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Tuesday, October 22, 2019
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Ignorance is not bliss, nor is a decline into authoritarianism

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Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

There’s a difference between choosing to be ignorant and being kept that way.

Given the state of our society, it’s easy to say that many of us certainly opt for the former, while we’re not sure of how much effort is going into the latter (hint, a great deal).

While we can’t always know what we don’t know, the railroading of Julian Assange is clearly an effort to keep the public ignorant of the often horrific crimes and corrupt activities of those in charge, both officially at the government level (politicians and bureaucrats) and behind the scenes (the corporatist owners of said politicians and bureaucrats).

As Gwynne Dyer notes in this week’s issue, Assange may not be a particularly sympathetic character, but he and WikiLeaks are responsible for revealing vital information about atrocities and wrongdoings on the part of government officials, particularly in the U.S.

Without such information – and you can bet the revelations are just the tip of the iceberg – we’d be much less informed about the crimes carried out in our names as citizens. In their handling of Assange, the Brits and Americans, abetted by Ecuador which reversed course on providing asylum, have shown they’d rather silence whistleblowers above all else, the public good be damned.

Their treatment of Assange also tramples all over notions of press freedom and the rights of journalists. Again, think what you will of the man, but there’s no doubt that WikiLeaks is practicing journalism. Worse still, many of the mainstream media outlets that used the same leaked documents to further their own stories seem quite happy to parrot the untruths told by government officials intent on stifling free speech and covering up their own criminality.

“The Assange arrest is scandalous in several respects. One of them is just the effort of governments – and it’s not just the U.S. government. The British are cooperating. Ecuador, of course, is now cooperating. Sweden, before, had cooperated. The efforts to silence a journalist who was producing materials that people in power didn’t want the rascal multitude to know about, that’s basically what happened,” noted academic, critic and activist Noam Chomsky says in a Democracy Now interview. “WikiLeaks was producing things that people ought to know about those in power. People in power don’t like that, so therefore we have to silence it. This is the kind of thing, the kind of scandal that takes place, unfortunately, over and over.”

Chomsky knows what of he speaks, having spent decades uncovering the truth about official lies … and those complicit in propagating the party line. Outside of some gotcha moments, he’s argued, the corporate media works to defend the economic, social, and political agenda of privileged groups that dominate the domestic society and the state. The media serve this purpose in many ways: through selection of topics, distribution of concerns, framing of issues, filtering of information, emphasis and tone, and by keeping debate within the bounds of acceptable premises, he argues.

Journalist Chris Hedges, who’s long deplored the treatment of Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, among other whistleblowers, is even more critical of the treatment of Assange.

“The arrest [April 11] of Julian Assange eviscerates all pretense of the rule of law and the rights of a free press. The illegalities, embraced by the Ecuadorian, British and U.S. governments, in the seizure of Assange are ominous. They presage a world where the internal workings, abuses, corruption, lies and crimes, especially war crimes, carried out by corporate states and the global ruling elite will be masked from the public. They presage a world where those with the courage and integrity to expose the misuse of power will be hunted down, tortured, subjected to sham trials and given lifetime prison terms in solitary confinement. They presage an Orwellian dystopia where news is replaced with propaganda, trivia and entertainment. The arrest of Assange, I fear, marks the official beginning of the corporate totalitarianism that will define our lives,” he writes this week.

Strong words. Sure to rankle some, but the truth does hurt, though it would hurt more if we had a system that held officials accountable for their lies, crimes and corruption.

Daniel Ellsberg, perhaps the first of such whistleblowers, is someone well acquainted with the importance of people of conscience revealing hidden crimes. His release of the Pentagon Papers shone a light on the real state of the Vietnam War, and showed him firsthand the lengths the state will go to in order to prevent the public from knowing the truth.

In an interview this week with the Real News Network, he argues the arrest of Assange is a serious assault on journalism, specifically of the First Amendment in the case of the U.S. He suggests the few vague charges against Assange will quickly grow if the U.S. is successful in its extradition efforts, a move designed to cast a wider chill on whistleblowers and investigative journalism.

“This is the first indictment of a journalist and editor or publisher, Julian Assange. And if it’s successful it will not be the last. This is clearly is a part of President Trump’s war on the press, what he calls the enemy of the state,” he says.

Failure to defend whistleblowers and the journalism that stems from their actions leads someplace we don’t want to go.

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