When, many years ago, I first read about the Nixon administration’s infamous break-in to the office of Daniel Ellberg’s psychiatrist as a means to discredit the Pentagon Papers leak, I was baffled by the motivation. The Pentagon Papers revealed systematic lying on the part of the U.S. Government to the American public about the Vietnam War. Why, I wondered with a not insubstantial amount of naïveté, would public revelations about Ellsberg’s personality and psyche have any impact on how those leaks were perceived?
But the answer to that is obvious, as Nixon well knew: by demonizing Ellsberg personally, even those inclined to defend the leak would be reluctant to be associated with him. If Ellsberg became associated in the public mind not with his noble exposure of government lies but rather with “strange” psychological drives or bizarre sexual fantasies — the sort of thing one is supposed to reveal to one’s psychoanalyst — then he would become a figure of derision, an embarrassment, and nobody would want anything to do with him for fear of having his foibles reflect negatively on them. You smear the messenger, and the message is smeared along with him — or, just as good, the message is forgotten and the messenger is abandoned to whatever punishments are doled out.
This has been exactly the strategy used to ward off support for Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, and Bradley Manning, with one difference: leaving aside Joe Biden, who denounced Assange as a “high-techterrorist,” this time the role of Nixonian henchmen is played by establishment-defending or Obama-loyal media figures rather than the administration itself. The New York Times — led by John Burns and Bill Keller — has continuously obsessed on Assange’s alleged personality flaws while all but ignoring the vital disclosures about the U.S. Government for which he is partially responsible (Keller, the son of a Chevron CEO, wrote an article infamously complaining that Assange’s socks were “filthy” and that he “smelled”).
The NYT and numerous other media outlets also aggressively promoted a new group, “Open Leaks,” started by former WikiLeaks volunteers offended by Assange’s “imperious behavior” — a group which, to date, has failed to produce a single leak. Meanwhile, people like this former Obama campaign press aide and current MSNBC contributor (a virtual redundancy) have continually demeaned Bradley Manning as “a guy seeking anarchy as a salve for his own personal, psychological torment” caused by his sexuality while ominously alluding to “plenty of other evidence that something wasn’t quite right with Manning.”
As Ellsberg himself has repeatedly pointed out, this is the same sleazy strategy employed by Nixon to personally smear whistleblowers and demonize their psyches in order to discredit the substance of their disclosures and make it uncomfortable for anyone to support them. And it works.
While WikiLeaks enjoyed widespread support just a couple of years ago, the personal attacks on Assange and Manning — along with the unproven and even uncharged sexual assault allegations in Sweden — have dried up much of that support. Who wants to be seen advocating for an unhygienic, abusive egomaniac or a psychologically crippled, gender-confused, vengeful freak: the caricatures of Assange and Manning that have been successfully implanted in the public mind by today’s Nixonian smear artists? The truth or falsity of these caricatures matters little for this tactic to work: once someone is rendered sufficiently radioactive in Decent Society, even many who are sympathetic to their cause will turn away, become unwilling to defend them, lest any of the slime relentlessly poured on the whistleblowers splatter onto their defenders.
But given what is at stake in the Manning case and especially the potential prosecution of WikiLeaks and Assange, this tactic must not be permitted to succeed. The judicial process in Sweden should and will be permitted to resolve the sexual allegations against Assange one way or the other — given that he’s not even charged, let alone convicted, he should enjoy the presumption of innocence — but whatever the outcome of that case, the personal attributes or failings of Assange or Manning have no bearing on the threat posed by the U.S. Government’s prosecution for the publishing WikiLeaks has done.
A coalition of leading journalists and media outlets in Australia have explained: WikiLeaks “is doing what the media have always done: bringing to light material that governments would prefer to keep secret” and prosecuting them “would be unprecedented in the US, breaching the First Amendment protecting a free press“; they added: “To aggressively attempt to shut WikiLeaks down, to threaten to prosecute those who publish official leaks . . . is a serious threat to democracy.” The Committee to Protect Journalists sent a letter to Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder expressing “deep concern” over “reports about a potential WikiLeaks prosecution,” which “would threaten grave damage to the First Amendment’s protections of free speech and the press.” Although American journalists were reluctant at first to speak out, even they have come around to recognizing what a profound threat an Assange indictment would be to press freedoms, with The Washington Post Editorial Page denouncing any indictment on the ground that it “would criminalize the exchange of information and put at risk responsible media organizations,” and even editors of the Guardian and Keller himself — with whom Assange has feuded — are now vowing to defend Assange if he were to be prosecuted.
All of this merits particular emphasis now in light of yesterday’s ruling by Britain’s Supreme Court that Assange must be extradited to Sweden. For reasons I explained yesterday on Democracy Now, there is a very well-grounded fear that this extradition is intended to be the first step in his inevitable rendering to the U.S. for prosecution. Ample evidence, including my prior reporting, proves the Obama DOJ has an active Grand Jury investigation of WikiLeaks. Some evidence, albeit not entirely reliable, has emerged stating that they have already obtained a sealed indictment. That there is now a flurry of recent activity at exactly the time when it was known the British Supreme Court would issue its extradition ruling — suspected WikiLeaks supporters being aggressively accosted by the FBI while Hillary Clinton is now meeting with top officials in Sweden — adds to the reasonable suspicion that the U.S. is seeking to exploit Assange’s extradition to Sweden as a means of bringing him to the U.S. to face prosecution under espionage charges. That this administration has an unprecedented fixation on secrecy and prosecuting whistleblowers — while key Democratic Senators such as Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein have publicly called for Assange’s prosecution for espionage — makes this all the more likely.
It’s vital that this not be permitted to happen. Whatever one’s discomfort with Assange’s supposed personal flaws, that must not deter anyone from standing against what would truly be an odious indictment for the publication by WikiLeaks of critical information in the public interest. Last December in The Guardian, I argued that Bradley Manning deserves a medal, not imprisonment, if he actually did what he is alleged to have done. Here is a two-minute clip from my Democracy Now appearance where I made the case for why defending WikiLeaks is so crucial (this was not included in the segment I posted yesterday):
Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.
A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.
Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.
Your summer in extreme weather
Great Plains tornadoes
From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.
"It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."
But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."
AP/Detroit News, David Coates
Your summer in extreme weather
On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.
Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."
AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora
Your summer in extreme weather
An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.
Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.
Your summer in extreme weather
Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.
Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."
Your summer in extreme weather
Florida red tide
A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.
The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.