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Julian Assange: Modern Day Hero? — Inside the World of Wikileaks (DVD Review)

30 Apr, 2011 By: John Latchem

Street 5/3/11
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.

This primer on the world of WikiLeaks begins with Julian Assange ruminating that leaking could be considered unethical because it’s a betrayal, but it’s a matter of principle when exposing an organization benefits humanity. It raises the question, of course, of just what makes Assange qualified to judge who is unprincipled and what benefits society.

Julian Assange: Modern Day Hero? — Inside the World of WikiLeaks spends three hours trying to provide an answer to that question.

To some, he’s something akin to a Bond villain, a rogue troublemaker looking to bring down governments. But Assange argues that government secrecy robs people of their ability to make an informed decision about the government they want to support, and a lot of people would consider Assange to be the hero of the people he paints himself as.

The program isn’t as much a documentary as it is a database of Assange footage, divided into parts by an ominous title card of Assange’s photo with the caption “Courage or Contagious.” It doesn’t really have any form other than that, and doesn’t pass judgments one way or the other. It just gives you Assange, front and center, with a mishmash of public appearances, lectures, behind-the-scenes footage and press interviews. The bulk of the material consists of lectures by Assange about the history and nature of his work, which in some circles has earned him the reputation as his generation’s Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers. What you won’t see here is any discussion about Assange’s criminal sex charges in Sweden..

The first few segments of the DVD cover the period in July 2010 in the lead-up to WikiLeaks releasing thousands of Afghanistan War documents. Assange is collaborating with worldwide press organizations such as London’s The Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel and The New York Times. All sides understand the political implications of their actions, and there’s an amusing moment when Assange laughs at the idea that The New York Times is too timid to face the political heat of breaking a story provided by Assange, preferring instead to let WikiLeaks scoop them and then just follow up once it’s out there. It’s not exactly a flattering view of the old-guard press.

Some of the clips offer amazing access to a man who seems to be hanging out with Waldo and Carmen Sandiego in the land of the unfindable. One scene depicts Assange packing all his possessions into one backpack in order to move on to his next project, lamenting a bit about the sacrifice he feels he has made in service of an open society. Some of the news broadcasts present some opposing viewpoints, but for the most part Assange’s words are left to stand or fall on their own.

He claims that WikiLeaks strives to defend its sources, for example, while being accused of leaving alleged U.S. military leaker Bradley Manning out to dry. And he manages to justify the existence of the Taliban as a legitimate faction of an Afghanistan civil war without ever uttering the phrase “9/11.”

Through it all, it’s hard to deny the guy has huge cajones. In one anecdote, he relates his sensitivity to releasing documents that could get innocents killed, and says he reached out to the White House to help him sort through them. He was denied. Imagine that.

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