Sunday, December 02, 2012

Media: Losing big in the court of public opinion

Julian Assange has been many things.  Right now he's trouble and in trouble.  He's got a fleet of attorneys at his beck and call yet they don't appear how to do a damn thing.

Last week, as Bradley Manning was preparing to speak for the first time in court (first time at any length), Assange and his handlers seemed to feel it was time for a media blitz.  How shifting the focus from Bradley to Assange was supposed to help Assange was anyone's guess.  But the lengthy interview with Democracy Now! and the piece at The Huffington Post just made clear that it's all about Julian.

Vanity isn't a legal defense.


Putting Assange on Democracy Now! at any time was never going to be a smart move. Amy Goodman's an idiot and a menace.  It was her interview with Lynne Stewart that provided the ammo for those attempting to destroy Lynne.  That is not forgotten by the real left.  Nor is it forgotten that after doing that -- whether via incompetence or a deliberate effort to 'work with the government' -- Amy Goodman lost all interest in political prisoner Lynne Stewart.  Maybe it was guilt or, maybe as some whisper, she'd completed her assignment?

Regardless, when you go on with Amy the crazy runs free.

And the last thing Julian Assange can afford to look like is crazy.

The point that his legal team probably wanted to resonate was this:

AMY GOODMAN: Are you saying, Julian, that you would go to Sweden, if they assured you that you wouldn't be extradited to the United States, to answer questions about these two women who have made charges on sex abuse on your count?

 JULIAN ASSANGE: Yes, that has been our public position for quite a long time.

And for that to carry weight now, he really needs to seem dignified, organized and upright.

That's really important because the reality is that he skipped out on Sweden before.  He did so unknowingly, according to the official story, but he did.  He's never copped to it publicly.  He's never acknowledged that the judge forced his first attorney to admit, in court, that the Swedish authorities had contacted him and told him they were now ready to question Julian Assange but Assange left the country because the attorney didn't pass that on.

It's known and it's suspected, rightly or wrongly, that the first attorney really did pass on the message. Every time Julian Assange talks about being willing to submit to questioning now, in the back of many minds is the fact that he didn't do so the first time.

Equally true, when you're wanted for questioning, you really don't get to dictate the terms.

The only way he has any power at this point is by getting public support.  And that's not been present. He hasn't had that kind of support.

To garner it now, with all the bad press already out there, he has to be the sharpest, most well spoken, most organized person in the world.

That requires a simple and coherent narrative.

Are you just like the press with The Pentagon Papers?

It's a talking point Assange and his supporters love to repeat.

But thing is Katharine Graham never gave interviews whining about herself.  Benjamin Bradlee didn't pen columns about himself.   The Washington Post stayed focused on the news.  WikiLeaks should have done the same.

Every time Julian Assange leaves larger issues to talk about himself, it harms his case.

Such as here:

Amy, being in prison, house arrest, and now held captive in an embassy, with a bunch of cops outside, of course is a difficult circumstance, but it is not more difficult than the circumstance that is faced by Bradley Manning in Fort Leavenworth or by Jeremy Hammond, an alleged source related to the Stratfor files in New York, or by many other prisoners around the world.

That probably sounded the increasingly out-of-touch defense team as wonderful.

But as two who have long advocated Assange note what he went through is nothing compared to what Bradley Manning does, we couldn't believe that nonsense.

What he's going through, even now, is nothing.  House arrest?  He did a talk show during house arrest -- Hulu carried it in the US -- and the 'house' was an English manor.  Even today, at the Ecuadorian Embassy, he's certainly got more space than Bradley Manning did in a six foot by eight foot cell or, for that matter, than Anne Frank did in an attic.

It's called perspective.  It includes knowing that a heavy weight boxer goes into the ring with someone in his or her division.  Meaning leave out Joe Biden.  On the world stage, Joe is the grinning holy gofus of the administration.  Julian Assange wants to be taken seriously, members of the White House Cabinet aren't his foes.  The foe is Barack Obama.  In 1974, when Joe Frazier was hoping to become the heavyweight champion of the world, he wasn't boxing Rodolfo Martinez.

Joe said, Hillary said, blah blah said, is a distraction that lowers the issues.  It's Barack's administration.  You take on Barack.  That's so basic.  Even a Hollywood starlet desperate for attention knows to pick a public rivalry with someone high up the chain.

Assange versus Obama?  That's a conflict the world will give you a few seconds to make a case for.

For a few seconds.

Which means you organize and simplify the message.

Drop the petty and make it about David versus Goliath issues and people will respond.

The crazy hasn't worked.  It hasn't delivered the support so many just knew was coming.  So it's time to make some hard choices.

First up, does Assange want to spend the rest of his life in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London?

Interviews like the one last week on Democracy Now! will help ensure that he does.  "Let's talk Stratfor, let's talk this, let's talk that . . ."  There's no point in it.  And, honestly, you don't put your client in that situation.   You don't let them face these erratic free form questions.

Not when your defense counsel, not when you know that they stand a good chance of taking the witness stand in more than one trial.

The legal arguments could go either way.  Thus far, the way they've gone has not been in Assange's favor.  The public presentation?  It's done nothing to increase support for the issues at stake or Assange personally.  So exactly what's been accomplished under the current 'strategy'?  Time is in short supply, Assange and his team need to get organized and do so quickly or accept that things are very likely not going to go in his favor.

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