The see-saw of Assange

Over years, it has been remarkable the quick about-face that people in the media and commentariat have done given circumstances. While the former NSA employee Edward Snowden and Wikileaks (and by extension its founder, Julian Assange) were championed as brave whistleblowers while they exposed US Governmental malfeasance under Republican administration, they suddenly became individuals of concern once the rulers had changed.

The whistleblowers suddenly became shadowy operators working under the auspices of foreign dictatorships, and agents of propagating evils.

You could see the groundwork being laid, I feel, during this interview between Snowden and HBO Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver.

… and I think there needs to be a discussion about the role of comedians in politics, but that’s a story for another day.

In this interview, Oliver holds Snowden to account for his reckless approach to releasing information, and of course it is no surprise to see that MSNBC jumped on the specific portion of the interview that stood to smear Snowden.

Then there’s the 180-flip that occurred from when Wikileaks published evidence that was condemning of George W Bush to the time that the same outlet revealed the scurrilous nature of the Hillary Clinton campaign – an action that reportedly cost the former Secretary of State her all-but-confirmed-at-the-polls Presidency. His arrest seems to have been met with glee from a press that would have previously defended his actions had the target been the correct one.

It is indicative of a brazen press that would profess impartiality while their cheerleading for one side of politics could not be so naked. Assange has his detractors (and I feel that there is certainly grounds for criticism given his recklessness and lack of responsibility when it comes to the release of information), that such condemnation of his actions is dependent on who he is targeting is probably the most galling aspect of all of this.

If the stance had been, “He was reckless, but it was important for the public to know this” then that is a sentiment I can truly agree with. However, if his title of “champion” or “villain” flip-flops dependent on the subject he scrutinises and exposes, then that truly reveals the hackery at foot.

Let’s not forget that the past two years of investigation into the supposed collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government (which has fizzled into nothing, and any continued claims of collusion should be derisively dismissed as delusional conspiracy theory) has hinged upon information that Wikileaks provided the United States about Clinton.

In effect, considering what I’ve written above, it can be concluded that the ire at Assange is not because he broke the law, but rather because he exposed the truth about the wrong person, at the wrong time.

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… and I’ll show you the crime

The world of politics is in an awful state right now. Not that it’s ever been, in my lifetime, in a state that was anything other than a complete upending of a bag of shit, complete with open eyes and mouths. I would only contend that today’s marketplace of overturned manure bags is more egregious if only because it has dropped all pretense of representation, and is simply a small sign that reads “I’m against what that dude says.”

So, the US Government packed its bags and went home after no resolution was reached on funding for a border wall. Democrats, on this instance, claimed a wall was immoral. Yet there was little reporting of such an objection from Democrats in 2013 for a border fence.

An incoming New York Attorney General has indicated their intention of doing broad and comprehensive investigation into Trump and his family.

We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well,” James, a Democrat, told NBC News in her first extensive interview since she was elected last month.

But has any crime been committed to warrant such extensive scrutiny?

There is a saying, in where you “show me the man, and I show you the crime”, which in itself an awful perversion of justice. Regardless of your feelings toward Trump, an atmosphere in where people can be specifically targeted to find a crime they committed, as opposed to finding a crime then looking for who committed it, should make you fearful.

Because it sends a message that if a certain sentiment is against your favour, that any and all scrutiny is warranted, welcomed and cheered. All because you happen to go against the mainstream grain. If you don’t have a problem with this kind of thinking, just remember who wields the power when the pendulum eventually swings the other way.

Neither Republicans or Democrats will rule forever, but it should trouble anyone that such a concerted effort to find a crime to attach to target du-jour could be shrugged away.

No one ever seems to think the mob will some day turn their ire against them. For when that day comes, they might wish for a standard that isn’t “I want the opposite of what they say.”

Where Louis CK is right

I was, and indeed am, a fan of Louis CK. I also don’t think Louis CK is a person I would care to meet. This does not stem from his past controversy in where he would expose himself to women before embarking of a cruise of self pleasure before them. My lack of care for CK as a person is from looking at his material and surmising that he comes off as someone I’d probably not share a lot in common.

For instance, simply leaving his rental car at the airport terminal for the rental car company to collect.

Sure, it’s not the most earth-shattering of attitudes, and of all the moral crimes he could perform, this would rank next to “backing into another persons car and driving off” or “playing Bjork in a multi-storey apartment complex at 3am”. It’s inconsiderate.

But I feel it does reveal a certain personality trait that I would likely not get along with.

When it was eventually revealed that CK held some proclivities toward exposing himself to women, my reaction wasn’t one of shock, but rather of “yeah, that strikes me as something he’d do.”

