way? No, all it did was tell the world it can create very convincing fake documents.

And that’s just going to make the world think twice about the authenticity of its next document dump. 

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