Two Australians

Two Australians in England in trouble.  One’s all over the recent news, one was all over the news six months ago, now keeping a low profile.  Neither man’s issues have been resolved.

Guessing?  Rupert Murdoch, of course, and Julian Assange.  The Australians (Mr. Murdoch is now a US citizen) both left their homeland far behind to become global actors and both are in hot water for accessing information in… um, unconventional ways and then making that information public.

Is that it for similarities?  Former colleagues have accused both men of megalomania, but I’m not in a position to evaluate those claims.  Both have used their manipulation of information for political ends, no doubt about that, although each would argue that his ends differ, and are superior, to his counterpart’s.

How should we evaluate?

Motives.  Mr. Murdoch’s immediate goal is clearly media market share, which equals money, which equals power.  Mr. Murdoch was building a wealth-power-wealth-power perpetual motion machine, now it has sand in the gears.  Mr. Assange’s motives are less clear (although this might be where megalomania gets a toehold).  He understood, long before most others, the power of the Internet to reshape global politics and the opportunity it creates for individuals to meaningfully participate in those politics, which is otherwise becoming rare.

Rewards.  For Mr. Murdoch, money and power, although now he’s likely not to get as much of either as he wanted, although he has more of each than any sane person would ever want.  For Mr. Assange, notoriety.  Wikileaks is not a collaborative, it’s a cult of personality and the personality belongs to Julian Assange.

Methods.  Both men outsourced illegal deeds, in opposite ways.  Mr. Murdoch, through several layers of insulation, hired private investigators to illegally obtain information for his outlets to make public.  He paid top dollar for the information and he continues to pay top dollar in legal settlements to his victims and in deferred payments to his former employees to keep their mouths shut.  Mr. Assange pays nothing to his sources, who must incur all risks themselves.  Bradley Manning, who may or may not have leaked massive government files to Wikileaks, will likely be in prison for decades.  It’s true, any public acknowledgement of Mr. Manning’s plight by Mr. Assange might be harmful to Mr. Manning’s legal case, but it’s far from clear Mr. Assange ever made provisions to protect his sources from consequences.  (Although I doubt anything could have protected the foolishly indiscreet Mr. Manning.)

Merits.  For all the venom that’s been directed at Mr. Assange, it’s eminently clear Wikileaks has exposed governments operating in ways that are directly contrary to what the public is told.  Whatever harm might have been done in releasing these documents, it is outweighed by the values of transparency and accountability Mr. Assange has afforded the general public.  Although Mr. Murdoch co-opts the credibility of the media, his hacking has yielded medical records for politicians’ children, pap about celebrities and royals and a horrific intrusion into the grief of a murder victim’s family.  There is no merit in any of this.

Outcomes.  The only thing protecting Mr. Assange at present is the volume of material Wikileaks is still sitting on.  Once it’s all out, governments around the world will want to use means fair and foul to eliminate him one way or another.  He’s already being prosecuted for sex crimes in Sweden that he calls politically motivated.  Right now, future hazards seem far more potent than any future rewards Mr. Assange might reap.  For Mr. Murdoch, it’s the inverse.  He’s unlikely to go to jail or suffer any fines that will seriously reduce his billions of personal wealth.  He will still be sucked up to by 50,000 toadies the world round and that’s not counting politicians.

All of which leads to the more pressing questions: who’s done a public service and who is a leech on society?  How will society deal with each Australian?

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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