Thursday, 22 September 2011

Wikileaks autobiography leaked | What Julian Assange and David Beckham have in common

I saw a tweet this morning from the London agent Johnny Geller: What do David Beckham and Julian Assange have in common?
The answer is: Neither of them have read their autobiography.
The situation Canongate are in re Assange's memoirs is extraordinary. They agreed a $1 million deal to publish them, along with Knopf in the US. They paid half up front. They got Assange a bluechip ghost writer - Andrew O'Hagan. They obviously put in a lot of work. But then Assange, clearly a difficult bloke to work with, suddenly got cold feet and decided he didn't want to publish.
Fair enough, pay back the advance. But the Wikileaks founder is up to his digital oxters in legal fees thanks to the various legal actions he has been facing and couldn't pay back the advance. The money has already been signed over to his legal team.
Although I am a journalist with left of centre leanings, I'm not sure I have a lot of sympathy with Assange: a cyber scarlet pimpernell who skits about the Internet attempting to do good.
He seems too fond of grandstanding and of being the story to be a truly credible investigative journalist. And his scoops aren't really investigations: he acquires things and chucks them out there. To see what will stick. The 'embarrassing' embassy cables for instance told us little we didn't already know.
I'm all for openness but every journalist knows that sometimes you have to be responsible: both with your sources and with the consequences of your story.
Bradley Manning, Assange's big source, alleged source - he has never confirmed it - is currently sitting in a prison in the US and was until quite recently under strict, frankly inhumane solitary confinement. Hardly something to boast about.

Bradley Manning
Assange apparently decided not to publish the book because he felt that 'all memoir is prostitution' and because he feared it would give the US authorities fuel to do what they want to do: which is extradite him and put him in stocks in Time Square.
In other words, despite signing a contract and taking the money and spending hours and hours with O'Hagan telling him his life story, he has realised he would have been better of staying quiet.
But considering this, what of Canongate's decision to recoup their outlay by publishing? Is this purely a commercial decision? Knopf have cancelled publication in the US. What are we to make of O'Hagan's decision to have his name removed from the book? Do they genuinely feely this book is essential reading, and that suppressing it will harm democracy? The jury is out on that one.

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