Assange interviews Hizbullah leader in TV show debut


IT WAS billed as Julian Assange’s “explosive” TV debut. The choice of word was perhaps unfortunate given that the first guest on Assange’s much-hyped interview show, The World Tomorrow, was Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Shia militant group Hizbullah.

The Kremlin propaganda channel Russia Today has exclusive initial rights to the show, broadcast for the first time yesterday around the world. To be fair, Assange had scored a genuine coup. Nasrallah last spoke to the media six years ago.

The interview was conducted via a video link – Assange was in Norfolk, his guest at a secret location, presumably Beirut. (The portly cleric clearly doesn’t get out much, and spends most of his time underground, dodging Israeli missiles.) But Assange’s debut interview wasn’t quite the incendiary event that Russia Today had promised. The questions were clearly agreed in advance. Some were softball, others fawning, with Nasrallah’s answers unchallenged.

The White House won’t have liked what it saw: at one point the editor of WikiLeaks called Nasrallah a freedom fighter who had “fought against the hegemony of the United States”. The implicit comparison was with Assange himself, whose disclosure of US secrets continues to enrage the Pentagon.

But it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that Assange isn’t one of television’s naturals. His delivery was stilted. Assange has done numerous media interviews since WikiLeaks propelled him to global fame in 2010. And a simultaneous translator was on hand to turn his questions into Arabic.

Assange was at his best when he asked why Hizbullah supports the Arab Spring across the Middle East, but not in Syria. His worst moment came when he prompted the cleric to recall how members of the Lebanese resistance had outwitted the Israelis by using village phrases such as “cooking pot” and “father of the chicken”.

The most insidious aspect of Assange’s show is not what is in it, but what isn’t. Russia Today – now styled RT – is state-owned and Kremlin-controlled. It is remarkable for how little reporting it devotes to what is going on inside Russia today.

There is no mention, for example, of top-level corruption, Vladimir Putin’s alleged secret fortune – referenced in US embassy cables leaked by WikiLeaks – or the brutal behaviour of Russian security forces and their local proxies in the north Caucasus.

Instead, the channel offers a shiny updated version of Soviet propaganda. The West is depicted as crime-ridden, failing and in thrall to big business and evil elites. The English-language channel reflects Putin’s own xenophobic world view while staying mute about Russia’s own failings.

The mystery is why Assange agreed to become a pawn in the Kremlin’s global information war. Perhaps he needs the money. Assange’s anti-American agenda, of course, fits neatly with the Kremlin’s. But US cables released by WikiLeaks in December 2010 paint a dismal picture of Putin’s Russia as a “virtual mafia state”. Has Assange read them? It seems extraordinary that Assange – described by RT as the world’s most famous whistleblower – should team up with an opaque regime where investigative journalists are shot dead (16 unsolved murders) and human rights activists kidnapped and executed, especially in Chechnya and other southern Muslim republics. Strange and obscene.

There is a tradition of western intellectuals being duped by Moscow. The list includes Bernard Shaw, HG Wells and Andre Gide. So Assange – whether for idealistic reasons, or out of necessity, given his legal bills and fight against extradition – isn’t the first. But The World Tomorrow confirms he is no fearless revolutionary. Instead he is a useful idiot. – (Guardian service)