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Assange: Swedish Media Hysteria
Things started innocently enough this grey autumn afternoon. Infrequent Flashback contributor 'Nabo' posted the following at 15:28.
'Julian seems to have decided to come to Stockholm, 6 December at the latest, six people will be accompanying him. WL has been a non-profit organisation and the six of them need a place to stay without hotel costs. Anyone who can provide accommodations please contact Ullman PR AB, 08 702 31 50, www.ullmanpr.se.'
Things didn't take long to take off. Sweden, not exactly known for coverage of real events like casualties and war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, jumped on the tidbit because this at last was real news.
Assange coming to Sweden - hiring Ullman PR
Dagensmedia.se can reveal that Julian Assange is coming to Sweden, 6 December at the latest - and he's hired Ullman PR to help with the PR work preparatory to the interrogation with the prosecutor.
According to sources for dagensmedia.se, Julian Assange has decided to come to Sweden 6 December at the latest.
It turns out later of course that the two ace reporters at Dagens Media - who claim to have worked very hard for their scoop and been amply congratulated by their envious colleagues - simply read the post by Nabo at Flashback.
Then they rang up Harald Ullman of course.
'WTF? Did that leak already?' responded an incredulous Harald Ullman. 'Yes, I can corroborate that we're helping Julian Assange. And taking the assignment was an easy decision because he's completely innocent.'
Anything else, Harald? For Dagens Media and the world?
'I have no further comments.'
Ah. Everything in the Dagens Media piece (what there is of it) comes straight from the post at Flashback. It's nice to have a job.
Now Swedish state television got into it.
The original story was more liberal in its interpretation of things. (The site's currently offline, some suspect a DDoS attack - check later.) Whatever: the two reporters at the site boasted of having lots of sources - but of course are interested if any more sources can come forward. They boast namely of the following sources.
- Björn Hurtig, Assange's Swedish legal counsel
- Claes Borgström, counsel for the two claimants
- Harald Ullman
But on closer inspection of their article one finds the following.
- Björn Hurtig hasn't heard of any such thing and has no comment.
- Claes Borgström hasn't heard of any such thing and has no comment.
- Harald Ullman's already been interviewed by Dagens Media.
It's worthy to note that Ullman said nothing about any date of arrival or anything else in addition to the above - he simply replied when asked: 'perhaps in the near future'.
The two Swedish broadsheet dailies followed with stories of their own shortly afterward, but neither ran with the same header.
DN.se ran with the story 'Assange gets Swedish PR support'.
SvD - not the same company or owner at all - ran with the exact same thing.
And no one has a single comment to make.
But watch things take off on Twitter. One would expect representatives of the new generation of information sharing to do a better job than their Old Media counterparts. But no.
Swedish television news flagship Rapport mentioned the matter in their 19:30 transmission - devoting a walloping 37 seconds to the story.
'WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, suspected of rape, is coming voluntarily to Sweden by 6 December this year at the latest. Assange has hired PR firm Harald Ullman and he tells Rapport that Assange hired him already this past summer. 'Assange is innocent and I'm going to help him', says Ullman. The British courts have ruled that Assange should be extradited to Sweden. And now this happens. Julian Assange's Swedish legal counsel Björn Hurtig tells report that he cannot corroborate or deny that Assange is on his way to Sweden.'
And things took off in the famous Flashback forum as well. A swarm of newcomers had all sorts of positive comments - but not a one of them questioned the actual source.
For the actual source, as it was later to turn out, was none other than the Flashback post by Nabo at half past three in the afternoon when most Swedes are already sneaking out of work for the weekend.
And then at 22:15 Nabo's back.
'I'm sorry but I seem to have dropped a digit, his arrival is 26 December at the latest, what I heard. I got the impression Assange can turn up now and at any time up to the holiday break. He can of course change his plans and depending on Ny's interrogation, the visit can be a short one or a long one. So if you can fix a place to stay for six people for an indefinite period of time, please contact Ullman PR.'
All the while a cat fight broke out online between three groups, all wanting to claim 'cred' for the story.
'#Assange has decided to come to Sweden, according to his new PR consultant, Swedish news program Rapport reports. #wikileaks'
https://twitter.com/svedjetun/status/135058568377413632 [← He's from Dagens Media]
'Really fucking bad style you didn't give us credit for that, everyone else has so far.'
https://twitter.com/svtnyheter/status/135073219832053761 [← Twitter account of Swedish state television news]
'@svedjetun @mickep2 We want to check this story with more sources. Of course we can give credit to the original source - but is it Dagens Media or is it Flashback?'
'@svtnyheter @mickep2 Give credit to Flashback. That'd be sensational. We've done a real job on this for fuck's sake.'
Which is only fair as the duo from Dagens Media already admitted that Flashback was their source.
So it's all back to Flashback again, all back to the anonymous Nabo, all back to a person who only a few hours later admits some of the story was wrong. Such are the things great news stories are made of.
And what exactly did Harald Ullman say?
- He's been under contract to Julian Assange since this past summer.
- He'll of course be working for Julian Assange if Assange comes to Sweden.
