Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The smear test

In the world of political tactics, the smear attack is as predictable as kissing a baby or gripping the hand of your recently-wronged partner in a photogenic post-affair display of solidarity. As soon as someone appears to threaten your cosy, moat-draining, duck house-building existence, you need to drag their name through the dirt and shift press attention onto them instead.

The world's media are a bunch of magpies - throw them something shiny and they're easily distracted from the matter at hand. However, if you really want that mud to stick, you have to ensure plausible deniability so that no-one can trace the story back to you. If only someone had pointed that out to the Swedish government, who are currently high-fiving themselves about their successful plot to eradicate the threat to international security posed by Julian Assange.

In the last month, the defiant Australian has leaked over 250,000 classified U.S diplomatic cables on his website WikiLeaks; in the process infuriating the world's most powerful people, and Prince Andrew. A vocal advocate of the freedom of speech, Assange has argued that the documents he's leaked shine a light on the nefarious espionage techniques employed by countries like the U.S., that ironically profess to export democracy and fairness.

So I guess no-one's too surprised that Assange's been silenced quicker than you can say 'concrete shoes'. Following the 'leak' of the news that he was wanted for questioning by Swedish police in connection with sexual assault charges, extradition proceedings were quickly implemented. This morning, a defiant but cooperative Assange turned himself into London police.

The police may claim to be taking the charges seriously, but I find it hard to believe that anyone else is - this whole plot sounds dodgier than Ke$ha singing acapella. Not least because the women involved seem to be less-than-credible witnesses.

Both freely admit to having consensual sex with Assange - and why not, he looks like Baz Luhrmann doing Morten Harket on Stars In Their Eyes. That rugged 'silver fox' appearance, coupled with the whole rule-breaking freedom fighter image, would make him a worthy notch on anyone's ethically-sourced bedpost.

They also enjoyed cordial relations with him after their respective sexual encounters, and only concocted their accusations of sexual assault and rape after conferring with one another. Irrespective of the validity of the charges, it's interesting that within 48 hours of the women speaking to police, the "news had leaked to the Press" who wasted no time reporting it.

There should be a delicious irony in the story of an arrogant man being undone by the dubious practices that he himself championed. But then, isn't that precisely how this whole counter-attack has been engineered?

This is the powers-that-be playing SuperNanny and attempting to teach an unruly child a lesson. Unfortunately, it's likely to have the opposite effect, because the overriding message here is that leaks and media manipulation are both acceptable practices, assuming that they work in one's favour. As well as running the risk of making Assange a martyr to the cause, their actions will also cast a shadow of associated doubt onto the testimony of countless real victims of rape and sexual assault.

I hope that the two women at the heart of this story, illustrated in the papers looking like two Tetris screengrabs, reconsider their role in this woefully misconceived conspiracy. Maybe they're just unhappy at how quickly Assange was able to fuck them and move on - which is pretty much how the political figures at the heart of the WikiLeaks scandal must be feeling too. But when even the Daily Mail voices concerns that this is just a "dirty tricks campaign" on the part of the U.S. government, it's clear that their believability needs some work.

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