WikiLeaks’ Twitter messages to Donald Trump Jr. reveal a sad truth about the once revolutionary whistleblowing platform: It has degenerated into a tool serving Julian Assange’s interests.
WikiLeaks used to be a huge deal, especially for journalists; an inexhaustible source of information. It had something for everyone. It provided evidence of U.S. conduct in its dirty war in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention comprehensive documentation concerning the reports from American embassies all over the world, which were not very flattering for many heads of state.
WikiLeaks stood for transparency at all costs; materials that in a best-case scenario would have once been viewed and evaluated by investigative journalists became available for personal examination to anyone who was interested (and had an internet connection). WikiLeaks was the promise of a new kind of citizen journalism. It allowed everyone to make up his or her own mind, without interference from government and media interests.
Maybe a Revolutionary Must Be This Way
As a result, Assange, WikiLeaks’ figurehead, who constantly came across as overexcited and arrogant, even exceedingly self-assured, hardly raised red flags. So what, maybe a revolutionary must be this way in order to fulfill his herculean mission: not just the abolition of secrets, but rather of the very concept of secret.
It was this merciless transparency without regard for loss that soon brought Assange into conflict with cooperating traditional media. Was it really acceptable to publish everything and run the risk of causing serious diplomatic repercussions or even endangering people? It was a constant tightrope walk.
Then, when two Swedish women made allegations of rape and harassment against Assange, and he fled to the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid being extradited later to the U.S. over leaks from WikiLeaks, it was still possible to be, in case there was doubt, on his side. Innocent until proven guilty. Was he not, perhaps, the victim of a conspiracy by American intelligence agencies, as his attorney indicated once the allegations emerged?
To this day, Assange’s supporters see him as such. However, even the most die-hard fans are hardly able to see him as a role model now. He is no longer someone who works unconditionally for the world’s public to bring the truth to light. WikiLeaks’ strange and one-sided publishing policy during the U.S. election campaign was in itself disconcerting: The hacked emails from Hillary Clinton’s team that were made public on WikiLeaks had a disastrous effect on her campaign. Even back then, one suspected that the intention was to prevent Clinton from becoming president at all costs. Not just because she was seen as the protagonist in a corrupt system that needed to be fought and overcome, but also because Assange considered her a personal opponent, the puppet master of a plot against him.
This Partisan Chumminess Destroys Assange’s Credibility
The now public messages on Twitter sent by WikiLeaks’ account to Donald Trump Jr. are embarrassing, not for Trump for once, but rather for WikiLeaks and Assange himself. The once revolutionary whistleblowing platform offered its services to the Republican presidential candidate in a downright subservient manner. It proposed that Trump publish his tax returns through WikiLeaks in order to beat others to the punch and at the same time lend strength to the anti-Clinton leaks, because WikiLeaks would then have become more credible if it made Trump’s documents available, too. On Election Day, Assange’s organization offered again to act as political adviser to Trump. In case he were defeated, they suggested that he question the legitimacy of the vote in order to keep his supporters engaged. Later, when Trump was already president, WikiLeaks contacted his son on Twitter to propose bringing Assange into play as U.S. ambassador to Australia. The message practically included a draft of the corresponding statement in Trump-speak.
Now Assange and his organization WikiLeaks, were obviously free to prefer one candidate or another in the U.S. election. However, the now public way in which WikiLeaks tried to place itself in Trump’s service is telling. The partisan chumminess with which WikiLeaks crawled before Trump as a candidate destroys the image of freedom fighters who care only about truth and transparency. The belief that Trump’s team would have needed political advice from a room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London on Election Day is more indicative of vain delusions of grandeur than of political foresight. Moreover, the request to mention Assange as a possible ambassador is simply insane, even if was meant to cause a stir.
WikiLeaks was once the promise of a transparency revolution; Assange was believed to be a fighter for a better, more open world. That time is long gone. The messages to Donald Trump Jr. are the latest proof that WikiLeaks has become what it used to oppose: a political player with an agenda of its own who wishes to manipulate public opinion through secret agreements, a caricature of itself. Even if WikiLeaks published new revelations concerning war crimes and surveillance tomorrow, this stench will linger.