Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Book review: 'Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy'

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  • Alex Coleman,

    More from that cache of emails that anonymous hacked:

    http://thinkprogress.org/2011/02/10/lobbyists-chamberleaks/

    yowsers.

    According to e-mails obtained by ThinkProgress, the [U.S. Chamber of Commerce] hired the lobbying firm Hunton and Williams to spearhead this effort. Hunton And Williams’ attorney Richard Wyatt, who once represented Food Lion in its infamous lawsuit against ABC News, was hired by the Chamber in October of last year. To assist the Chamber, Wyatt and his associates, John Woods and Bob Quackenboss, hired a set of private security firms — HB Gary Federal, Palantir, and Berico Technologies (collectively called Team Themis) — to develop tactics for damaging progressive groups and labor unions, in particular ThinkProgress, the labor coalition called Change to Win, the SEIU, US Chamber Watch, and StopTheChamber.com.

    According to one document prepared by Team Themis, the campaign included an entrapment project. The proposal called for first creating a “false document, perhaps highlighting periodical financial information,” to give to a progressive group opposing the Chamber, and then to subsequently expose the document as a fake to undermine the credibility of the Chamber’s opponents. In addition, the group proposed creating a “fake insider persona” to “generate communications” with Change to Win.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 193 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Parks, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Mind you, the SST’s legal threat again Brian Edwards yesterday suggests a predisposition for stupid decisions.

    Honestly, what made the SST think that that was a sensible approach? Will seriously backfire, I’d say.

    Wellington • Since May 2007 • 1122 posts Report Reply

  • sally jones, in reply to B Jones,

    Thanks for the link to this article. I hope some government some time acts on the recommendations made in this latest taskforce. The NZ Law Commission looked into this issue some years back and many women's groups made submissions that recommended removing the lay person (juror) from the trial process in rape cases and handing over judgement to a panel of people more educated on the subject and less likely to apply the standard assumptions and mythology that surround rape. This was some years before the Louise Nichols trial. Justice for rape victims is still a long way off. Not sure the presumption of innocence is all that it's cracked up to be as a principle of justice applied in rape cases and very sure that it works to protect the guilty in many (most) cases. I know it's a bedrock principle, but given that alleged rape victims are scarcely afforded the same presumption, I'm sceptical of its fairness beyond reminding us that its opposite, the presumption of guilt, is the antithesis of justice.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2010 • 179 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    And yet, the book says, Davies’ work:

    had previously been denounced by Assange as a contemptible attempt by “sanctimonious handwringing … politicians and social elites” to claim a right to privacy. Assange had accused Davies of “a lack of journalistic solidarity” for criticising the News of the World – calling it merely “an opportunity to attack a journalistic and class rival”.

    In the light of how this scandal has developed over the last few months, particularly considering the latest revelations that the NOTW Private Investigator may have actually intercepted the families of members of the armed forces killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, Assange's criticism seems increasingly untennable. I think I would go so far as to say that the work Davies and his fellow Guardian contributors have done on this issue may well be the most influential and important work of investigative journalism in this coming decade. The implications of each finding are massive, and frightening.

    Wikileaks has been important, no doubt, and it will change the way we access and consume news, as well as think about it. But the work done on the phone hacking scandal is so substantive as to be heroic. And you bet there's mountains of stuff they can't print due to legal concerns.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    Um, for some reason, I broke the link in my last post. Here’s the piece I was referring to:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/06/news-world-investigator-families-dead-soldiers

    But pretty much everything from this section makes for grim and at times sickening reading:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/phone-hacking

    Either way, it’s a phenomenal effort from the Guardian team- they deserve all the praise they can get. It’s just deathly ironic that it’s come as a result of covering the very practices of others who share their vocation. And you do worry how the inquiry will turn out, and what recommendations it will make- and whether perhaps the news organisations who were less to blame (and maybe even responsible for uncovering it) might be more affected by it in the long run (cf Private Eye's constant battles with libel laws). But that’s for the future, which is going to be messy, on many levels.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Matthew Littlewood,

    In the light of how this scandal has developed over the last few months, particularly considering the latest revelations that the NOTW Private Investigator may have actually intercepted the families of members of the armed forces killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, Assange’s criticism seems increasingly untenable

    Assange was still saying much the same thing in an interview in May:

    Just a general question on the ethics, and how you derive the ethics of openness, investigation and privacy. Where does one make the ethical distinction between an operation say, WikiLeaks directed towards powerful institutions and processes and something such as the News of the World phone hacking scandal and the processes therein. What is not merely the contingent ethical decision, but what is the deeper political ethical basis on which one would make those distinctions?

