After the premiere of the Channel 4 documentary WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies, the whistleblower organization posted an almost incomprehensible tirade accusing the film of being yet another Guardian conspiracy against Julian Assange. The post goes into painstaking detail about everything from the imbalanced amount of screen time Assange received -- "8 minutes 50 seconds (including a 20 second silence on camera), whereas The Guardian’s five employees are given 29 minutes and 30 seconds" -- to the way in which the very tone of some of the interviews -- "[Guardian reporter] Nick Davies makes extraordinary allegations about Julian Assange." Good grief.
Not having seen the Channel 4 documentary, we don't want to take sides. WikiLeaks says it's "unethical and prejudicial to Julian Assange." Despite admitting that Assange "suspended his collaboration" after he became dissatisfied with the networks promotional messaging for the film, the post quotes the WikiLeaks cofounder complaining about all of the "bad things in the programme that shouldn't have been there that were not fact checked and were very very unhelpful." (The refusal to participate and then complaining about being left out is vintage Assange.) The main thrust of the post, however, is directed at The Guardian. The post even refers to the film as "the Guardian Documentary" even though it was produced by Channel 4. "The Guardian has continued its war on WikiLeaks with three new attacks over 48 hours," it begins. What follows is an exhaustive list of the ways in which The Guardian collaborated with the film's producers, a bullet-point list of instance in which the film contradicted "it's stated purpose" and finally, at the very end, a response to WikiLeaks' accusations from the film's director, Patrick Forbes. That stated purpose, according to Forbes, was "to make a definitive factual account of the WikiLeaks affair."
At this point, everybody knows that Julian Assange can be a little sensitive to criticism. It's also unclear whether or not Assange himself wrote the scolding post, though with the amount of private correspondence between Assange and Forbes, it's pretty clear that he was involved. Just before the Channel 4 documentary aired on Tuesday night, New York magazine's Joe Coscarelli anticipated trouble from Assange, noting how the film had "sparked chatter not about the group's accomplishments -- Wikileaks has published no major leaks in 2011 -- but once again about Assange's personality, after he called the British press a 'credit-stealing, credit-whoring, backstabbing industry.'" Comparing the recent successes of the leaderless Occupy Wall Street to WikiLeaks' struggles in connection to Assange, Coscarelli concludes:
Assange's hole is deeper: In addition to his own legal issues, WikiLeaks has ceased publishing until they work out their financial problems, and an updated leak-submission system was delayed again this week. Occupy Wall Street has been set back by nationwide evictions and its fate is uncertain, but with money in the bank and no scandals to speak of, no one is writing them off yet. The next group of revolutionaries should probably take care to avoid relying at all on a charismatic yet troubled public commander.
It's a strong point. As it continues to win both praise for its powerful impact on journalism and criticism for wielding that power irresponsibly at times, the future of WikiLeaks itself has become a controversial topic, and blaming Assange for the divisiveness isn't unreasonable. Two months after being harshly criticized by the journalism community for releasing its full cache of diplomatic cables without redacting the names of sources, WikiLeaks won the equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize in Australia, Assange's home country, for "Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism." Both of those events -- the first a blow to the organization's reputation and the second a boon -- were dominated by Assange's reactions. In accepting his award, Assange made headlines not for thanking the Walkley Foundation, who was honoring his work, but rather for calling "the craven behavior" of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gallard "embarrassing". During the confusing lead up to WikiLeaks' releasing the unredacted cables, which had already been leaked online, Assange spent less time defending his organization against criticism that WikiLeaks should have done a better job protecting innocent sources than it did blaming The Guardian editors for revealing the password. (The jury is still out on whose fault it was, but the whole affair was largely viewed as a catastrophe for WikiLeaks.)
Once again, we recommend you watch the film. and decide for yourself whether it's a shrouded attack on WikiLeaks by The Guardian or simply a critical documentary. Someone has already leaked a five-minute clip to YouTube:
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.