This isn’t to suggest his actions rank on the same scale as the “inconsiderate”, but rather is an example of his attitude writ large. If someone has no qualms about inconveniencing others in a mild setting, then how would this manifest in its worst possible fashion? And for that question, CK had an emphatic answer, and it is one for which has cost him “millions and millions“, according to an excerpt in his latest performance.

Which is a performance that seems to have outraged the internet, which is no surprise. Outrage is now the natural behaviour for the internet.

I only mention CK here, because there is much right about this performance that needs to be taken on by more people. Not what he’s saying, per se, but rather the cavalier up-yours to those who would seek to destroy others for crimes that in the past would not have played out so publicly.

By attacking the taboo, as has been CK’s modus operandi for the better part of his career, CK challenges the outrage mob, effectively saying, “do your worst.”

And it is this method that will defeat the outrage mob, by revealing them to be the paper tigers they truly are. I understand that businesses are typically shy of controversy, usually doing whatever they can to put PR messes behind them. This usually involves a mea-culpa and some self-flaggelation, while the outrage mob sings and dances in triumph at yet another scalp they’ve beaten into submission.

Except, online outrage mobs, I contend, only exist online. For the most part, I don’t think these mobs are paying customers, and I don’t think businesses would suffer any loss of income by having an online mob vowing to never use their services again. Apologising to the mob only serves to embolden the mob, legitimising their tactics and giving them power where they ought to have none.

So CK is displaying the more dramatic actions that businesses, and indeed even politicians, should take when faced with a howling mob: stare them down and tell them “no”. Sure, it might be easier to appease them and throw them an empty apology, but in taking steps to stand up to them, showing how ultimately pitiful their outrage is, and how turning them away has no impact on the bottom line, it would send an example to future targets of the mob’s ire.

This extends to employers and their employees. Should an employee fall afoul of the online mob, an employer should clarify the actions of the employee and deal with the matter in-house. Publicly firing and shaming an employee again emboldens the crowd, thereby increasing this culture in where attacking peoples’ sources of income is a legitimate and celebrated tactic.

Employers should tell the mob to mind their own business and go away.

It would be most scary to do, facing what appears to be hundreds of thousands of angry people and hoisting the middle finger. But upon realising that many of the people are just angry Twitter users with an illusion of power, suddenly the mob must surely appear less intimidating.

I am hopeful that CK sticks to this method of pointing at the folly of the activist culture today, and poking today’s sacred cows without receding with an apology to placate those he supposedly offended. I maintain that many of those offended aren’t actually offended as much as their using a faux-offence to attack their political adversaries.

I have liked, and still like, CK’s work, and I still maintain that he isn’t someone I’d care to meet (and I am doubly sure the feeling would be reciprocated), but one can like the art and still be ambivalent on the artist. I have not changed my perspective on him as a result of the performance linked above, as I don’t want to be someone who flip-flops on someone as they flip-flop their attitudes.

So, take heed, future victims of online outrage mobs; stare them down, tell them to go away. They will.

Take heed, employers of targets of online outrage mobs; tell the mob to go away, that you will deal with the matter internally, and move on. Caution your employee, but know that firing them will only make matters worse.

Louis CK is right to ignore the consequences of outrage, because he reveals the pitiful illusion of power the online mobs have. Those emperors have no clothes.

All that’s needed is an excuse

In my previous post, I addressed the matter of “Whataboutism” and how there seems to be a set of rules to follow, but only for one side of the aisle. I loathe to say that this is a Left versus Right thing, as I don’t think it necessarily is (and I may do a post on that later), but rather an Us versus Them. I think these two criteria knows no political divide.

Patreon has been a good method for content creators to source an income from their fan base, allowing individuals to tap directly into their audience and be rewarded in a manner that let’s the individual put a value on the content they consume. It is – or at least was – a nice principle. Democratic. Equal. Fair.

In an interview with Dave Rubin, Jack Conte of Patreon explained that the site only monitors behaviour in that particular community, and on content the individual The crowd sourcing site even saw fit to mention that they don’t take action against users for their behaviour off-site.

In spite of this assertion, Patreon has seen fit to remove Carl Benjamin – aka Sargon of Akkad – from their site, thereby removing a not-insignificant portion of his income. His transgression? Using politically incorrect language when featured on a podcast that isn’t his own. While the comments he made, when considered bereft of context, heinous and foolish (and Benjamin has a pattern of saying rash and foolish things), it is deeply troubling that Patreon would pull a certain bait-and-switch like this.

Today, it’s for remarks on a podcast. How about for discovering comments made in public that were surreptitiously recorded? While some may moan of the slippery-slope fallacy, slippery slopes can and do exist regardless.

Because the reaction to Benjamin’s removal from Patreon has garnered great attention from major creators who decry the deplatforming, while others celebrate the purging of wrongthink from the Internet. Because make no mistake, while Benjamin’s comments were careless and foolish, if it wasn’t this transgression that resulted in his punishment, then they would have eventually found one.

