Julian Assange and the New McCarthyism

America's newspaper of record ran a front-page article this past Thursday, "How Russia Often Benefits as Assange Reveals Secrets" that exemplifies the "New McCarthyism" at work.

The article insinuated without providing any concrete proof that Russian intelligence was behind the leaked emails pertaining to the Democratic National Committee's efforts to sabotage the campaign of Bernie Sanders and ensure the nomination of Hillary Clinton.

The allegations are based on the claim by an unnamed CIA official that Wikileaks materials had the same bit of code and telltale metadata traced to previous intrusions attributed to Russian spy agencies.

The New York Times' article quotes critics of Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, who said he had become blinkered in his worldview while confined in the Ecuadorian embassy in London and a one dimensional critic of U.S. policy. The authors noted that Russian leader Vladimir Putin had taken up Assange's cause and they criticized Assange for taking a critical view of Western political interference in the Ukraine.

During the era of Joseph McCarthy critics of U.S. government policy were similarly maligned for being anti-American or pro-Russian or communist if they raised serious ethical questions about U.S. policy. Many were also accused of being spies unfairly, including Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed by the state unjustly as recent evidence has confirmed.

FDR's Vice-President Henry Wallace, one of the victims of McCarthyism, was smeared as a pro-communist and an apologist for Soviet premier Joseph Stalin simply because he believed that the Russians did not have the capacity to attack the U.S. and could be engaged with through diplomacy like any other country.

A trademark of McCarthy was to accuse someone of being a communist agent based on rumor, conjecture or fabricated evidence. The New York Times appears to have lowered itself to Mr. McCarthy's standards as the article on Assange does not contain one bit of hard evidence the email leaks came from Russian government sources. There is only speculation and "belief" by U.S. intelligence agencies, which have a history of planting misinformation in the media in order to shape public opinion.

A cardinal rule of journalism is to present evidence to back up one's story. Rumor or hearsay is no basis for charging somebody with something.

In this case, the Times employs a coy rhetorical trick. Since they have no actual evidence against Assange, they frame it that Russia "benefits" from his revelations and that the "agenda of Wikileaks and the Kremlin often overlap." The effect is to equate Assange with Russia and vilify him, while blocking discussion about the Wikileaks revelations themselves and their implications.

Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in their 1989 book, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, emphasize the Times' historical role in promoting U.S. government interests in foreign affairs and marginalizing critics of the capitalist system. The Assange case fits directly into their analysis.

The "newspaper of record" and its pundits have supported Hillary Clinton from the beginning of the election campaign, and want to whitewash any evidence that the primary process was flawed. Fitting the interests of the military-industrial complex which needs an excuse to keep arms sales going, the Times has adopted a vendetta against Putin and supported the reckless Obama administration policies that have resulted in a new cold war.

The Nation Magazine, which has a proud tradition of standing up to McCarthyism, penned a strong editorial last month "Against Neo-McCarthyism." It emphasized how critics of U.S. foreign policy and NATO expansion in Eastern Europe, including at varying points in his campaign, Donald Trump, have been accused of being Putin surrogates. Liberal Times writer Paul Krugman as a case in point asked in one of his columns if "Donald Trump would be Vladimir Putin's man in the White House if elected?," insinuating he was some kind of Manchurian candidate.

James Kirchick in The Daily Beast meanwhile accused progressive critics of Clinton's foreign policy of being closet Trump supporters" and by implication "Putin's pawns."

This is another example of a disturbing trend whose net effect is to limit rational dialogue and debate on major social problems and to threaten revival of a political culture reminiscent of America's dark-age.