- Assange says he's innocent, which is true. He's afraid of being sent to the US.
- He'll be getting a token fee for his efforts.
That's it. And yet from that one suddenly had Twitter and other media in hysterics. Will Assange be coming to Sweden? Will he be coming 'voluntarily'? Will he forego the appeals process as so many hysterical tweeters have suggested? Hard to know as the tweet last seen on the @wikileaks feed appeared almost a day earlier.
What this story's really about is that Assange may or may not win an appeal and therefore may or may not need to be in Stockholm soon along with his group and that they in such case need a place to stay. It seems likely under the circumstances that 'Nabo' at Flashback was somehow connected to Ullman (or was Ullman himself) and was trying to get the word out and get accommodations for the WikiTeam. Which is why he returned to Flashback to correct the dates for their visit.
But that'd be a totally banal and mundane story.
The Swedish media hysteria seems to have gone this way. Pity the planet.
- Nabo posts at Flashback, likely on behalf of Ullman, looking for housing for WikiLeakers.
- Dagens Media comb Flashback regularly anyway and they see the post. They ring Harald Ullman.
- SVT's 'journalists' pick up the story from Dagens Media and publish too - with no source checking.
- The other Swedish media scramble to get on board and get their stories from Dagens Media and SVT.
And everybody - at least in Flashback - thinks the story's real because Nabo's story seems to be corroborated by a second source at Dagens Media when in fact Nabo's the only source for the story at Dagens Media.
What a mess.
The day's events are highly reminiscent of something that happened a year ago.
700 idiot news organisations got on the bandwagon for a single spurious source about a coming WikiLeaks release. The published short list of these egregious hyenas was the following.
Telegraph, Washington Post, CBC, CNN, The Register, Economic Times, Xinhua, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Canadian Press, IBNLive, Chosum Ilbo, Talk Radio News Service, GroundReport, The Week, Daily Rosetta, AlterNet, Metro, New Delhi Chronicle, Firedoglake, Secrecy News, Press TV, Federal News Radio, Journalism.co.uk, The Drum, ComputerWeekly, NewsTime, ShortNews.com, Newsi.es, Neon Tommy, Indie Pro Pub, UPI.com, Radio New Zealand, BBC News, First Amendment Center, The Australian, Reuters, PC Magazine, Scottish Daily Record, Oneindia, CNN International, New York Times, ABC Online, CBS News, NPR, Bloomberg, Huffington Post, The Press Association, Associated Press, NEWS.com.au, USA Today, Washington Times, SmartCompany.com.au, The Hill, Gather, MyFox Philadelphia, Newser, Seer Press, Third Age, DigitalJournal.com, Malaysia Sun, Inventorspot, Only Kent, RebOrbit, Pakistan News, Antiwar.com, Mashable, AOL News, Gawker, Media Post Publications, AllVoices, Editors Weblog, Comtex Smartrend, IT Pro Portal, Democracy Now, THINQ.co.uk, TechEye, Raw Story, MSNBC.com, Jerusalem Post, PhysOrg,com, Digital Media Wire, Boing Boing, TechRadar UK.
Which prompted a WikiLeaks counteroffensive.
Where do all these claims about WikiLeaks doing something on Iraq today (Monday) come from? A single tabloid blog at Wired Magazine!
That's right. Over 700 articles, newspapers all over the world, and newswires fooled by a tabloid blog - and each other.
Of course you won't see this blog cited, generally, in the mainstream press articles, because that would lessen the credibility of these articles back to where they belong: unsubstantiated, and indeed, false claims made by a source that is not credible. What is journalism coming to?
But Wired's blog is not just any source that lacks credibility. It is a known opponent and spreader of all sorts of misinformation about WikiLeaks. This dramatically ramped up since we demanded an investigation into what role they played in the arrest of the alleged journalistic source, US intelligence analyst Bradley Manning:
We condemned Wired magazine for that conduct and the magazine has been oppositional ever since. The two blogs concerned, 'Threat Level' and 'Danger Room', while having produced some good journalism over the years, mostly now ship puff pieces about the latest 'cool weapons system' and other 'war tech toys' as befits their names - 'Threat Level' and 'Danger Room'.
These two blogs, and in particular editor Kevin Poulsen, have been responsible for a tremendous amount of other completely false information about WikiLeaks.
A post today on 'Danger Room' begins with:
'We're still waiting for WikiLeaks to make good on its pledge to reveal hundreds of thousands of US military documents on the Iraq war.'
WikiLeaks does not speak about upcoming releases dates, indeed, with very rare exceptions we do not communicate any specific information about upcoming releases, since that simply provides fodder for abusive organisations to get their spin machines ready.
Supporters vs Spectators
It's increasingly apparent that most of those who claim to be WikiLeaks supporters are nothing of the sort. They follow the stories online as long as there's not a traffic accident outside their front door they can gawk at instead. These people aren't supporters - they're spectators.
And if Julian Assange had anything to tell the world about his plans for the near future, he'd do so. And until then, if and when you want to run a super scoop of the century or stir the pot at Twitter? At least try to get a second source.