Journalism in its truest sense must necessarily be guided by a spirit of iconoclasm. This is the case because unlike activism, advocacy or propaganda, pure journalism is about exposing the truth, even if the truth is something that contradicts one’s own ideals, the material goals of one’s friends, one’s own conscience or one’s own personal interests. Because of this, true journalism is a much less enjoyable task than activism, advocacy, propaganda or public relations. In activism, advocacy, propaganda or public relations, one is best served professionally by representing and promoting points of view that one actually believes in or is at minimum, deeply comfortable with. In true journalism, one’s job is to expose the truth – the easy and happy truths along with the grim, depressing and self-defeating ones.
This helps to explain why Julian Assange has been stabbed in the back by so many. Many had falsely assumed that because Assange published material that embarrassed and compromised George W. Bush, he would not go after Barack Obama when he took charge of the United Stated. Such people were ultimately proved to be deeply wrong in their arrogant assumptions about Assange.
Many were likewise surprised that the same man who told uncomfortable truths about Hillary Clinton also told uncomfortable truths about her nemesis Bashar al-Assad. Assange was someone who one day literally talked about the importance of Wikileaks in leading to the so-called Arab Spring yet is likewise being persecuted by the western politicians who actively orchestrated the most deadly aspects of the so-called Arab Spring.
Assange’s releases had something for everyone to love and had something for everyone to cringe at . This is the nature of the truth and as truth becomes an ever more scarce commodity, it becomes an increasingly alien concept to many. It is because Assange could not be coaxed into transforming himself from a publisher and journalist into a propagandist, public relations man or ideological advocate, that he made many enemies ranging from the government of Iran to its geopolitical nemesis, the government of the United States.
But while such a statement might sound odd in a political context, to a traditional iconoclastic journalist like Assange, this would have been the highest compliment. In an age where even science has become politicised, Assange was able to maintain traditional truth telling standards whilst using innovative technologies to distribute his honest information. His record of not having to retract a single publication under the guise of being materially false is a testament to his high level of work.
It is therefore ironic that many who would never publicly say that they want only comforting truths rather than only the real truths, nevertheless make Assange out to be the villain. While the corporate liberal narrative that Assange is somehow a villainous traitor for exposing American war crimes and political corruption is pervasive in western societies, there are also plenty of individuals who accuse Assange of being a western intelligence asset due to the fact that some of his publications were received in a deeply negative light in parts of the Middle East, Asia and Africa that are broadly ruled by so-called “anti-western” leaders.
But even so, the factual nature of everything ever published on Wikileaks withstands the test of material honesty every time. In this sense, to argue with Wikileaks and Assange is to argue with the truth itself.
Whilst Assange is often called an activist (including on these pages) because of his tendency to resist the prosecutors of war and violence, Assange should be best though of as someone who was willing and able to expose the truth about the powerful, whether the powerful were good or evil. Because the powerful during Assange’s time in charge of Wikileaks tended to be overwhelmingly evil, it became easy for some to confuse Assange for a moralist when in fact he was only ever an iconoclast.
Like a physician, it is not the job of a journalist to say that things are going well when they are not. If a doctor diagnoses a horrible disease, it is his or her duty to inform the patient about the illness and what if anything can be done to palliate it.
It is perhaps therefore little wonder that most so-called journalists today aren’t actually journalists at all. They are instead a combination of advocates, activists, propagandists and public relations people. In some ways, one can’t blame them. Their non-journalism is more fun, generally better paying, more relaxing and far less dangerous than the real journalism that Julian Assange took to new heights.
That is why people should be honest with themselves. Most could not be a true journalist and when faced with the choice, most would at least privately admit that they do not want to be. Assange however never abandoned his journalistic ethics. This is why some of those who once loved him now hate him and it is why some who once loathed him now read his publication and are grateful for what Wikileaks has put out. And yet even those who always hated him are aware of him and cannot deny the truths that he unilaterally exposed.
It’s not easy being a journalist because the price of freedom, honesty and integrity is often the loss of friendship and the loss of money. But in a free society, it should never result in the loss of personal or professional liberty. This is why the story of Julian Assange’s sacrifice is all the more tragic. He may have been prepared to lose friends, but what kind of man is prepared to lose his freedom for the crime of honesty?