Assange Contra Navalny

It is difficult, even painful, to watch as the establishment press holds a candlelight vigil for Alexei Navalny at the same time that it refuses to acknowledge the protracted execution of Julian Assange. The indignant tributes to journalistic freedom, of which Navalny has been depicted as the glorious embodiment, are incompatible with the writers’ deliberate ignorance of Assange’s legal status, and patently discordant to the jubilance with which they announced Assange’s arrest almost two years ago. Although we have learned all too much in those intervening years, and have thereby separated ourselves from the gullibility of the masses, still it astonishes us to reflect that there are adults of functional intelligence who really believe that the mass media campaigns against Assange and on behalf of Navalny are being carried out in good faith—if they can even acknowledge the existence of these campaigns in the first place.

On Wednesday, the thirty-first of March, the mass media reported that Navalny had commenced a hunger strike to protest his inadequate treatment in the Russian prison wherein he is detained. It is uncertain why he believes such severity of action is necessary to draw attention to his plight, as the mass media has happily broadcast to the widest possible audience every one of his statements hitherto. NBC News was especially eager to report on his refusal to eat, as this outlet has previously praised Secretary of State Antony Blinken for his principled defense of Navalny—and as we have written and spoken about before, Blinken has helped to demonize Assange and WikiLeaks in the mainstream press.

The NBC News article in question deserves consideration for its loaded language alone. Allow us to read the opening sentence: “Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny declared a hunger strike on Wednesday in an attempt to force the prison holding him outside Moscow to provide him with proper medical care for what he said was acute pain in his back and both legs.” The suggestion of the label “jailed Kremlin critic” is, obviously, that he has been jailed because he has criticized the Putin Administration, although NBC would never describe Assange as a “jailed American critic” or a “jailed imperialist critic”. Indeed, it is exceptionally rare for a mainstream outlet like NBC simply to explain that the case against Assange could be political, yet every such outlet describes the case against Navalny exclusively as a definitive case of political persecution.

We must answer the question of “proper medical care”, as well. For some time now, Navalny has alleged that he is losing his ability to walk, and he accuses the Russian government of refusing to treat him before he becomes a paraplegic. We do not pretend to know if Navalny is suffering from a legitimate medical worry: while we would not be so foolish as to assume the virtue of the Russian prison system, Navalny obtained international fame for accusing the Russian government, without any evidence, of poisoning him. What we cannot fail to notice is that NBC and its contemporaries in the establishment press have hurriedly reported on every one of Navalny’s medical complaints, yet they have never reported on any one of Assange’s medical concerns.

This inconsistency is especially troubling in that the medical issues often overlap. Consider another quote from the NBC news piece: “The fate of Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, is in focus after he said last week that being woken up by a guard every hour during the night amounted to torture and that his appeals for treatment for acute back and leg pain had been ignored.” In the autumn of 2019, after several months in a British prison, Assange’s physical condition became visibly frightening, likely as a result of sleep deprivation measures not unlike those of which Navalny has complained. The abusive treatment of Assange inspired me to ask presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to comment—yet, as the Overwritten audience likely recalls, Buttigieg dismissed my worries, and his audience literally applauded Assange’s suffering.

As an aside, we might challenge the melodramatic reference to “fate”, also, as Navalny is serving a two-year sentence, whereas Assange, who has been officially incarcerated for two years already, is likely to receive an effective life sentence if he is convicted in an American court.

Our observations and experiences lead us to the unsettling conclusion that the media is reporting on Navalny with such visible moral clarity and outrage—not because it sincerely believes in the underlying principles that it repeatedly invokes, but because it can weaponize support for Navalny under the guise of such an honorable objective. In this regard, the media could be seen as following Navalny’s lead: when has Navalny commented on the case against Assange? When has he condemned the American government for criminalizing journalism? When has he used his massive platform, one which provides him with generous access to the most powerful media apparatus in human history, to address the pervasive corruption therein? His silence, sustained across a period of several years, betrays his appalling lack of journalistic integrity, and confirms his political partisanship.

We will conclude our analysis with another discouraging example. On Thursday, the first of April, the Washington Post reported that Maria Butina recently visited Navalny in prison on behalf of the Russian news network RT. The Post alleges that Butina visited Navalny in order to produce a propaganda film depicting his prison conditions in a falsely flattering light. Navalny’s spokesmen then declared on social media: “Instead of a doctor, Butina, a wretched propagandist from RT channel, arrived today accompanied by video cameras.” While one would be irredeemably foolish to expect a balanced piece of investigative journalism under these circumstances, let us not forget that Butina was imprisoned without any convincing evidence of criminal wrongdoing, yet Navalny refused to defend her as a fellow journalist and, instead, supported her malicious persecution. With this in mind, it is difficult to condemn Butina, especially in order to condemn Navalny.

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