NYT and the Julian Assange Smear Campaign

WikiLeaks‘ Julian Assange believes people are out to smear him and his organization. That much seems clear. Today the New York Times‘ Ravi Somaiya writes a piece that would seem to confirm those suspicions.

The headline today:

Assange Complains of Jewish Smear Campaign

The issue here is what an editor at the British magazine Private Eye says Assange told him–that there is, in the Times‘ words, “a Jewish-led conspiracy to smear his organization.”

There’s no way for the Times to verify this information, as Glenn Greenwald points out at Salon. So why the definitive-sounding headline?

And the background to Assange’s “rambling phone call” raises more questions about the Times story. The paper reports that Assange

was especially angry about a Private Eye report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia, was a Holocaust denier. Mr. Assange complained that the article was part of a campaign by Jewish reporters in London to smear WikiLeaks.

That makes it sound like:

a) Assange has some formal association with Israel Shamir, a Holocaust denier;

b) Assange is angry that this magazine reported that Israel Shamir is a Holocaust denier.

But Assange’s anger actually seems to stem from the suggestion that he has a formal relationship with Shamir. As a WikiLeaks statement put it:

Israel Shamir has never worked or volunteered for WikiLeaks, in any manner, whatsoever. He has never written for WikiLeaks or any associated organization, under any name and we have no plan that he do so. He is not an “agent” of WikiLeaks. He has never been an employee of WikiLeaks and has never received monies from WikiLeaks or given monies to WikiLeaks or any related organization or individual. However, he has worked for the BBC, Haaretz and many other reputable organizations.

WikiLeaks went on to say that “Shamir was able to search through a limited portion of the cables with a view to writing articles for a range of Russian media.” It’s possible that WikiLeaks is downplaying Shamir’s role; other accounts portray him as having a somewhat closer connection to the organization. But Assange’s and WikiLeaks‘ public pronouncements take issue with the linking of themselves to Shamir, not the exposure of his antisemitism (which seems to be quite real).

You get a very different impression from the headline and thrust of the Times piece, which would lead you to believe that Assange consorts with anti-Semitic Holocaust deniers, gets angry when they are exposed as such and alleges that a Jewish conspiracy is out to get him.

It’s clear that Assange does believe that people are out to spread misinformation about him and his group. The Times story won’t do much to convince him that he’s wrong.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.