Journalistic Integrity: Allan Nairn vs. Julian Assange

I’ve been really upset since the inauguration and trying to cope with the emotions I am encountering daily. It is pretty obvious that a successful meme has been implanted in the progressive mindset that will have as much impact as the claim Ralph Nader gave the 2000 election to Bush. By this I mean that people are extremely pissed off at me for having backed the Green Party and Jill Stein and seem to say with almost a psychic vitriol that it is somehow my fault that Trump got elected. Didn’t you throw your vote away on the Greens? Didn’t you say awful things about Hillary?

This was carried to the extreme degree by Allan Nairn on Democracy Now on April 10, 2017 with a piece headlined Did WikiLeaks Inform Voters or Aid Trump’s Right-Wing Revolution? 

Nairn began by asking Assange to discuss his sources. If you are a journalist, you understand that confidentiality of sources in this effort is roughly equivalent to attorney-client privilege or the Catholic seal of confession. In November 2004 , Frank Taricani, a local Providence reporter with NBC affiliate WJAR, was found guilty for contempt of court by refusing to name a source in a trial. Nairn knows very well he is doing in trotting out that sort of question, he is publicly shaming a publisher at a news organization for not being a stoolie.

Next he engages with Assange with this sort of banter:

ALLAN NAIRN: OK. Well, my view of this is that during the campaign, WikiLeaks often suggested that Trump would be less dangerous than Clinton.

JULIAN ASSANGE: No, we didn’t.

ALLAN NAIRN: I think you did.

JULIAN ASSANGE: No, we didn’t.

ALLAN NAIRN: I think that concept is wildly, gruesomely mistaken. There was the argument—well, it’s just—

JULIAN ASSANGE: Well, that’s fine—it’s fine for you to say that, but you should understand that, no, we didn’t. In fact, I was asked that question directly on Democracy Now! at the time about what my position was, asked which one I preferred. And my response is, being asked this question is being asked: Do I prefer cholera, or do I prefer gonorrhea?

The interesting point that Nairn conveniently leaves out is that it was not just WikiLeaks who was involved in this. One should remember carefully that John Pilger also was involved in that discussion. On November 5, RT broadcast an interview Pilger had with Assange at the Equadorian embassy in London that included these lines.

JOHN PILGER: You get complaints from people saying, ‘What is WikiLeaks doing?  Are they trying to put Trump in the Whitehouse?’

JULIAN ASSANGE: My answer is that Trump would not be permitted to win. Why do I say that?  Because he’s had every establishment off side; Trump doesn’t have one establishment, maybe with the exception of the Evangelicals, if you can call them an establishment, but banks, intelligence [agencies], arms companies… big foreign money … are all united behind Hillary Clinton, and the media as well, media owners and even journalists themselves.

Of course if Nairn were to drag Pilger into the mud puddle, it would be quite a different discussion. Why? Because that 25 minute discussion, analyzing and explaining the massive caches of emails released prior to the election not only showed that “Clinton represented a criminal establishment” (Nairn’s words) but that a confrontation with Russia was almost certainly in the cards if Clinton were elected. And that is not even the juiciest morsel of the discussion!

First, there is this wonderful bit:

JOHN PILGER: In terms of the foreign policy of the United States, that’s where the emails are most revealing, where they show the direct connection between Hillary Clinton and the foundation of jihadism, of ISIL, in the Middle East. Can you talk about how the emails demonstrate the connection between those who are meant to be fighting the jihadists of ISIL, are actually those who have helped create it.

JULIAN ASSANGE: There’s an early 2014 email from Hillary Clinton, not so long after she left the State Department, to her campaign manager John Podesta that states ISIL is funded by the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Now this is the most significant email in the whole collection, and perhaps because Saudi and Qatari money is spread all over the Clinton Foundation.  Even the U.S. government agrees that some Saudi figures have been supporting ISIL, or ISIS. But the dodge has always been that, well it’s just some rogue Princes, using their cut of the oil money to do whatever they like, but actually the government disapproves. But that email says that no, it is the governments of Saudi and Qatar that have been funding ISIS.

But it gets even better when they go into the tenure of Clinton in State Department:

JULIAN ASSANGE: Libya, more than anyone else’s war, was Hillary Clinton’s war. Barak Obama initially opposed it. Who was the person championing it?  Hillary Clinton.  That’s documented throughout her emails. She had put her favoured agent, Sidney Blumenthal, on to that; there’s more than 1700 emails out of the thirty three thousand Hillary Clinton emails that we’ve published, just about Libya. It’s not that Libya has cheap oil. She perceived the removal of Gaddafi and the overthrow of the Libyan state – something that she would use in her run-up to the general election for President.  So in late 2011 there is an internal document called the Libya Tick Tock that was produced for Hillary Clinton, and it’s the chronological description of how she was the central figure in the destruction of the Libyan state, which resulted in around 40,000 deaths within Libya; jihadists moved in, ISIS moved in, leading to the European refugee and migrant crisis. Not only did you have people fleeing Libya, people fleeing Syria, the destabilisation of other African countries as a result of arms flows, but the Libyan state itself err was no longer able to control the movement of people through it. Libya faces along to the Mediterranean and had been effectively the cork in the bottle of Africa. So all problems, economic problems and civil war in Africa – previously people fleeing those problems didn’t end up in Europe because Libya policed the Mediterranean. That was said explicitly at the time, back in early 2011 by Gaddafi:  ‘What do these Europeans think they’re doing, trying to bomb and destroy the Libyan State? There’s going to be floods of migrants out of Africa and jihadists into Europe’, and this is exactly what happened.

