“What is special about WikiLeaks is that it’s not just another damn story, it’s not just another damn journalist putting their damn byline, advertising themselves and their position on another damn story.”
That’s the assessment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who appeared in Sydney over the weekend (albeit via video link) for a wide-ranging discussion on the failings of modern media, the power of leaked information and why WikiLeaks is happy to court scandal.
And while he says newspapers publish nothing more than “weaponised text,” he’s more than happy with the advent of “fake news.”
WikiLeaks, which, has never been one to shrink from its stated goal of uncovering “government and corporate misconduct.” However, the organisation has come under fire in recent months for the way it releases information, particularly around the .
But speaking to the audience in Sydney — including supporters who were willing to yell their support during the live cross — Assange defended WikiLeaks as “a wonderful library you can trust” and a source of “original pristine information.”
“You’re not reading pre-weaponised knowledge,” he said of the organisations’ millions of documents. “When you read a newspaper article, you are reading weaponised text that is designed to affect a person just like you.
“I think that is the real beauty of WikiLeaks… it is that sea of information, that treasure, that intellectual treasure, that rebel library of Alexandria you can go into.”
Assange’s comments throughout the two-hour event pitted this unfiltered archive of information against what he called the “very, very, very inaccurate” press and the “opportunistic snipers” that work in the industry as journalists.
But this disdain for the global news media did not necessarily extend to fake news.
“When the narrative of fake news came out and was then taken off effectively by the neo-liberal press and pushed around… I could see exactly where that was going. I was rather happy about it,” he said.
“WikiLeaks is very happy that there is a narrative about fake news out there because we have a perfect record of having never got it wrong in terms of authentications.”
So what if that “pristine” information is private correspondence allegedly from one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides,? Does freedom of information take on a new meaning when that information is timed to have the maximum impact?
“Sources don’t give you stuff unless it’s going to have impact,” Assange said.
“The real value in WikiLeaks is it is a wonderful library that you can trust… But the library has to be marketed. And so the scandal-generation business, which we’re also in — I view that as a kind of marketing effort for what is much more substantial, which is our archive.”
And as for the timing of the Podesta emails?
“We try and maximize the value of the information to readers. So that’s publishing it at the moment when they most want to read it, when they most want to know what it contains. And that’s definitely before an election rather than after election.”
Assange himself is currently in election mode once more, awaiting the outcome of the Ecuadorian presidential election to learn if his status in the country’s London embassy will change. But if there’s one thing his Sydney audience learned, he’s not shying away from scandal any time soon.
On realising the internet is less interesting than Wikileaks
“The internet is boring. It felt like I’d read the whole internet… each new thing was kind of like the last thing. And it felt like pre-chewed food, not real, kind of lame. So I thought, ‘I think I’ll just read more of our stuff’.”
On living in the Ecuadorian Embassy
“I’m a refugee. Arguably the best known refugee.”
On living in isolation
“Intellectually, my mind is in the world doing amazing things. Actually, frankly amazing things.”
On the danger of releasing information
“Nothing that we’ve published has ever hurt anyone, physically… Information very, very rarely, is dangerous. And not compared to what government does.”
On the accuracy of the Podesta emails
“We had lots of critics in the Democratic Party, liars in the Democratic Party… saying that what we published was not accurate — trying to imitate it, sometimes saying it directly. And of course we could mathematically prove that they were liars. And it’s not every day that you can mathematically prove that your critics are full of it.”
“Australia doesn’t really exist as a state… It doesn’t have its own land, it doesn’t have its own language, it doesn’t have its own foreign policy.”
On Wikileaks’ Twitter account
“You can blame me for anything that’s there — I’m the editor.”
CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET’s newsstand edition.
Life, disrupted: In Europe, millions of refugees are still searching for a safe place to settle. Tech should be part of the solution. But is it?