HomeArticleFor Our Rulers, Smearing A Dissident Journalist Is As Good As Killing Him

For Our Rulers, Smearing A Dissident Journalist Is As Good As Killing Him

As I write this, demonstrations around the world are taking place in protest of WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange’s arbitrary detention and silencing by the US-centralized power establishment that has been actively pursuing his destruction for over a decade. The demonstrations will be well-attended, but not a fraction as well-attended as they should be. They will receive international attention, but not a fraction as much attention as they should.

This is because the manipulators and smear merchants who have made their careers paving the way for oligarchic agendas have been successful in killing off sympathy for the plight of Assange. As we discussed yesterday, sympathy is key for getting narratives to take hold in public consciousness. This is why western corporate media will circulate pictures of dead children all day long when it’s in the interests of advancing longstanding imperialist agendas, but never when those children were killed by western weapons. If you can tug at someone’s heart strings while telling them a story, the story you tell them will slide right in with minimal scrutiny. And it works the other way, too: if you can prevent someone’s heart strings from being plucked while hearing about a legitimately heartbreaking story, you can prevent that story from taking hold. Kill all sympathy for a dissident journalist and you kill all belief in his side of the story.

And Assange’s side of the story is indeed devastating to the preferred narrative of the US-centralized empire. A journalist (yes, journalist, per definition) who publishes 100 percent authentic documents exposing the inner mechanics of power structures all over the world, who was forced to seek political asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid extradition by the same government which brutalized Chelsea Manning, is on its face a highly sympathetic story. And it does tremendous damage to the narrative that America and its close network of allies are freedom-loving democracies whose systems of government are nothing like those naughty, oppressive regimes they seek to topple.

So they smear him. As often as possible, using whatever they can, they smear his reputation. Because if they can kill all sympathy for him and his outlet, it’s as good for their agendas as actually killing him.

The smears work because the social engineers know how to manipulate people. In America, for example, people are herded into two isolated ideological holding pens and encouraged to identify as much as possible with whichever pen they’re in so that narratives can be slipped into their consciousness in a smooth, streamlined way. Are you in the ‘R’ pen and upset about the hand you’ve been dealt? You should blame the ‘D’ pen, and those foreigners who are of no strategic consequence to your rulers. Are you in the ‘D’ pen and upset about the hand you’ve been dealt? You should blame the ‘R’ pen, and those Russians whose downfall would advance the longstanding geopolitical agendas of your rulers.

In the same way, those in the ‘R’ pen were fed narratives against Julian Assange in 2010 which they lapped up because believing them was easier than believing that the pen they’re so tightly identified with had enabled the evils revealed in WikiLeaks releases about US war crimes. And in exactly the same way, those in the ‘D’ pen were fed narratives against Julian Assange in 2016 which they lapped up because believing them was easier than believing that the pen they’re so tightly identified with is pervasively corrupt.

By enforcing a strong sense of identification with a particular ideological tribe, they ensure that the psychological discomfort known as cognitive dissonance will arise from any revelation which can be spun as detrimental to that tribe. They then create a narrative which alleviates that discomfort, and that narrative always damages the reputation of the enemies of the power establishment. It’s a snake oil cure for an ailment that they deliberately caused.

Nobody actually thinks that Julian Assange is a Russian agent, or a rapist, or a “hostile non-state intelligence service”, or any of the other absurd smears I’ve seen circulating about him throughout all political sectors of the US-centralized empire. Those are not ideas that anyone has taken on board because they sincerely believe there’s enough evidence for them to outweigh the undeniable fact that many extremely powerful and influential people stand to benefit from tarnishing his reputation on false pretenses. At best, they’re just fairy tales people tell themselves because they’re easier than believing that their favorite country/political party persecutes journalists for telling the truth and is as corrupt and evil as the various WikiLeaks publications of their communications would indicate. At worst, it’s a fairy tale they are deliberately seeding into public consciousness so that people will believe lies instead of truth.

People find all sorts of ways to wiggle their way around the cognitive dissonance that unedited, authentic documents can create in them when it challenges their deeply treasured identity structures. People who present themselves as anti-establishment progressives often say things like “Well, you can be critical of Assange and still support WikiLeaks for providing a valuable service.” And sure, that may be technically true, but it’s never actually true for the people who say it: look at their writings and social media posts and you won’t see them aggressively defending WikiLeaks, you’ll only see them smearing Assange as often as they can get away with. They’re just trying to retain their anti-establishment cred (another treasured identity structure) while promulgating smear campaigns which advance the agendas of the CIA and the State Department. They pay lip service to the image they’re trying to convey, but their actions tell you where they really stand.

People who disrupt dominant narratives will always be attacked and vilified, because those narratives often form the building blocks of people’s identity structures, their egos. An ego is just a collection of believed “I” stories; they typically include believed ideas about really basic things like “I am this body,” but they also include a bunch of other “I” stories like “I am a Democrat” or “I am a patriotic American” as well. Attacking dominant narratives on a large scale will cause intense cognitive dissonance in everyone who has a lot of identity wrapped up in the power structure which is weakened by that attack, to such an extent that it can feel as though you yourself are being personally attacked. The way Democrats have talked about Assange since 2016 you get the distinct impression they feel like he may as well have walked up and stabbed them.

