The recent move of Julian Assange to the Ecuadorian Embassy to try to avoid extradition to Sweden and then hypothetically to the US, has been treated by the world’s media like a diplomatic episode of Big Brother. With the announcement that Ecuador may have granted him diplomatic immunity the attention shifted to how he could be got to the airport, and the media drooled as they contemplated OJ Simpson-style car chases for evening news bulletins, or SAS raids on the Embassy. All in all, the attention paid to Julian Assange since his arrest in Britain nearly 2 years ago, and in particular these last few weeks, has vastly exceeded the interest by the media in the original extraordinary effort by Wikileaks in releasing information on the gross wrong-doing of governments around the world.
Why is it so?
Remember the Iraq War, where the Americans discovered you could avoid all of that Vietnam War media unpleasantness by “embedding” journalists with military units? The journalist saw what he/she was allowed to see, reported what the unit concerned allowed to be reported, and in general identified as closely with their unit as if they had been enlisted military personnel themselves bound in loyalty to their group. Journalists got terrific human interest warm and fuzzy entertaining stories about “our troops”, the military got to totally control the message and avoid bad stuff getting out. Win-Win, at least for the winners.
From that point on journalists have become more generally “embedded” in the government/corporate/military world everywhere. Same logic on both sides. Journalists get easy “press release” stories to meet voracious demands of their bosses, the military industrial complex, and government, gets to control what the public is allowed to know and see. Win-Win, except for the public.
With Wikileaks Julian Assange tried to smash that cosy model. “Here is what is really going on behind the curtain” he was saying. This is the stuff the media isn’t reporting, and the government doesn’t want you to know. Here it is, masses of it.
Did journalists welcome this astonishing achievement with open arms? Not on your Bernstein. They shuffled their feet in an embarrassed sort of way for a while and then pretended nothing had happened. It was, after all, as if it had been suggested they give away operational plans for their military unit, had betrayed their boys. That “their boys” in this case were people they should have been speaking truth to power to was completely forgotten, by these journalists embedded with their rulers.
I didn’t predict this reaction. I’m sure Julian Assange didn’t. I’m equally sure no one again will try to go against the embedded media culture.
Back to sex scandals Mr Bean car chases. Woo Hoo.