    I quite like it [the question]. And this probably horrified my British colleagues and my lawyers, but I wrote about the News of the World phone hacking scandal. And what I said back about a year and a half ago is that the British press should be very careful what they are doing in relation to spending time on that as opposed to all the other injustices that they could be spending their time on. Because we had been involved in something called the Petrogate scandal in Peru just a few months before, where we revealed 87 telephone intercept tapes of Peruvian politicians speaking for businessmen. The famed audio tapes. And that was the biggest political story in Peru that year.

    And to engender a climate where that is hard to do is extremely dangerous. Now of course, the media abuses people and misuses its power in approximate proportion to the size of the particular industrial grouping. And News Corporation is a very large industrial grouping, and it uses its power accordingly. But when organisations like the Guardian write over a hundred stories about putting in default passwords in to voice mailboxes – because that’s what we’re actually talking about here – they are taking space from other things and they have other agendas at work. The other agendas at work are: attacking a newspaper rival; the New York Times became involved because similarly it wants to attack the Wall Street Journal.

    I actually understand where he's coming from. But the "hundred stories" he's talking about represent the real work of investigative journalism -- the persistence and hacking away over time. Nick Davies didn't know when he started what extraordinary things the story held.

    Wikileaks doubtless played an important role in Peruvian public affairs by facilitating the release of the tapes. But that's all it did. For Assange to present it as not only more significant but morally better than what Davies and The Guardian did is just delusional.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17938 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I actually understand where he’s coming from. But the “hundred stories” he’s talking about represent the real work of investigative journalism – the persistence and hacking away over time. Nick Davies didn’t know when he started what extraordinary things the story held.

    Wikileaks doubtless played an important role in Peruvian public affairs by facilitating the release of the tapes. But that’s all it did. For Assange to present it as not only more significant but morally better than what Davies and The Guardian did is just delusional.

    As you say , he is right in saying there are "other agendas" at play- as the Guardian, is of course, attacking a rival competitor- but to offhandedly dismiss it on those grounds reveals him to be more than a little myopic. This story has implications that go well beyond rival news organisations and right to the heart of the very existence of the modern (for want of a better term) "surveilance society".

    I've got no idea how Davies lucked onto this story at the start, but I'm pretty much in awe in how and he and his colleagues have managed to find more and more material, and managed to use it in a way that has been remarkably noble, really. There's a great book to be written about this once all the fire clears- which I assume could actually be months, if not years, away.

    Obviously, I would never deny Wikileaks influence, particularly in regards to the Petrogate story he refers to, but Assange does seem to have a blindspot when it comes to the work of others. And there's something I find troubling about it.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Who needs Big Brother when you've got the News of the World? David Cameron could well be tarred by Coulson's brush.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3895 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to DeepRed,

    Who needs Big Brother when you’ve got the News of the World? David Cameron could well be tarred by Coulson’s brush.

    Frankly, I don't know if Miliband won't come to regret calling for a public inquiry into the dealings of the evil media. May well turn up some toads a little too close to home for his comfort...

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Russell Brown,

    And what I said back about a year and a half ago is that the British press should be very careful what they are doing in relation to spending time on that as opposed to all the other injustices that they could be spending their time on.

    Ugh.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 11614 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    Frankly, I don’t know if Miliband won’t come to regret calling for a public inquiry into the dealings of the evil media. May well turn up some toads a little too close to home for his comfort…

    Quite possibly, but a full Public Inquiry still needs to be held- and to be fair, I don’t think either side of the house is arguing against that point, as far as I can tell, Cameron is more being challenged on the whys, whens and wherefores- not least because the further the Guardian (and Scotland Yard) has delved into this scandal, the messier and more depressing it’s become.

