The Guardian published fake news earlier this week, selectively editing quotes from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the Russian press and Donald Trump.
Ben Jacobs wrote an article at The Guardian titled, “Julian Assange gives guarded praise of Trump and blasts Clinton in interview.” Both of these claims are provably false within The Guardian’s own article and are a blatant misrepresentation of Assange’s statements.
Jacobs’ article is comprised of quotes from an interview that Assange did with La Republica, an Italian newspaper which published the full transcript of the interview online. Either Jacobs or an editor then mixed and matched quotes in order to construct the desired narrative.
Assange never once actively praised or stated his support for President-elect Donald Trump. Assange was not even asked his personal opinion on Trump; he was asked what he believed the consequences of a Trump victory would be. Assange responded:
Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better.
Nothing stated by Assange in his reply shows that he has any admiration or love for President-elect Trump. Assange’s description of Trump as part of the “wealthy ruling elite of the United States” who has surrounded himself with “a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities” could even be seen as a criticism of the future president.
Secondly, and perhaps even more offensively, Jacobs implies that Assange believes Russia to be too transparent and free a state to require a whistleblowing service such as WikiLeaks. Assange was asked why it is that most of the documents that WikiLeaks have published have related to Western governments and have not focused on countries such as Russia and China. Jacobs used a quote from Assange, reading:
In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like “Novaya Gazeta”, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated, generally, because it isn’t a big TV channel that might have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow. So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks.
What he did not include was the rest of the quote where Assange continues to explain that due to WikiLeaks being a native English-speaking organisation with few translators, it is easier for Russian whistleblowers to contact Russian-speaking publications:
So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources, though not always. For example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria, including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away.
Assange directly points out that WikiLeaks has indeed published documents on Russia, but that many whistleblowers consider other publications before bringing their information to WikiLeaks. Assange does not state that Russia is not in need of whistleblowing due to it’s press being open and free as the Guardian article implies.
Jacobs’ article was immediately picked up and spread through social media, as much fake news does, and was even posted by the likes of Daniel Drezner, a Washington Post writer, political science professor, and Clinton supporter, who’s tweet received over seven thousand retweets and nearly eight thousand likes.
The journalist from La Republica who conducted the initial interview, Stefania Maurizi, has outright denied The Guardian’s claims:
Journalist Glenn Greenwald also skewered The Guardian’s pushing of fake news in an article for The Intercept titled, “The Guardian’s Summary of Julian Assange’s Interview Went Viral and Was Completely False.”
The purpose of this article is to underscore, yet again, that those who most flamboyantly denounce Fake News, and want Facebook and other tech giants to suppress content in the name of combating it, are often the most aggressive and self-serving perpetrators of it.
The Guardian has since amended Jacobs’ story, deleting sections claiming Assange has close ties to Vladimir Putin and that he characterized the Russian press as open and free:
This article was amended on 29 December to remove a sentence in which it was asserted that Assange “has long had a close relationship with the Putin regime”. A sentence was also amended which paraphrased the interview, suggesting Assange said “there was no need for Wikileaks to undertake a whistleblowing role in Russia because of the open and competitive debate he claimed exists there”. It has been amended to more directly describe the question Assange was responding to when he spoke of Russia’s “many vibrant publications”.
This is not the first time that Ben Jacobs has actively misquoted people in an attempt to further a political narrative. Tweeting just two days before the presidential election, Jacobs quoted Trump as saying, “We are going to deliver justice the way it used to be in this country.”
Jacobs failed to include the full quote, which read, “We are going to deliver justice the way justice used to be in this country, at the ballot box on November Eighth.” However, some fell for Jacobs’ fearmongering.