Defend WikiLeaks or Assange?

December 9, 2010

IN THE past two years, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been accused of rape twice.

A media darling in Pittsburgh, "Big Ben" beat the wrap twice. Local media and, to a lesser extent, national media dealt with both accusations in a despicably sexist manner--even by mainstream media standards. The "blame the victim" arguments were particularly crass in both cases.

Though nowhere near the levels of sexism on display in the Pittsburgh media around "Big Ben," left media outlets have expressed a shocking degree of indifference and dismissal around rape charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Left critiques of the charges have centered on whether or not the alleged sexual offenses actually constitute "rape," or whether or not they are part of a smear campaign by angered imperial elites.

WikiLeaks has certainly made those at the center of the empire angry, and they definitely have the ability and the interest to manufacture evidence and hype allegations. Similarly, the accusations against Assange do not, perhaps, qualify as "rape" in the regressive U.S. legal system. Neither point, however, means that the accusations should not be taken seriously.

WikiLeaks is doing important work, but this does not mean Assange should receive uncritical support. According to the bizarrely graphic details provided in an August 2010 Daily Mail article and elsewhere, Assange stands accused of engaging in consensual sex with two women at different times and refusing to wear a condom after being asked to do so.

Again, such activities in the U.S. make a man a sexist jerk but not a criminal--but not wearing a condom after told do so is a power play and a reckless endangerment of a sexual partner's life. It also undermines a woman's ability to control her reproductive life.

Though only punishable with a fine, the limited Swedish law actually sounds progressive compared to its nonexistent U.S. counterpart. Assange is not "Big Ben" and left media is not the Post-Gazette or ESPN, but the indifference is a problem. Nicole Colson's recent article is absolutely right in arguing that we should understand the allegations against Assange within the context of U.S. elite's visceral response to WikiLeaks, while at the same time, she argues that "rape is a serious allegation that ought to be investigated."

Those of us on the left should also be careful not to confuse a defense of WikiLeaks with an uncritical defense of its founder.
Lisa Seibert and Russell Pryor, Pittsburgh

Further Reading

From the archives