Surprise: WikiLeaks Probably Is Not Pro-Assad

WikiLeaks' detractors will try on any argument. In May, they were peddling a conspiracy theory that WikiLeaks was pro-Assad, and taking orders from the Kremlin to propagandize against the Free Syria Army. Read More

WikiLeaks releases the Syria Files

Yesterday, WikiLeaks began to release "more than two million emails from Syrian political figures, ministries and associated companies, dating from August 2006 to March 2012."

In light of this event, I want to revisit a conversation I had just over a month ago with some of WikiLeaks more relentless detractors on Twitter.

In the wake of the Houla massacre in Syria, WikiLeaks' official twitter account issued the following tweet, counseling against uncritical acceptance of reportage on the incident.

WikiLeaks @wikileaks

Spin on Syrian massacre. Look closely. Is the claim about the Syrian Army or "pro-regime thugs" of irregulars?

27/05/2012 08:38:45 WIB

Smear and Enjoy

Immediately, the tweets were used as a pretext for attacks on WikiLeaks. One of the principal offenders was Forbes contributor Tom Watson, who has consistently demonstrated that, for him, there is no argument too flimsy or dishonest to use, if it offers him an opportunity to signal to his peers his unilateral scorn for WikiLeaks. Indeed, he seems in many cases to have been working off WikiLeaks' Smear and Enjoy list.

On the basis of a single tweet, and later, a second one, cautioning against media manipulation, Watson proceeded to infer a whole range of dubious positions, from the idea that WikiLeaks was denying that the massacre had actually occurred, to the idea that WikiLeaks was declaring support for the Assad regime.

These positions - for which there was no basis in the actual WikiLeaks statement - were then made the basis for cheap moral outrage and WikiLeaks-directed disapproval. Watson, and others, in a highly public spectacle of mutual flattery, proceeded to denounce WikiLeaks' caveat as "contemptible," "disgusting" and "repulsive."

Tom Watson @tomwatson

Julian Assange and @Wikileaks appears to defend Syrian regime in the wake of massacre - repulsive

27/05/2012 21:37:47 WIB
Robert Mackey @RobertMackey

Strange time for @wikileaks to suggest we beware of "Spin on Syrian massacre," and suggest that Assad bears no blame for shabiha slaughter.

27/05/2012 08:57:48 WIB

Kremlin Konspiracy

Watson then went to work proseletysing, inviting others to join him in villainizing WikiLeaks.

An earlier smear job by Watson himself, in which he had chosen to collapse the distinction between Assange selling a self-produced television show to a Russian-funded network, and "working for the Kremlin," was repurposed here to create a conspiracy theory, wherein Assange was receiving orders from Putin as to which political positions he was entitled to take, and attempting to push them out under the radar in the form of a tweet cautioning skepticism at media exploitation of tragedies in Syria.

Tom Watson @tomwatson

@acarvin Have you seen this - flabbergasted #syria - I guess working for Putin does require certain duties after all

27/05/2012 21:47:43 WIB
Tom Watson @tomwatson

Wikileaks says it stands for freedom yet tries to defend Assad, distributes regime's conspiracy line #HoulaMassacre

27/05/2012 22:07:14 WIB
Robert Mackey @RobertMackey

@wikileaks are you absolving the Syrian government of responsibility for this massacre by suggesting it has no control of the shabiha gangs?

27/05/2012 08:45:48 WIB
Robert Mackey @RobertMackey

What? MT @wikileaks: Spin on Syrian massacre. Look closely. Is the claim about the Syrian Army or "pro-regime thugs"?

27/05/2012 08:52:23 WIB
Robert Mackey @RobertMackey

@Lakota_uncpapa that's a vastly over-literal way of misreading my comment

27/05/2012 21:27:59 WIB

How dare you care about the facts?

Very little of this rises above the level of censorious moralizing - cheap sentiment used to police debate. Challenged on it, Watson defended the idea that critical thought is morally repugnant in the aftermath of an atrocity. To Watson, the fact that children had been murdered mandated that we stop caring about the sophisticated realities of the Syrian conflict, or how the atrocity might be exploited by the various stakeholders. Instead, we must fall back to a crude Manicheanism, and ostracize anyone who will not follow us.

It is, according to such a view, insufficiently sensitive to the victims to care about the true circumstances of their death.

Media Lens @medialens

Time magazine: 'We all know Assad is going down. Let’s be in on the kill.'

31/05/2012 17:50:10 WIB
Media Lens @medialens

We do not support Assad, N. Korea (nor did we Gaddafi or Saddam Hussein). We support critical thought challenging Western deceit & violence.

27/05/2012 21:36:06 WIB
Tom Watson @tomwatson

@treisiroon @medialens Yeah the #HoulaMassacre is western violence - Wikileaks is beyond the pale today.

27/05/2012 22:13:08 WIB
Media Lens @medialens

. @tomwatson @treisiroon We haven't said that. We don't know that. That's the point - the instant judgement and blame look very convenient

27/05/2012 22:18:59 WIB
Media Lens @medialens

@tomwatson The question for us is: What should the media do? Report honestly, rationally, compassionately, regardless of US-UK realpolitik.

27/05/2012 23:52:35 WIB
Tom Watson @tomwatson

@medialens @treisiroon Wow. That's twisted. It's all about the media, not the murdered children. Is there no right and wrong, only politics?

27/05/2012 22:28:31 WIB

"How to capitalize on a child massacre," by Tom Watson

It is important to draw attention to the fact that Watson was exploiting public horror at the massacre of children in order to eliminate criticism - he was using the Houla massacre, and its emotional potency, in order to narrow down the range of acceptable debate.

What Tom Watson wants us to think of as "disgusting," is criticism. It is criticism that we are expected to condemn. Criticism is socially unacceptable. This video is instructive on the sort of social mechanisms at work here.

What is left, if Watson successfully marginalizes critical views as reprehensible? His own - purportedly 'neutral' - position, within which a sanguinary military intervention could only be seen as reasonable and morally required. That becomes the default position.

This is precisely what WikiLeaks' original tweet was cautioning against.

Tom Watson @tomwatson

@Daniel_IV_ @medialens @treisiroon You will prevent further civilian deaths in #Syria by removing the killer from power, I'd think - right?

27/05/2012 22:47:17 WIB
Tom Watson @tomwatson

The split-second leap from the images of the #HoulaMassacre to 'opposing western intervention' on political grounds is indefensible.

27/05/2012 22:57:41 WIB

'Hypocrisy' doesn't quite describe it

There are many layers of irony at work here. Those who counsel against being taken in by the political exploitation of tragedy, will be denounced for politically exploiting tragedy. The tragedy will be exploited in so doing, and by the very people whose political agenda is best served by so doing.

New waves of artificial outrage were provoked by a second tweet from WikiLeaks, this time quoting and linking to a Stratfor email.

WikiLeaks @wikileaks

In Syria there are no good guys and nothing is what it seems. Stratfor intel on Western military intervention in Syria

27/05/2012 23:46:47 WIB

Of course, that this was a quote, and not a direct expression, is something it would be necessary to miss in the rush to attack WikiLeaks.

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The I3RA1N @THE_I3RA1N 11/07/2012 18:00:43 WIB
@x70 I applaud your rational and eloquent tweeting. A pity that these guys are such sore losers.