While Julian Assange's interview with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (1) was hardly the provoking event I'd been merrily anticipating, it seems, nonetheless, to have caused a storm in a teacup for the world's leading authorities on investigative journalism.
Journalists from both The Guardian and Der Spiegel - erstwhile Wikileaks partners - have come out to criticize the interview (2). To some extent, their ire is justified: Assange had clearly agreed his questions with Nasrallah in advance, and in some mysterious and self-contradictory fashion managed to come across as Hezbollah's most unsupportive sycophant. Most disappointing of all, the interview danced around the edges, but never got to the meaty issues, such as Hezbollah's policies, both domestically in Lebanon and vis-à-vis Israel, and why Nasrallah chose a life of armed resistance.
No, it's safe to say, this won't go down as the interview of the century.
From there, however, the established pundits descend into Attack Mode leaving, in the process, their own journalistic integrity at the door.
Assange's interview was broadcast by Russia Today. It is common knowledge that Russia Today is the Russian government's very own propaganda channel. Why this should entirely invalidate the content of an interview between an Australian transparency activist and a Lebanese political activist, as the mainstream journalists attempt to convey, is unclear, especially since the entire interview, complete with simultaneous translation, wasn't exactly the slickest spinjob ever.
Yes, Hezbollah was allowed to open its mouth on a readily available TV channel, and yes, allowing Hezbollah to open its mouth at all, particularly on the issue of Syria (as the interview did), is serving Russian interests in the region. There is no information anywhere in the world that can be revealed without serving someone's interests. Fact of life.
The constant complaints, however, beg the question as to why the journalists of leading newspapers are so eager to suppress information that might serve the interests of a particular nation? Pardon me, but isn't it their job to search out truth regardless of whose interests it might serve? How can the public make informed decisions when the information those decisions are based on has already been run through an opaque and autocratic media filter that determines whether or not it deserves to be revealed? Right now Hezbollah is a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East - denying the Western public the ability to inform themselves about them and their policies doesn't make them go away. The only thing it makes disappear is our ability to deal with them in an informed and rational manner. Furthermore, the journalists in question seem unable to make the infinitesimal leap of logic to the conclusion that by suppressing information that serves Russian interests, they may just be serving someone else's.
So, the pot is calling the kettle black.
There won't be any criticism of the Russian government on 'The World Tomorrow'? That's grand, because I've yet to see the unbiased BBC report on Northern Ireland, Zimbabwe, or the Falklands. We've all got our little puppetmasters and I have a hard time believing that seasoned journalists haven't long learned to take their information from where its coming from. Strangely, I wasn't tuning in to Assange's show for the criticism of Vladimir Putin, as I feel that existing media more than meets my needs in that department. Nonetheless, these journalists seem to consider it a cardinal sin that Assange is not filling an information gap that doesn't exist and is instead addressing one that does.
And with that I think we get to the bottom of the pundits' scorn for all things Assange. No, he mightn't have done a stellar job of interviewing Nasrallah, but at least he tried. And like so many others, I watched every minute of it. Why? Because I wanted to take this rare opportunity to see what the show's guest had to say. It's known as 'informing oneself', and in this vein I have a newsflash for the employees of The Guardian /Der Spiegel: providing us with such information is your job and the only reason Assange is doing it is because you're not. No amount of whining about Nasrallah's elusiveness (come one, Assange found him and he's under house arrest) or agreeing questions in advance (common practice in interviews of any sort these days, more's the pity) is going to change that.
For all its faults, there were several parts of the interview that gave me food for thought: Nasrallah came across as a lot more multicultural and religiously tolerant than I'd have thought from someone who belongs to the Party of God, and while Hezbollah's platform should have been enunciated in more detail, the interview did throw light on their preferred solution for the Israel/Palestine fun-fest: a one-state solution. Over here, we tend to hear the phrase "two-state solution" so often that we scarcely think of what the obvious alternative would be, but isn't a one-state solution more in keeping with Western values of secularism and multiculturalism than two states divided on ethnic and religious lines, anyway? Not to mention, as an Israeli acquaintance of mine pointed out years ago, much more likely to avoid the further bloodshed that partitioning could entail? At the very least, a one-state solution is an option that is worth considering. At the very, very least, we'd have to recognize that a division among the powers of the region on a settlement as one or two states is a deep and fundamental one that is going to take some serious ironing out.
Of course, for Western powers it may not be important that these views are aired. They may well succeed in knocking out the current governments of Syria and Iran, and if they do they'll have gone a long way to ridding themselves of Hezbollah, too, having used force to impose their own solution on the region, the very thing which has Hezbollah on the U.S.'s list of terrorist organizations. Because the truth about conflict (and this unfortunately came through in no media, neither Assange's nor his rivals) is that it doesn't come cheap. That's right: people think it's easy, or something that happens when you don't watch out, but the truth is that creating war, havoc and ruin is an expensive enterprise, one that takes an awful lot of time and effort. Syria and Iran provide this financial and logistical support to the Palestinian side, including to Hezbollah, the US provides it to Israel.
The difference is a matter of partisanship - not principle.
Should the governments of Syria and Iran fall, Hezbollah might be far more isolated, and the US/Israel may well be able to secure their preferred two-state solution. That could work. In that case, Nasrallah's viewpoint, thoughts and motivations would be a lot less relevant, because the actor he represents (Hezbollah) would have basically been removed from the stage of international politics. Perhaps that is why interviewing him is such a silly thing to do that none of the major news sources bothers.
But if you are planning to rid the world of an entire political stream of thought, a process which will entail the expenditure of large resources and kill all kinds of people, you may want to inform yourself of just what you are proposing to get rid of first and ask yourself carefully whether you are really, super-sure, whether it's worth it, and most importantly, whether it really is your only viable option. It's all the more reason to be watching interviews such as the Assange-Nasrallah one.
Another little nugget of Assange's interview was Nasrallah's claim that al-Qaeda is operating armed rebel groups in Syria. This point of information was dismissed off-hand by Der Spiegel, meaning that the journalist in question didn't have the decency to confirm it with other sources. That's quite shocking considering that the last person I heard making that claim was an American military spokesperson on international television. So, staggeringly enough, the one point that the US and Hezbollah apparently agree on, a point of pivotal concern for the ongoing conflict in Syria, is dismissed by some of the most established news sources in Western civilization without further investigation, who then wonder why Assange is stealing their jobs and (I suspect, more importantly) their limelight.
When I watched Assange's interview I was hoping for uncountable new facts to occupy my mind and conversation in the coming days. I got three. When I read the articles featured in the leading newspapers, I got zippo, except the unhelpful opinions of a couple of pundits complete with a side-order of their cheap character attacks. I do not proclaim to be a journalist myself, but even I included a few helpful and hopefully clarifying remarks about the balance of power in the Middle East in this my humble blog which I write for free. Want to put Assange in his place? Stop whining, start reporting.
(2) The World Tomorrow: Julian Assange proves a Useful Idiot, Luke Harding, Guardian, 17.04.2012 ; Julian Assange scheitert an Hisbollah-Chef, Ole Reissmann, Spiegel-Online, 17.04.2012