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Screaming For Blood– And Quietly Imposing Censorship

December 6, 2010

Regardless of what I or anyone thinks of WikiLeaks, the really alarming story is the reaction to the disclosures.   Sarah Palin calls for Julian Assange’s blood;   right-wing talk radio demands to know  “why he hasn’t been murdered yet”.  Other pseudo-journalists accuse him of  “treason” (although he’s not a US citizen therefore owes no allegiance to the US, and whatever acts he’s done were not done on US soil, the only place where US law applies). Mitch McConnell calls Assange a “terrorist” who needs to be prosecuted under US law, and if he can’t be, “then the law needs to be changed”–and applied ex post facto, that is, retroactively–a clear violation of the U.S.  Constituion, which McConnell  and his ilk always claim to revere to the point of worship.

It is a sign of the times that few find these demands shocking. The mainstream media reports them in a matter-of-fact, straight-faced way as if this is now normal among American politicians,  “lawmakers,” and Serious, Thoughtful Observers.   That’s normal, right? To scream for the blood of whistle-blowing journalists who expose government misdeeds?

Habitually oriented toward Celebrity Gossip, the”issue” quickly shifted from the content of the information released to gossip  about the character, personal history and sexual habits of the maverick journalist Julian Assange . People familiar with police procedures in Sweden also report the successive  and self-contradictory announcements by Swedish authorities concerning  rape allegations  are highly irregular, bizarre, not how things are usually done under Swedish law….leading us all to wonder, what is behind that dance?

Far, far more troubling in the long run is the ease with which internet service providers were bullied into cutting off access to WikiLeaks by extra-legal government pressure.  (see  Dan Gillmor’s article “Online, The Censors  Are Scoring Big Wins” posted Dec. 3 on  Amazon caves in after a single  bullying phone call from Sen. Joe Lieberman;  Domain Name Service (DNS) quickly surrenders; PayPal blocks citizen funding of WikiLeaks; the Library of Congress blocks access on their computers; the State Department warns Columbia University students against downloading or discussing any WikiLeaks info if they value their career chances. To say this has a crushing  and chilling effect on any dreams of cyberspace as being a haven for uncensored free speech and freedom of the press is the understatement of the year.

The US government is doing what it has been denouncing China for doing–blocking internet access to sites whose politics it doesn’t like.  Worse, it didn’t take a court case or a law to accomplish it–it just took a few menacing  phone calls and verbal bullying, invoking buzz words like “national security” and “terrorism,”  and they caved in without a whimper.

The fantasy, the pleasant  myth that the internet and cyberspace was a haven of  Freedom of the Press and  Freedom of Speech is quickly eroding as the ISPs and other  intermediaries we have  depended  upon to store and share our information prove  untrustworthy. Still worse, the mainstream media isn’t alarmed by the implications of this. They are so invested in sucking up to those in power they ignore the erosion of our First Amendment freedoms–they ones they used to depend upon and proclaim themselves the guardians of, back when they aspired to be real journalists.

It’s truly frightening how easily and smoothly this wave of  international censorship has succeeded and with so little effective protest.























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