How the rape case against Assange is evidence for Wikileaks arguments

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, December 22, 2010 14:54 EDT
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This is the part of Michael Moore’s interview on “Rachel Maddow” last night that was lighting up Twitter, because this is the clip where he changed his tune about the accusations against Julian Assange, admitting they were credible and saying that the women who accused him should be heard in court. I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for this, but on this entire issue I have more to say later. Right now, I want to talk about something else that Moore and Maddow discussed, in the second part of the interview. But I will bring it back to the rape case.

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Maddow made an interesting argument, which is that a problem with Wikileaks is that incorrect propaganda can be leaked along with factually true information, which is incidentally exactly what happened to Michael Moore. A cable was released claiming that “Sicko” had been banned in Cuba, which was published to great sniggering all over the place. And was also total bullshit. (And also incoherent bullshit, but it seems like it was mostly because it was internal propaganda for the Bush administration. No joke.) Moore countered by pointing out that the record was corrected in this case, and in fact, the Wikileaks cables are improving journalism because every cable the news medias wish to cover they have actually follow up with investigations. In other words, the cables are the starting point. I think there’s this belief out there that Assange and the Wikileaks crew are all about information as some kind of solution in and of itself (or that they support a secret-free society, when they’ve actually redacted information in the cables and worked with seasoned professionals in journalism to decide what to release). But the idea of Wikileaks is to put the government on notice, which is working very well.

What Moore is saying is also very interesting, which is that once information is out there—such as the fact that this cable was sent—we can actually deal with it. So, yes, a lie got out about his movie and Cuba. But then the lie was corrected, and what we learned from the whole shebang is that the Bush administration had a lot of internal propaganda going on. This is an important thing to know, and will influence our understanding of history from here on out. (It shores up the sense that conservatives lie to themselves in order to gin up enthusiasm for lying to others.) Of course, that doesn’t deal with the problem of deliberately leaked propaganda, but still, he had a point.

And what better proves it than the Guardian publishing the leaked documents from the Swedish police regarding the Assange rape case? It’s ironic that Assange is so angry about this, because I can’t think of a better example of how effective the principles of free information are. Before the documents were published, there was a dearth of information, and when there is a dearth of real information, people start to fill in the holes with their own prejudices so they can make judgments. People who wished to believe that they were supporting a noble man in every way with Assange were eager to grab on to any scrap of information that shored up their hopeful arguments that the accusers were the strawfeminists of right wing imagination, women who cry rape if a man looks at them funny.

But when the actual depositions got out, that changed everything. Now people had something to work with. Granted, some of them are so dedicated to the “hysterical bitches” narrative that they read it into the information at hand. But others, including Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore, seem to have revised their opinions dramatically on the case, because being exposed to the information made them realize their knee jerk reaction that the allegations couldn’t be credible was simply wrong. The people arguing that we shouldn’t attack the accusers without evidence ironically got a better foothold when we got some information, because at least we had something to point to when making our case. It narrows down the field of possibilities. Before the release, those defending these rape accusers and rape accusers in general from scurrilous accusations had many tangents to go with—you don’t have any idea what they said, it doesn’t seem likely that the only issue was a broken condom, there’s a possibility of hysteria but experience suggests to me most women aren’t just childish hysterics. Now it’s narrowed down to pointing to the details in the deposition and saying, “Look, X, Y, and Z are definitely wrong and should be punished if the prosecution can prove the case.” Meanwhile, if experience on #mooreandme is any indication, the rape apologists are still working with bad information that was imagined into existence when there wasn’t real information to work with.

Point for getting it all out on the table. Ironically, then, point for Wikileaks and the arguments for them. But like Moore said in the interview, this isn’t about Assange or one man, but about Wikileaks as a group, and the argument for free information in general.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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