They didn’t ban Benjamin for his comments, at least not directly. The comments were a convenient excuse to do what they had always planned to do. It speaks of a Sword of Damocles in where certain voices are only given superficial tolerance, while the blade hovers overhead, just waiting for the right moment when it can deliver that fatal, but palatable explainable blow.

In this case, Benjamin gave them their excuse, despite it not violating Patreon’s Terms of Service. However, had people uncovered footage of him in the past where he made an off-colour comment, Patreon would have enacted this ban. They were always going to ban him – they just needed a reason.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m being hyperbolic when I posit that the opposition to counter voices – or, at an extension, Trump’s actions? Think I’m being dramatic by suggesting that people will comb through someone’s history to find a problem that will result in the destruction of an individual?

Read Kevin Hart, where decade-old jokes were enough to rob him of the privilege of hosting the Oscars.

Read the saga of Brett Kavanaugh where it was sought to deny someone the highest honour of their chosen vocation, a profession for which they had dedicated their entire working lives, on the mere allegation of a crime that occurred thirty years ago. Three. Decades. Ago.

Yet Bill Maher keeps his high-profile television show after using similar language. Why? Because he’s on the Correct Side. Yes, I understand that what Patreon does is different to what a television network does, but it speaks of the nature of activists and tech companies who will condemn language on one part, while they shrug and saunter past transgressors who just happen to be accepted.

In their actions, Patreon have identified themselves as enemies of free speech, and it speaks of a broader climate where dissenting voices are given an illusion of freedom. Because, the moment the activists and authoritarians (within tech and politics) find something incriminating, something that they can easily spin as justification for the removal of a freedom, they will use it.

I had previously signed up for Patreon, but have since deleted my account. It didn’t have any traffic, so it’s no great sacrifice for me, but I will find alternative methods to fund any content creation that I do.

The War on Whataboutism

Political discussion is a minefield these days, and there are so many rules about what tactics are employed in debates. There’s the matter of tone policing, or gas-lighting, or interpretations on whether people are arguing in good faith.

But of the most egregious is the idea of “whataboutism” and the rush to denigrate the argument of pointing out someone’s hypocrisy. Naturally the google search results point to the usual suspects of Wikipedia and John fucking Oliver. Oh how much I loathe the idea of treating comedians as the bastions of truth.

Typically Whataboutism would be a problem in discussions, because it would be an attempt to distract or deflect the argument away from the target. Whataboutism means that the charge being argued isn’t being addressed, but instead devolves into a tit-for-tat arm wrestle.

Typically I would agree that Whataboutism is unproductive and reduces debate to incoherent babble. However, it needs to be recognised that the times we’re in are not normal.

While this is a blog for my opinion, and my opinion alone, I feel that I should probably stress the below is said as my belief. This probably should be stressed because what I am about to say is difficult to substantiate, even though it appears completely obvious to me.

The Obama years in the White House, upon retrospect, seem to have been a cavalcade of media running defence for an administration to which they sympathised. How else could a President stand in front of a nation of hundreds of millions, in the wake of Benghazi, Fast and Furious, examples of an unethical Department of Justice and the weaponisation of the IRS, and state that he ran a scandal-free Presidency?

Yet the media didn’t hold Obama’s feet to the fire on the claim, with the Washington Post granting the fact check a very charitable “Needs context.”

So when the very same media whip up the masses into a lather over the very real scandals that burble up within the Trump administration, it stands to reason to ask the question of the media, “Where were you between 2008 and 2016?”

But that’s whataboutism, I would hear the retort. This would wash better is the muck being thrown at Trump wasn’t dug up for the purposes of smearing rather than actual whistle-blowing of injustice.

The media, and those who would oppose Trump only care about the scandals because they want to damage Trump. They don’t actually care about the issues. Not the media. Not the anti-Trump activists. Don’t believe me? Where are the stories about Dreamers and DACA now? The migrant caravan? What about Christine Blasey-Ford? How about the story that Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, and supposed death knell for abortion in the US, Brett Kavanaugh recently voted against reviewing a ruling on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood?

The media, and activists don’t care about these issues. If they were being honestly, they would admit that they just want to damage Trump ahead of elections. They will hold up photos of children suffering with cloudy eyes of crocodile tears, while spitting bile about the horrible creature that the population insisted should be in the White House – thereby using actual suffering as a prop to push their agenda. They want to ensure this little hiccup is drowned and that we install a Democrat President, as we should, as Was We Were Always Meant To Do.

So, in this climate, I don’t see the problem with “Whataboutism”. I say this as someone who doesn’t like Trump, and as someone who wants to see debate returned to a state of civility. I want politics to be boring, and not the propaganda shit-fest in where actors, singers and comedians all ordain their righteous beliefs from up above the plebs.

