Making Sense Of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Rape, Michael Moore, Naomi Wolf, And Keith Olbermann

If you signed onto a feminist or women-focused blog anytime in the past week, you might have asked yourself, “What the hell is going on?” Everyone is at least vaguely aware, I hope, of the Wikileaks cables and international man of mystery Julian Assange (though if not, I’ll explain it briefly after the jump). By why the hell is everyone talking about rape? And what does Michael Moore, of all people, have to do with it? And why did Keith Olbermann deprive the universe of his tweets?!

Allow me to attempt to explain — very, very basically — what the hell is going on …What’s Wikileaks?

Wikileaks is a rogue organization, founded by an Australian named Julian Assange, which has been releasing classified information about the U.S. and other countries. Some of these “cables,” as they are called, are little more than foreign relations gossip, but other cables are proving to be quite embarrassing to the U.S. Over the last several weeks, an international manhunt sought to find Assange. A group of hackers (or “hacktivists”) called Anonymous, who sympathize with his cause of internet openness/free speech, retaliated against corporate behemoths like MasterCard, Visa and PayPal in an attack called “Operation Payback.”

Who is Julian Assange and how was he caught?

As the founder of Wikileaks, Julian Assange, 39, had been reportedly living in hiding somewhere in England over the past several weeks. But Assange was also wanted by the Swedish government for two sex crimes. Although the U.S. government certainly wanted him arrested for the Wikileaks controversy, the official reason Assange was being sought was for the accused sex crimes. Some supporters of Wikileaks said it was ridiculous the international community was acting as though it really cared about catching a potential sexual predator when it really just wanted to nab him for releasing classified government info. Likewise, some feminists were critical that the international community was so concerned about finding this alleged sexual predator but does not bat an eyelash about so many others.

Assange turned himself over to the Scotland Yard, which is London’s police force, on December 7. He is currently out on bail, in part thanks to American filmmaker Michael Moore (more on that in a moment), and under house arrest. Assange is expected to be extradited to Sweden, where the alleged sex crimes occurred.

What are the sex crimes Assange is accused of?

Two women in Sweden have separately accused Assange of misconduct this summer while he apparently stayed with each of them separately as a guest. The Guardian newspaper obtained a police report that provided a detailed account of his actions. During a period of 10 days in August, two women engaged in consensual sex acts with Assange that later became sexual assault-y. One woman accused him of pulling off her clothes, snapping her necklace and then pinning her arms and legs down while refusing to let her get a condom. She said Assange eventually unrestrained her and put on a condom, but did something to the condom to rip it. Days later, that same woman claimed he touched her in a manner “designed to violate her sexual integrity”; she apparently kept him as a guest in her home during this time and even threw a party for him.

The second woman claims Assange had sex with her while she was sleeping, without wearing a condom, when he was a guest at her home in Stockholm. Both women reported the incidents back in August after they happened. Assange has denied the allegations and called them a “smear campaign.” As of this writing, he has not been charged. The two alleged victims have been receiving death threats and one has even fled to Palestine.

How does Sweden define “rape” or “sexual assault”?

According to NPR, “In Sweden, a person who has sex with an unconscious, drunk or sleeping person can be convicted of rape and sentenced to up to six years in prison.” (This definition applies to the second woman’s accusations.)

What does Michael Moore have to do with any of this?

Filmmaker Michael Moore (“Bowling for Columbine,” “Sicko,” etc.) offered to give Assange up to $20,000 for bail money out of admiration for the Wikileaks founder’s work. He claims transparency into the U.S. government’s inner workings will help prevent another war in Iraq. He’s also offered up the use of his website, servers, etc. if the government is able to prohibit Assange’s use of his own web paraphernalia. You can read Michael Moore’s explanation of why he’s offered bail money here.

What is the #MooreAndMe campaign on Twitter and who is behind it?

A blogger named Sady Doyle who writes at the feminist blog Tiger Beatdown (as well as on her own Tumblr blog) has started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #MooreAndMe. The name comes from one of Michael Moore’s most noteworthy documentaries, “Roger and Me,” in which he sought an audience with then General Motors CEO Roger Smith to get an explanation for why so many GM employees were losing their jobs. As part of her campaign, Doyle (@SadyDoyle) and others on Twitter have bombarded @MMFlint (Moore’s account) with criticism for helping an accused sexual predator. A very basic timeline of the #MooreAndMe protest can be found on Doyle’s Tumblr here.