    As I said before, whatever happens as a result could well be game-changing, for good and ill, and you’ve also got Murdoch’s planned BSKYB takeover (which appears to have got the nominal tick from the Culture Minister against staunch opposition) hovering in the background, too- something which in itself could possibly change the shape of broadcasting media in Britain if it goes ahead,

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    Cameron's not committing to a judicial inquiry though, which is an important point.

    Cameron is almost certainly freaking the fuck out, to put it mildly, because he employed Andy Coulson (one of the major Screws figures) as a PR man & is seen as close to Murdoch and especially Brooks. This is turning into a disaster for Murdoch, and Cameron must be v. worried that he'll get hit at the same time. The Telegraph carried an article ripping him to hell. Dave from PR is not a good thing to be at the moment.

    (The Met's complicity is really worrying also, and that could get very messy. Boris Johnson is probably not happy about his oversight responsibilities at the Met right now.)

    Since Jul 2008 • 1251 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    News International (and Associated, the Telegraph, etc) are in a complex symbiotic relationship with the UK government (whether Tory or Labour). The government lets Big Media do what it likes, Big Media props up the government and ensures that any real opposition is vilified out of existence.

    It's exactly the same as Pravda was, but with deniability.

    APN/Fairfax are in a similar position with the NZ government, just in more of a bush league way.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4209 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    On NatRad this morning, I heard that Murdoch is closing down the NOTW. I doubt the leopard will change its spots though, since there are rumours tht the Sun will go 7-day.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 3895 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood, in reply to Keir Leslie,

    Cameron is almost certainly freaking the fuck out, to put it mildly, because he employed Andy Coulson (one of the major Screws figures) as a PR man & is seen as close to Murdoch and especially Brooks. This is turning into a disaster for Murdoch, and Cameron must be v. worried that he’ll get hit at the same time. The Telegraph carried an article ripping him to hell. Dave from PR is not a good thing to be at the moment.

    Oh absolutely, the more revelations that have come out about Coulson's behaviour (and we can now take it on read that if he didn't exactly lie at the original inquiry, he certainly didn't tell them the whole truth), and the more comes out about Brooks's sheer duplicity (as well as a lack of a moral compass), the worse it gets for him by assocation. That is absolutely undeniable, and like you say, if the Telegraph is firing shots at Cameron over this, you know it's bad:

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peteroborne/100095686/david-cameron-is-in-the-sewer-because-of-his-news-international-friends/

    But what this shows is how tortured the relationship between Rupert Murdoch and the establishment has been for nearly three decades. And I think he would much rather have NOTW close if it somehow satisfies him still getting the BSKYB deal. That's where the real game-changer is going to be.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to DeepRed,

    the Sun will go 7-day

    Highly likely. Which would make it rather cheaper to operate, given economies of scale from a 7-day newsroom, common back office, etc. So Murdoch wins out financially.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4209 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Highly likely. Which would make it rather cheaper to operate, given economies of scale from a 7-day newsroom, common back office, etc. So Murdoch wins out financially.

    He will win even more financially if this is enough penance to get the final tick for the BSKYB deal.

    Also, I see Coulson has been arrested. This is going to run and run.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    The Sun won't get the same circulation that the NOTW did. This is a catastrophe for Murdoch. Staff morale is through the floor, no one wants to be the next guy chucked overboard to save Murdoch/Brooks.

    It might save BSkyB but then I don't know if that was ever in too much jeopardy, and then again it might make it less likely to go through, by legitimising public anger.

    Basically, a really bad day for Murdoch, an awful day for the NOTW, and a pretty rubbish one for Cameron.

    Since Jul 2008 • 1251 posts Report Reply

  • Keir Leslie,

    (And as a side note, the British newspapers may not be the most money-making parts of Murdoch's holdings, but they are very very important strategically.)

    Since Jul 2008 • 1251 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Littlewood,

    This interview with Nick Davies lays out exactly how important this story is. I've been following the updates all evening, and as I type this, another NOTW reporter has been arrested. But as Davies says, this story is much, much bigger than journalists behaving badly- it's about the colusion at the most elite levels at the establishment, and the contempt they hold everyone else in to let this slide for so long. It's all pretty sickening, really.

    Today, Tomorrow, Timaru • Since Jan 2007 • 434 posts Report Reply

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