Whataboutism is needed, to highlight the media’s bias and to highlight the bad motivations of activists. This isn’t to say that I want CNN, MSNBC et al to overnight become impartial actors. I think they’re too far gone for that. I want them to at least be honest in their bias. Fox News has long been rightfully smeared as a partisan outlet, but I think it’s now time that the smear is spread to the other clearly-obvious perpetrators of partisan hackery as well.

Whataboutism isn’t a problem, because the media cannot do their job properly.

A roundabout maybe endorsement

It is not unusual for people, when attacked, to immediately defend themselves in a manner proportionate to the initial assault. When you are punched, you are likely to punch back.

Of course, when Trump lashes the media as being the “Enemy of the People”, it would be expected that the media return fire in kind.

Semantics would detail that Trump’s widespread blunderbuss of flotsam and debris targets the “Fake News” as such an enemy of the people, and not the media at large. However, that is incidental to that I am about to write.

Let’s never forget that the term “Fake News” was also initially mentioned by Clinton and the “impartial” media as one of the reason’s for Trump’s rise to power. For all the mockery of his constant “Fake News” refrain, I’ll never forget that Trump’s use of the term was a reversal of the media’s own weapon.

But, for all the talk of fake news, and the denouncement of the media news complex, there are now sounds being made that Trump’s lambasting is giving rise to the kind of clamp-downs on dissenting voices in North Korea, Phillipines and more recently the case of Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi Arabia.

But while Trump openly and explicitly bashes the media, oftentimes for good reason (and othertimes for not), I am always reminded by the covert methods in which the Obama administration pursued whistleblowers and journalists. I feel that if you want to talk of other nations emboldened by rhetoric to silence dissenting voices (assuming that these other countries take their lead from the US and not, say, their own hubris and corruption), that the Obama administration would have been just as guilty.

For all the bluster about Trump’s fiery and loud relationship with CNN, Obama actively froze out Fox News, to quote:

“We’re going to treat them the way we would treat an opponent. As they are undertaking a war against Barack Obama and the White House, we don’t need to pretend that this is the way that legitimate news organizations behave.”

  • Obama White House Communications Communications Director, Anita Dunn

Of course, many would scoff and cough at the Fox News being partisan outlets, however this would be turn a willing blind eye to the raging bias exhibited by CNN, MSNBC or other so-called “impartial” platforms.

The difference between Trump and Obama, in this case, is that the media hasn’t been running defense for all the scandals for the former, while they were happy to look away for the latter.

So, I disagree with the idea that it is Trump, and only Trump’s, attacks on the media that are a problem. The media can bleat all they like about being a major supportive beam of a functioning democracy, but until I see better quality reporting from everyone, I’m going to reserve my panic over the matter of a threatened media.

 

“Unbiased” media

I have been following much of the commentariat in the fallout of the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Typical Conservative sites accept the result as a victory of due process, while the opposite side of aisle holds the result as proof of the vile system they have so vehemently opposed.

One thing has been raised, and it’s a topic that I often discuss here, is the role of the media in proceedings. From what I have observed, the media’s reporting has been accepting of the allegations toward Kavanaugh, seeming to condemn the new Justice without criticism of the claims.

However, the counter to my concern is that the media’s reporting has been impartial, carefully using language to ensure that the articles make no certain conclusions.

And for this claim, there is a point. However, it does miss the modus operandi I observe in the media, and it’s one that has affected me personally. The media may report the facts, but there is always an underlying drama that is quite often heavily implied.

A news outlet will report the facts, but that is only secondary to how the article makes you feel.

Whenever covering matters of Government, the media knows that what draws attention is the idea of malfeasance on part of the powers. It’s one thing to say where a Government might have erred, but if the media can indirectly imply malice on part of the error, then all the better. Moreover, if the media can further imply potential corruption – for example, that their policies seek to enrich a buddy or vested interest – then that’s a further whammy on the media drum.

But let’s talk about portrayal for a moment, because it lends to this implicit bias theory. Look at this article from Australian News Corp outlet, news.com.au.

I haven’t regarded the text in this article so much, because I am sure that nothing is written that could be construed as libellous, but note the photographs selected, particularly those of Justice Kavanaugh and Doctor Ford. The former has a look of aggression or even guilt, while the latter is either sad or noble.

Remember also that in the wake of the testimony, Kavanaugh admitted to still enjoying beer, while also passionately decrying the allegations, and for that he was painted as someone with anger and alcohol issues.

This is propaganda. Simply put.

While the words might be balanced, it’s the whole picture that can frame how the audience feels about the topic. A story might cover its rear with careful words, don’t be blind by what they’re trying to make you think.