A profile of Julian Assange, by his ghostwriter

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, 2011. Toby Melville/Reuters

"Ghosting," by Andrew O’Hagan, is a most interesting personal profile of the Wikileaks founder by a writer in the most interesting position of having ghostwritten Assange's autobiography. Assange later disavowed the project, telling publisher Canongate "All memoir is prostitution," and sought to have his contract canceled and the book killed. It was published.

From O'Hagan's account of their first meeting, in which they discussed the sort of book Assange originally wished to write--part memoir, part manifesto:

He said he’d hoped to have something that read like Hemingway. ‘When people have been put in prison who might never have had time to write, the thing they write can be galvanising and amazing. I wouldn’t say this publicly, but Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in prison.’ He admitted it wasn’t a great book but it wouldn’t have been written if Hitler had not been put away. He said that Tim Geithner, the US secretary of the Treasury, had been asked to look into ways to hinder companies that would profit from subversive organisations. That meant Knopf would come under fire for publishing the book.

I asked him if he had a working title yet and he said, to laughter, ‘Yes. “Ban This Book: From Swedish Whores to Pentagon Bores”.’ It was interesting to see how he parried with some notion of himself as a public figure, as a rock star really, when all the activists I’ve ever known tend to see themselves as marginal and possibly eccentric figures. Assange referred a number of times to the fact that people were in love with him, but I couldn’t see the coolness, the charisma he took for granted. He spoke at length about his ‘enemies’, mainly the Guardian and the New York Times.

Quite a long read, and well worth it this weekend. [London Review of Books]

Notable Replies

  1. Interesting profile but O'Hagan seems to accept mainstream narratives a bit too easily. "[Assange] believed...that Keller wanted to hang him out to dry, which was not true." I think a review of the past several years of coverage at the NYT shows that Assange was correct. The NYT has displayed rank cowardice in the face of attacks on press freedom that use Wikileaks as their justification.

    O'Hagan also ridicules Assange's "cloak & dagger" behavior as paranoid. But recent revelations at The Intercept about how NSA & other intel services tracked not only Wikileaks employees & sympathizers but visitors to the Wikileaks site itself show that Assange's paranoia, however extreme, will always be insufficient to describe the true scale of the global surveillance state that has been massed against him and his organization.

    At the time of these interviews, Assange was under house arrest in the U.K. because he was wanted for questioning in Sweden for having consensual sex without a condom (literally), his organization the victim of an extralegal U.S.-led global financial blockade that starved them of funds, many of his collaborators (according to Glenn Greenwald) having abandoned the organization for fear of being snatched off the street and sent to the black hole of U.S. torture prisons.

    Assange may be a royal pain in the arse but maybe we can cut him just a wee bit of slack?

  2. "Literally." You keep using that word, I don't think it means what you think it means.

    He was under house arrest because he lied to his sexual partners about wearing a condom, which is illegal in Sweden. They had given consent under the assumption he was wearing a condom.

    Then he has the gall to call these women whores. No, I cut him zero slack.

  3. Assange may not be a very nice person, but there's no doubt that he's made a huge difference by founding Wikileaks, and that Wikileaks has done the world a huge service by publishing things that everyone should know, but would otherwise have been kept secret. By the law of transitivity, Assange has done the world a huge service. And whatever the truth of the Swedish allegations, he has not ben found guilty in a court of law of any criminal wrongdoing and should thus be considered innocent until proven otherwise. You know, the kind of things we used to base our legal system and concept of society on.

  4. IMB says:

    It can be both things at once. He might be a douche in his personal life and he might have had altruistic motives to release the info as well as being driven by his ego. He might have lied to the women and that is horrible, but at the same time, I don't recall the women being highly motivated to see him put in jail. It may have been that they felt strongly about the importance of the leaks and were willing to sacrifice their own well being, I'm not sure. The powers that be like to discredit whoever goes against the game plan, so even if he was the nicest guy on Earth, and I doubt that, someone would be attempting to discredit him with dirt or innuendo. They've tried every possible angle with Snowden. But their hands aren't clean, so there's that.

  5. Well, if you know that your administration is about to enter a huge PR disaster, it helps if the guy whose face will be associated with the information about to be revealed has just had rape charges pressed against him that he cannot stand up against in court for risk of being surrendered to his enemies (just as you wrote). Even years afterwards, whenever Assange´s name is dropped in connection with any issue, discussion is quickly derailed by someone bringing up those charges. One couldn´t have planned it any better.

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