Mark Adomanis – 1/ 27/ 2012
The internet has been abuzz these past few days with (overwhelmingly outraged and condemnatory) reactions to Julian Assange’s decision to host a new television show on RT. I’ve been quite amused by the preening moral posturing and self-righteous indignation that “mainstream” journalists have summoned when discussing Assange (they can always summon such outrage when someone steps out of the bounds of journalistic propriety, so long as that person is powerless and reviled) particularly since he has played a rather noteworthy role in journalism over the past several years. Something about RT really seems to stick in the craw of Western journalists: the simple fact of its existence bothers them in a way that other state-funded propaganda vehicles or sensationalist cable news channels simply do not.*
I’ve been genuinely dumbstruck by the bizarre “pre-crime” attitude that many people seem to have adopted towards Assange. It’s as if we’re all living in the movie Minority Report and those guys in the weird helmets and flying cars are going to come crashing through the window of the coffee shop where I’m writing this. People are expressing real, heartfelt, outrage over shows that have not been created yet. Julian Assanage has, as of today, not produced a single second of television for RT. He hasn’t done anything, good or bad, laudable or detestable, right or wrong. I’m not praising Assange for his decision, RT would certainly not be my first choice of venue if someone were to ask me to create a television show, I’m just noting that his show is still notional and its contents could only be criticized by a clairvoyant.
I have a radical and noteworthy proposal that, perhaps, can help us transcend the current disagreement:
let us wait and see what sort of show Assange actually produces.
Totally insane, right? If the show that Assange produces sucks, if it’s embarrassing pro-Kremlin dreck, of which RT has surely produced more than its fair share, then people can and should criticize him to their hearts’ content. I will join in the chorus of boos if Assange, say, sits down with Vladimir Putin and has a friendly little chat about the necessity of government transparency or about how nasty the big bad United States is. But what if Assange produces valuable work? What if some of his interviews bring attention to noteworthy topics that would otherwise have been ignored? Well that would self-evidently seem to be something that merits support, not condemnation.
Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I was always taught to analyze the contents of a person’s arguments, not their professional affiliation. As should be clear from the past contents of this blog I’m not exactly a fan of The Weekly Standard or National Review, but I make a good-faith effort to engage their arguments on their own merits. Ideas matter, and it is only through argument and debate that good ideas can win out over bad ones. I would never dream of saying “oh, well that article about Russia appeared in National Review so it’s not even worth my time” and think that I’ve made some sort of clever point. That’s an adolescent view of the world, the intellectual equivalent of stomping on the ground, covering ones ears and saying “nah nah nah, I can’t hear you!”
Since the contents of Assange’s show are, as of now, nonexistent, I would say that it’s not yet fair to criticize him. Yet. Once the show starts airing? Then he’s fair game. No one is above criticism because of who they are; people can and should rigorously analyze and dispute Assange’s output. But whom Assange works for is basically irrelevant to the discussion of his journalistic worth, it’s what he says that matters. Past experience would suggest that criticizing Assange’s work on RT will not be especially challenging (I’d be willing to hazard a guess that the show will end up being a disappointment), but declaring his entire output as ipso facto illegitimate simply because it’s being produced for RT is small-minded and anti-intellectual.