As this webcomic from The Oatmeal brilliantly explains, the brain is hardwired to protect strongly valued belief systems in the same way it’s hardwired to make sure the body protects itself from a physical attack. This serves a useful function in that it gives us a cognitive strategy for making sense of the world that isn’t blown to pieces every time you encounter a new idea, but it can also be malformed in a way which does not accurately represent reality. When that happens, it really is worthwhile to tough it out through the brain’s distress signals of cognitive dissonance and consciously restructure your sense-making apparatus in a way that accommodates a more accurate perspective.

This is the invitation whenever you’re looking at a WikiLeaks drop which challenges your existing worldview. It’s just raw information sitting there, and you can choose to believe a story which allows you to comfortably dismiss it, or you can stick it out through the psychological discomfort and allow it to restructure your worldview. You have defense mechanisms in place to prevent random bits of information from tearing apart your sense-making apparatus that haven’t been properly audited for reliability, but a publishing outlet with a 100 percent perfect record for releasing authentic documents is as reliable a source of information as you will ever find.

If your goal is psychological comfort, you have plenty of good reasons to loathe Julian Assange and spend all day helping plutocrats and secretive government agencies damage his reputation so that nobody will ever pay attention to him or his publications. If your goal is the truth, however, it is to your benefit to ignore the smears, to accept the reality of how and why Assange is being targeted, and to allow the truths that have been revealed by WikiLeaks publications to reshape your understanding of how the world works.

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Latest comments

  • Thanks Caitlin. Most excellent essay. What they are doing to Assange is truly a tragedy. Somehow he needs to be set free.

    • I agree with your support of Assange and appreciate your articulate courage, but it’s worth quibbling with your rendering of cognitive dissonance. When you say “It’s just raw information sitting there, and you can choose to believe a story which allows you to comfortably dismiss it, or you can stick it out through the psychological discomfort and allow it to restructure your worldview” you conflate psychological discomfort that is connected to beliefs that orient us to the material world and beliefs that orient us to the social. If we hear that eating asparagus won’t kill you the idea of eating it might be troubling if you’ve found it repulsive, but you can wear down the idea by simply eating it regularly. If we decide to vocally support Assange we place ourselves in a relatively vulnerable and *ongoing* threat situation. We are not discovering something new about the world, we are, like it or not, engaging in political struggle. We may learn we can survive it by forming alliances and so on, but that kind of learning is very different from overcoming simple aversions.

  • Thank You

  • What the US and UK are doing to Julian Assange is very much like what happened to the priest that stayed in a US embassy for years (in Hungary as I remember it) during Cold War v1.

    In this Cold War v2 engineered by the CIA the US looks like it’s the new USSR.

  • This is a great article! Said a lot of things that I was thinking about and wrestling with!

    I would say, yes, the smear campaign worked better on the upper middle -class whose class interests and milieu make them more susceptible.

    I do not believe that the working class buys so heavily into the Me Too hysteria that is running rampant.

    The upper middle has moved to the right under Capitalist crisis and much of the upper-middle class machinery like the pseudo leftist groups, Greens, ALP, trade unions, ngo’s like Amnesty Inernational are aligned with US imperialism.

    This is a result of the enrichment of this class through stock and property booms. They are fully bought in to Capitalist system and fear independent movement of the working class!

    On the plus side we can reboot and make Free Julian Assange global campaign 2.0.

    The support in the global working class for Julian is there, it just needs to be tapped.

    Ironically enough (considering Wikileaks mission of exploding State deceit), a major task now is to fully expose the Establisment lies (spread by Julian’s fellow so-called journalists) that have been weaved around Julian and Wikileaks.

    Lastly, a sincere thanks to Caitlin Johnstone for her staunch and unwavering support for Julian Assange and the Truth.

    Here is link to Melbourne ch9 TV ftg of Melbourne vigil that Julian Assange’s father and sister attended.

    https://www.facebook.com/davey.heller.3/videos/10156087753322550/?refid=52&__tn__=R-R

  • Caitlin/Team: Your finger is so perfectly placed on the nub of what the US (and its UK/OZ deputies) is doing to Julian Assange.

    Thanks to you and to people like hero John PILGER – these rotten bastards are being continually warned that their false dialogues/narratives are on notice. Their names will be written in the mud of history for the roles they have assumed. There is no doubt of that! Their children and grand-children will know their awfulness!

  • There are other, albeit simplistic, reasons why people attack someone like Julian Assange. It is because a) they take a personal dislike to him, or b) he provides negative information about, or talks about, someone they have taken a likening to, e.g Hilary Clinton.

    It is purely personal and irrational, an emotional reaction rather than a considered intellectual one, with little or nothing to do with the facts & information being put forward. They simply don’t like him, or like the person(s) he’s talking about. When this happens it becomes easy for them to adopt the establishment arguments / criticisms against him & Wikileaks.

    While I agree with everything Caitlin says above, I think the underlying dislike often starts with an emotional response of some kind. I think we all do it to a greater or lesser extent, and it can be hard to put aside one’s personal feelings and just focus on the content – the substance of what that person is communicating. You don’t have to like a person to agree with them.

    Having said this, it is not a valid or legitimate excuse for attacking him, or anyone else for that matter.

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