Does the fact Clinton let a band of racist Salafists loose on Black Libyan workers to be lynched mean anything to Nairn? Does the madness wrought by Daesh make any difference to him?

Nairn continues with this moral indignation:

This idea that it was just a choice between the lesser of two evils, well, in politics, in life, you fight like hell to have good choices, to have better choices—in this case, Sanders was a better alternative—but once that is no longer possible, then of course you choose the lesser evil. What do you want, more evil? More killing? More pollution? More abuse of immigrants? More racism? More impunity for corporations? More aid to death squads? More spending for the military? All of that is what you get with Trump, in distinction to the bad—the other bad things you would have gotten with Clinton. And the win of Clinton was not—or, I’m sorry, the victory of Trump was not equally as bad as it would have been if Clinton had lost. It’s a catastrophe. It’s an utter catastrophe. And those who are poorest, those who are already most oppressed and most vulnerable, are the ones who are suffering most as a result.

This is about all I can handle. First, funding Daesh somehow is not funding a death squad? What about the huge revelation, made several days before the Inauguration, that showed Obama did absolutely nothing for the environment? On November 30, 2016, the Guardian carried this important story:

However, an obscure agency within [Obama’s] own administration has quietly spoiled his record by helping fund a steady outpouring of new overseas fossil fuel emissions – effectively erasing gains expected from his headline clean power plan or fuel efficiency standards. Since January 2009, the US Export-Import Bank has signed almost $34bn worth of low-interest loans and guarantees to companies and foreign governments to build, expand and promote fossil fuel projects abroad.

Almost every notion utilized by Democrats and Nairn to argue that Clinton would have been different on climate and pollution is demonstrably untrue. It is beyond any argument that Gulf State influence would have would have been so substantial on a Clinton White House that chimpanzees would have had a sustainable energy grid before America would.

Let’s be absolutely clear here, I am not a complete crazy person. Over the course of the campaign season, I was emphatic (almost to the point of tedium) that people supporting the Greens should follow the lead of Sam Husseini and make Vote Pacts with Trump voters. Hell, I literally made a podcast where I interviewed Husseini and recorded in real time as I made one with my political opposite! The reason was pretty simple, polarization was such that there was no way to convince a Trump voter to vote for Clinton. The only way out of such a Gordian knot was to be found by Husseini’s method.

Anyone who wants to play these crass identity politics games and reduce things to an either/or where everyone had a choice between either A or B is missing out on some pretty basic facts. First, this was a substantially lower voter turnout than over the previous two Obama election cycles. Some can be attributed to voter suppression, yes, but much more can be attributed to option C, which is the fact so many people just stayed home! It bears mentioning that Black and Brown voter turnout was quite low. Omri Ben-Shahar wrote the following at Forbes:

Take Michigan for example. A state that Obama won in 2012 by 350,000 votes, Clinton lost by roughly 10,000. Why? She received 300,000 votes less than Obama did in 2012. Detroit and Wayne County should kick themselves because of the 595,253 votes they gave Obama in 2012, only 518,000 voted for Clinton in 2016. Mote than 75,000 Motown Obama voters did not bother to vote for Clinton! They did not become Trump voters – Trump received only 10,000 votes more than Romney did in this county. They simply stayed at home. If even a fraction of these lethargic Democrats had turned out to vote, Michigan would have stayed blue. Wisconsin tells the same numbers story, even more dramatically. Trump got no new votes. He received exactly the same number of votes in America’s Dairyland as Romney did in 2012. Both received 1,409,000 votes. But Clinton again could not spark many Obama voters to turn out for her: she tallied 230,000 votes less than Obama did in 2012. This is how a 200,000-vote victory margin for Obama in the Badger State became a 30,000-vote defeat for Clinton.

Prior to the election, the signs were quite obvious. For example, one study of Black voters that was publicized by a New York Times story on September 4 included this quote: ““What am I supposed to do if I don’t like him and I don’t trust her?” a millennial black woman in Ohio asked. “Choose between being stabbed and being shot? No way!””

I don’t know Alan Nairn and I don’t want to say anything about him personally. He certainly has a history of work that is admirable. Furthermore, I frankly find Julian Assange to be tremendously flaky on his own personal politics. Is he still a libertarian? Given his repeated panels with Zizek, is he some sort of communist now?

But what Nairn is doing in this segment, intentionally or not, is not expressing solidarity with colleagues. Instead, he is feeding into a larger narrative, generated by Democracy Now since the election, that amplifies and proliferates an expression of disgust within the segment of the 1% who are offended by Donald Trump’s gaudy, brash repudiation of neoliberal identity politics. I for one find this sacrifice of solidarity with the most besieged news organization of our contemporary times frankly unacceptable.

It is a shame that Nairn did not make a Vote Pact. Then he could have actually stopped Trump from getting a vote or perhaps even more. I know I did.

Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.