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And the ABC’s Drum beats: shoot the Wikileaks messenger

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Tuesday, 14 December 2010


On December 6, I wrote an article in On Line Opinion titled, "The death threats, the media, and the government’s sycophantic pursuit of Julian Assange".

I was, among other things, critical of the way in which the Wikileaks story was handled by a panel on the ABC’s Drum on December 2.

On December 8 there was another panel hosted by Steve Cannane, with guests Alan Anderson, a former advisor to Peter Costello; Scott Stephens, ABC Online Editor of Religion and Ethics; and actor Rhys Muldoon. I’ll elaborate on this panel later. But first:

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The art of silencing a whistleblower

There are three basic methods of discrediting a whistleblower used by those who wish to shut him or her up.

There is demonisation, as exemplified by certain figures in the USA likening Assange to al-Qaida and the Taliban, and calling for his assassination as a terrorist and a “treasonist.”

There is the technique of criminalising the whistleblower, as exemplified by Julia Gillard’s ignorant description of Assange’s activities as “illegal”, and the comments to be found everywhere that claim he is guilty of alleged sexual offences before he has been charged and tried.

The third method is to pathologise the whistleblower, as did John Howard when he announced that whistleblower Andrew Wilkie was “emotionally unstable”.

There are sub-headings under these categories, such as minimising and discrediting the messenger in order to minimise and discredit the message. As exemplified by Annabel Crabb and Leigh Sales on the previous week’s panel. This is best done by focusing on real or imagined negative characteristics of the messenger’s personality, instead of on the message that’s being delivered.

It is the pathologising method that held sway in the December 8 panel on The Drum. Assange was described (and I’m afraid I cannot recall which panellist made which accusation, other than that Mr Muldoon was not much involved) as a megalomaniac, a narcissist, and an anarchist. This last perhaps fits the category of criminalising as well as pathologising.

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Deconstructing the denigrations

Assange is an anarchist
A quick look in the dictionary will reveal that Assange is anything but an anarchist. He does not envisage a world bereft of all government and cast into unregulated chaos. His interest is in maintaining governments, but making them transparent and honest.

Assange is a megalomaniac
Megalomania is psychiatric disorder in which the patient experiences delusions of great power and importance. Mr Assange may well consider himself to be powerful and important, as far as I know nobody has asked him about this. But there is no doubt that “powerful and important” accurately and realistically describes his position in the world at this time. He is not suffering from a psychiatric disorder if he holds this opinion of himself.

It is difficult to imagine anyone who has achieved anything on a global scale, for better or worse, who did not have immense confidence, faith and belief in their ability to bring their vision to fruition. This mind set only becomes a disorder when the assessment is unrealistic, and the visionary delusional about his or her capacities.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at http://www.noplaceforsheep.wordpress.com.

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