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Our endless appetite for Assange

It seems that the endlessly unfolding WikiLeaks stories in the media divide into two categories: 1. the shocking revelations of the diplomatic cables and their dramatic consequences on world political affairs, and 2. the bad behaviors of Julian Assange. The headline of Bill Keller‘s extensive New York Times article last month speaks to this divide. The title, “Dealing With Assange and the WikiLeaks Secrets,” puts equal weight on dealing with the classified materials and dealing with Mr. Assange himself. Keller alternates between describing the process by which The New York Times obtained and released the WikiLeaks information, and the details of Assange’s oddity:

For all Assange’s bombast and dark conspiracy theories, he had a bit of Peter Pan in him. One night, when they were all walking down the street after dinner, Assange suddenly started skipping ahead of the group. Schmitt and Goetz stared, speechless.

Reviewing Daniel Domscheit-Berg Inside WikiLeaks in Sunday’s Guardian, John Naughton argues that Assange’s “significance transcends his personality.” And yet he can’t resist front-loading the review with Domscheit-Berg‘s most peculiar and damning details of Assange’s behavior:

Many journalists have commented on his brilliant, wilful, erratic, paranoid personae, but none has lived with him on a day-to-day basis, as Domscheit-Berg did. “Julian often behaved,” he writes at one point, “as though he had been raised by wolves rather than by other human beings. Whenever I cooked, the food would not, for instance, end up being shared equally between us. What mattered was who was quicker off the mark. If there were four slices of Spam, he would eat three and leave one for me if I was too slow.”

Does Assange’s personality provide insight into the WikiLeaks phenomenon? Or are we unduly fixated on the idiosyncrasies of an individual? There’s something bizarre and humorous about our need to link a man’s Spam consumption and bad table manners with the complex ramifications of the unveiled information. It seems we always crave for history to have a human face.


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