What does Keith Olbermann have to do with any of this? Why did he briefly abandon his Twitter account?

Keith Olbermann, host of MSNBC’s “Countdown” news show, has also gotten in the crosshairs of feminists, including Doyle. About 10 days ago, Olbermann tweeted a link to an article which claimed one of Assange’s accusers had CIA ties (i.e., a way to discredit her allegations) and also tweeted her name. It is a standard practice of journalism to not reveal the names of alleged victims in any way because it so often leads to discrediting, blaming, smears, etc. At this point, Doyle had already been attracting a fair amount of attention for #MooreAndMe, which included a few criticisms of Olbermann coming out so strongly in support of Assange regarding the rape allegations. Soon she realized Olbermann had blocked her on Twitter. As Doyle described in an article she wrote for Salon.com, numerous other people on Twitter started tweeting how ridiculous it was that Olbermann had blocked someone for criticizing his news coverage (generally speaking, journalists are supposed to be open to constructive criticism) and he responded by blocking more of them.

Olbermann then told his followers he would “unblock blocks” but only “until/if this frenzy is stopped.” He has also refused — somewhat arrogantly, in some people’s opinions — to correct inaccuracies that he has tweeted, especially regarding rape. Eventually, the newsman abandoned his Twitter account for about three days but later returned. You can read Doyle’s tale of the Olbermann protest here on her personal Tumblr. (You may have to go about seven or eight pages back to get to the beginning of the story.)

What does Naomi Wolf have to do with any of this?

Feminist author Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth and numerous other books) has been a vocal critic of how Swedish police and the international community have handled the allegations against Assange and is a firm believer that Assange did not violate anyone’s consent. Instead she’s claiming that he would being charged under Swedish law not with rape, but with an “ambiguous” category called “sex by surprise.” You can read posts Wolf has written on Huffington Post here, here and here.

However, Naomi’s somewhat controversial views are perhaps best illustrated in a news spot from Monday, December 20, when Wolf debated the Assange/sex abuse allegations with another feminist writer Jacyln Friedman, the co-author of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape, on “Democracy Now!,” an independently funded but left-leaning news show. (Disclosure: Friedman moderates a feminist journalist listserv on which I am a member.) Friedman began the debate by reminding us that alleged victims’ accounts of sexual assaults are often doubted or the victim is blamed for the attack, which “minimizes” the crime, to which Wolf claimed she was “very, very offended” that Friedman would suggest she was blaming the victims and said these particular allegations are “ambiguous and corrupt.” Wolf said the Guardian‘s sources do not say that Assange had sex with these women without their consent; instead, these women did consent to sex. Wolf’s opinion is that these women did not say clearly “no, I do not want this” and Assange was not of the opinion that what he was doing was not consensual. “If you’re going to treat women as moral adults and you’re going to treat the issue of rape seriously, the person who thinks he is engaging in consensual sex has to be told, ‘I don’t want this,’” Wolf said. “Again and again and again, these women did not say this was not consensual.” She says these allegations are being “utterly, utterly atypically handled” and “this stinks to me … It’s about politics.” (You can read a full transcript of Wolf and Friedman’s debate here.)

Whew.

So. Where does that leave us now? Well, the world at large and the feminist blogosphere are both going insane. A lot of so-called liberal/progressives have disappointed other liberals/progressives who used to have faith in them. Two women may or may not have been sexually assaulted, but are nevertheless receiving death threats. And Julian Assange, meanwhile, is chilling in a friend’s British mansion. Granted, it’s before his possible extradition, but he’s still chilling in a mansion no less.

This s**t is crazy, right? What are your thoughts on it all?

[NPR: Silencing Wikileaks A Free Speech Challenge For The U.S.]
[NPR: Assange To Appear In Court Over Sex Crime Case]
[The Atlantic Monthly: Michael Moore Offers Bail Money for Assange, Lauds Wikileaks]
[MichaelMoore.com: Why I’m Posting Bail Money]
[Salon.com: Keith Olbermann Quit Twitter Because Of Me]
[Sady Doyle Tumblr]
[Democracy Now!: Naomi Wolf vs. Jaclyn Friedman: Feminists Debate the Sexual Allegations Against Julian Assange]

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