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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Media-fed Wikileaks hysteria leads Tampa DJ to offer $50,000 bounty for Julian Assange

2

December

assange-forbes.jpgHere's how bad the hysteria over Wikileaks' recent disclosures have gotten; Tampa radio guy Todd Schnitt says he'll pay $50,000 "for information leading to the arrest of Wikileaks menace Julian Assange."

And here's where the limitations of big media, especially television news, have come to light yet again. Because, instead of giving us incisive looks at whether Wikileaks' latest disclosures have done anything but embarrass ambassadors who dared be candid in official reports, viewers have dined for days on breathless criticism from legislators and public figures who have everything to gain by overhyping the impact of this document dump.

Can anyone say they're surprised the U.S. cut a deal with Yemen to let them take responsiblity for anti-terrorism actions we undertook, to tamp down negative reaction in their country? Or that savvy diplomats have negative opinions of mercurial, unstable heads of state such as Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai and Libya's Muammar Gaddafi?

Of course, U.S. officials want to make an example of Assange; the last thing they want is to see anyone rewarded with fame and adulation for stealing classified documents and revealing them to the world. But I have yet to see a convincing case made for lasting damage from these revelations, though they may make diplomats' jobs harder by confirming to their colleagues around the world exactly what they all think of each other.

That hasn't stopped folks on both sides of the political spectrum from trying to use this high-profile scandal to their advantage. Conservative hero Sarah Palin has criticized President Obama relentlessly for not stopping the Wikileaks dump -- neatly avoiding the reality that the site is based in another country. Prominent Democrats such as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton have also vented anger at Assange and his group, deriding the disclosures as a reckless attack on diplomacy.

assange-clinton-drudge.jpg(Of course, Clinton may be angry because Assange has said the latest disclosures prove she should resign; see his full interview with TIME magazine by clicking here.)

I wonder if such critics have thought through the ramifications of urging a government to take extreme action in stopping the release of unflattering documents which undermine its positions. Seems some GOP-friendly newsoutlets could find themselves on the wrong side of that equation pretty quickly. And U. S. Rep. Peter King, last seen on the national stage whipping up hysteria about the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque," looks particularly craven in demanding Wikileaks be designated as a foriegn terrorist organization -- the kind of action we usually reserve for groups devoted to actually killing people.

In his release about the $50,000 reward, Schnitt cites the warrant sworn against Assange in Sweden for rape charges and his designation on Interpol's most-wanted list as motivation for his reward. "Assange is a terrorist, an enemy combatant, and needs to be treated as such," he writes. (for me, the investigation of rape charges against Assange involving two women should be separate from the debate over Wikileaks; despite his allegations the charges are trumped up, the site founder should return to Sweden to answer them)

Beyond the headline-grabbing chutzpah of a Tampa-based radio guy offering a reward for an international fugitive sought by several governments, I'm struck by the lack of sympathy for an operation focused on doing what many conservatives say they want -- limiting the power of government by revealing its secrets.

Some of the same folks who cheer plans for civil disobedience when it comes to gun laws and taxation seem to think Assange's use of the form qualifies him for a hit squad. If only we had a media structure which could sift through all the nonsense to help us all decide where the hyperbole ends and the real dangers begin.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 2, 2010 11:51am]

    

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