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'I Regret That!'
How a Swedish tabloid journalist got the Assange story and how he ran with it.
HARPSUND (Rixstep) — The story of the Swedish smear against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange starts at a crayfish party in the countryside on Friday 20 August 2010.
Harpsund is the official summer residence of the prime minister of Sweden. There's a big crayfish party there every year after the opening of the crayfish season. The media make sure they're on hand too. This year was not any different.
Niklas Svensson from Expressen and freelance journalist Stefan Söderström were both there. Söderström was contacted via SMS at 19:52. The message told him Julian Assange had been arrested in absentia under suspicion of rape and that the case involved two women.
'I relayed this to my colleagues - including Niklas Svensson - out in Harpsund where we were on assignment', said Söderström. 'I rang in the scoop to the editor's desk. Diamant Salihu took charge of the scoop and got it corroborated by the prosecutor on duty. He wrote the article, put it all together. Then Niklas Svensson got the scoop from another source and added more detail.'
Diamant Salihu concurs.
'Stefan Söderström got the tip and sent it to the editor's desk. I checked it out and got corroboration. Then Niklas brought in some details from another source. So it was a team effort.'
But Niklas Svensson tried to take sole credit for the story, even though he didn't get the scoop, didn't write the article, and could very well have made up the bit about having his own 'sources'.
'There were many of us involved in the story', says Salihu. 'Niklas did a great job with his valuable sources [?] and Söderström [all he did was ring in the scoop] did a great job. I don't think Niklas Svensson tried to steal the glory - it's been a team effort.'
Niklas Svensson says confusingly that the information he received made it possible for the tabloid to run the story - but that they'd not have been able to run it without the corroboration Diamant Salihu got from Maria Kjellstrand.
'I corrected myself after a while and reposted that Diamant was responsible for the big part of the story', admitted Svensson after a while. 'He got the details corroborated.'
'I don't know why I tweeted that it was my story. Of course I shouldn't have done that.'
'I regret that. The major achievement was getting the story corroborated by the prosecutor on duty. And actually Stefan Söderström should also have been given a byline.'
But Niklas Svensson won't admit it's all about prestige.
'Prestige and prestige - we're the only ones who care! The readers don't care and I don't think the industry people do either. There might be a bit of ego in 'byline thinking' but I saw it more as a fantastic scoop by Expressen!'
Took Full Credit
Niklas Svensson took full credit for the Assange rape arrest scoop at Facebook and Twitter when all he'd added were a few details - Stefan Söderström relayed the scoop to the editor's desk and reporter Diamant Salihu put the story together.
The story that shook the world had a double byline: both Diamant Salihu and Niklas Svensson were listed as reporters. They published their story at 05:00 Saturday morning 21 August and began tweeting frenetically, accompanied by Emanuel Karlsten and someone using the tabloid's own Twitter account. They continued this for several hours, trying to give the story 'legs'.
Svensson also posted on Facebook - and at both sites claimed the story was his alone.
Niklas Svensson's Twitter bio says he's 'back at the scene of the crime after two and a half years at TV4', this in reference to the fact he was let go from Expressen in 2006 after being convicted of breaking into the servers of the Social Democrat party network in the 2006 election run-up. At time of writing, Svensson is currently on holiday with his wife in Spain, something he calls a 'holiday de luxe'.
At 05:00 Saturday 21 August Svensson and the others published their article and began posting hysterically on Twitter.
'Reveal today in #Expressen that #Wikileaks founder Julian #Assange is arrested in absentia for rape!'
The headlines in the paper edition of the tabloid are now infamous. Many of Svensson's tweets were in English, pointing to Expressen articles already translated by Google into English. The intent was patently clear. But most of the articles were pure speculative rubbish disguised as further 'scoops'.
After several hours of hard work, Svensson and the others got the international media to pick up the story.
'Now TT are also reporting on my revelations today. And the international media have begun ringing up.'
'The story I reveal today, that the founder of Wikileaks is arrested for rape, is now spreading across the globe.'
Suddenly the tune changed. Svensson tweeting again, this time explaining it was actually Diamant Salihu who did the brunt of the work by ringing Maria Kjellstrand and getting her to (illegally) corroborate the story.
But it was actually neither Svensson nor Salihu who scooped the story - instead it was freelance journalist Stefan Söderström. Söderström never received official credit.
'It's true I got the scoop, via SMS at 19:52 Friday 20 August, that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested in absentia under suspicion of rape, and that the case involved two women.'
A lot has been written about the hostility of the jackal media to WikiLeaks but not much attention has been given to this original 'scoop' that shook the world for twelve hours. Had the journalists in question - particularly Niklas Svensson - been more interested in decency and the truth and less interested in the prestige of a scoop then the world would look radically different today.
On the one hand: the opportunity to bring an end to war and killing; on the other: the chance to bask in the glory of a world news scoop.
The choice was obvious for Niklas Svensson. Today there are almost 400,000 Google hits for the title of Svensson's article - in Swedish. The smear was accomplished. Again more proof the jackal media have to go.
The Journalist: Niklas Svensson Convicted of Data Intrusion