The new question: How did the false rape allegations happen against WikiLeaker? Any governments responsible?

Update, 11:41 a.m. and after: Well, that was fast. The Swedes have withdrawn the warrant for Julian Assange, saying the rape allegations are false. MSNBC says a Swedish prosecutor “did not address the status of the molestation case, a less serious charge that would not lead to an arrest warrant.” Also see CNN story with a few details about the alleged incidents. One way or another, the real story ought to be, “How did the rape accusations come about in the first place? And were any governments responsible?” Below is the original post where I wondered if media would cut Assange less slack than they did Al Gore.

Al Gore was the victim of a smear job. I’ll be curious to see how the sex-crime allegations against WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange turn out—it’s too early to say, other than to wonder about the timing of the accusations and some other oddities.

In The Solomon Scandals novel, the so-called respectables smear a Washington, D.C., gossip columnist to create a diversionary scandal to help turn attention away from massive corruption and a related building collapse. The Gore case wasn’t quite the same: the ex-VP was and is infinitely more respectable than his accuser.

imageBut what of Assange? Among U.S. establishmentarians he would be regarded as a disreputable troublemaker, and in fact all kinds of issues arise about the leak of the names of intelligence sources for the American military and its allies in Afghanistan. But is this worthy of a smear, assuming there is one?

“What are the bets,” asks Rob Beschizza in the BoingBoing blog, “that someone under constant surveillance, publisher of powerful people’s secrets, would find time (while on a ubiquitously-covered trip to Sweden to legitimize the journalistic status of his organization and attend a public conference) to fit in some rape and molestation?”

If nothing else, I wonder how much slack the press will cut Assange compared to the handling of the Gore case. Actually I felt that journalists were a bit too charitable toward Gore’s accuser, but will this be far more of a problem in the Assange coverage, given that his respectable quotient is far less than Gore’s? How many news organizations will ask the same clueful question, about the Swedish accusations’ validity, that BoingBoing is?

Update: Assange is editor in chief of WikiLeaks but says he is not founder. I’ve changed the copy.

Related: Assange teaming up with Iceland on global press haven (via AFP). Also see Memeorandum roundup and BBC story.

Update: And for fun, check out ‘Journalistic warning labels.’

NYT Times story, spotted at 3:22 p.m.: Here. The Times says AP has reported that the Swedes are still looking into the molestation accusations. It also says: “Two Swedish newspapers said the allegations were made by two women who worked with WikiLeaks in Sweden.” Staff? Or freelancers? And any connections with any governments? I have no idea, one way or another. But the issue certainly is worth raising.

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David Rothman

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