11 December 2010

Luke Walladge thinks you're irrelevant

Luke Walladge wrote this about Wikileaks. Mostly, his attitude is that if there's any government information that you need to know about, Luke and people like him will give it to you.

But first: let's identify where Luke does have a point and get it out of the way, it won't take long:
Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders have joined the Pentagon in criticizing WikiLeaks for risking people’s lives by publishing war logs identifying Afghans working for the Americans or acting as informers.

Fair enough too. The very people so named could have been the people to lead a post-Taliban Afghanistan, similar to the way that the Adenauer generation saw off the Nazis and rebuilt Germany after World War II. Those people are targets thanks to Wikileaks. Assange lost more than he gained by that, and has clearly learned his lesson given the often trite nature of much of the material released so far.

Now, back to Mr Information Control:
Whatever your thoughts about the war in Afghanistan, whatever your feeling about the war in Iraq. Whatever you think about the United States, about the diplomatic protocols, Julian Assange is not your friend.

Someone doesn't have to be your 'friend' for you to agree with them, or even to have some degree of sympathy for him and what he's trying to do. Walladge has started his piece with that expression of ambivalence, what-ev-errrr, and he doesn't get the idea that people have opinions and need information to build (or rebuild) them. The history of secret intelligence shows that too much information tends to be denied wrongly to people rather than too little, which has passed Walladge by.
The information disclosed over the last week, with plenty more to come, is not heroic or devoted to people power or full of promise for the Brave New World.

Most of it is tittle-tattle. It does show, however, how vulnerable systems can be and how better security is an urgent need rather than something to get 'round to once you have time. I don't know what Walladge means by "people power" or "the Brave New World" (I've read The Tempest and the Huxley book too: the challenge stands), and I suspect he doesn't either. He's trying, in PR-style, to sneer away an argument he can't defeat.
Rather, it has the potential to disrupt the diplomatic processes that help humanity to avoid conflicts by promoting effective communication between nations with different social, political and economic systems, needs, and interests.

It does nothing of the sort. Russia is run by crooks: to be caught saying so changes nothing. Sarkozy is vain, Kevin Rudd overestimates his abilities in foreign affairs, Desperate Housewives has more influence in the Middle East than a Voice of America-style media outlet - spare us such high-minded pompous rubbish.
If leaks such this as can’t be prevented, then open and frank diplomatic communication must be severely constrained. Lives are threatened. And for what? For who? I know one thing, it’s not for you.

Probably not you either Luke, but let's leave that aside. Open and frank diplomatic communication will continue to take place. The US has a tradition of investigative journalism that has smoked out bigger secrets than this, leaving government powerless to stop its release. Countries other than the US still have their cover intact - for now.
Julian Assange has a worldview that includes demolishing what he sees as "authoritarian, militaristic and corporation-friendly Western systems of government". Assange is a dangerous anarcho-Marxist with paranoid tendencies and enough conspiracy theories to keep the Grassy Knoll Society busy for a month. He views the US as "essentially an authoritarian conspiracy".

Whatever. The thing is, Wikileaks and its current revelations is bigger than Assange and his "paranoid tendencies" (interesting bit of amateur psychology there Luke). Personal slurs are part of the PR armoury and Luke gives it his best shot. The grassy knoll thing is pretty funny. He follows this with another dissection of military secrets and their impact on people who ought not have been targets, which I've dealt with. If Assange was just a wacko, why is he so 'dangerous'?

Dangerous to whom, exactly? To use a Walladgism, "For who [sic]? I know one thing, it’s not for you". Leaving aside the Afghan people identified earlier, and in the example that takes up the middle third of Walladge's piece, my suspicion is that Walladge protests too much. My name won't be in any of those documents. My interests won't be damaged in any way, and neither will those of our country.
It is entirely possible, and indeed probable, that the latest disclosure of information has the potential to disrupt the diplomatic processes that help humanity to avoid conflicts. How is this a good thing?

Great bit of framing there Luke. Is the only role of diplomacy to help avoid conflict? What about the creepy initiatives to get DNA samples and credit-card details from leading UN officials, good luck framing that as essential to securing world peace. Can we still have conflict avoidance without bullshit like that?
We don't need to know the details of confidential diplomatic cables.

Speak for yourself. Somewhere there's a cable that needs to be exposed. For mine, it was the Chinese attitude toward North Korea, but if I find a cable that's equally better out than in I'll let you know, Luke.
There is a reason why the US president has a national security briefing every Monday morning, and you and I don't. There is a reason why Cabinet proceedings in Australia are in confidence, and you and I are not a party to it. In a representative democracy, we invest trust in individuals to make decisions on our behalf, with the knowledge some decisions will never be known to the public.

I'm a fan of representative democracy too, but bad decisions should be exposed. Tim Dunlop's piece in my previous post detailed the role of the Iraq War in showing people that the great and good can't always be trusted. For others, it's Watergate; this assertion by Walladge that people in powerful positions should be left to get on with the job is nonsense. Assange is not the first person to leak government secrets and the idea that leaks represent a structural threat to the country is garbage.
Do not confuse Assange and his henchmen with crusaders for free information everywhere. They are not. Transparency is, in general, a good thing. Ideologically-driven information dumps are not.

By "transparency", Luke means PR people like him crafting information in a way that makes whoever's paying him look better than they might otherwise. This is an ideology in itself, which is why it's bullshit for Walladge to blast Assange for having an ideology. It's also why you laugh out loud when Walladge says this:
It’s all very well to talk about governmental processes and democracy. Let’s not cheer someone who undermines those things.

Julian Assange has done nothing to undermine democracy, whatever his motivations. Luke Walladge, however, would starve citizens of a democracy of the information they - we - need to participate in debates that shape government policy.

Yes, debates that shape government policy. In a democracy it is necessary to have debates with differing viewpoints, but it is not sufficient. Among an educated populace like Australia, the US and many other countries, we need detailed information about the workings of our government: including information that makes people in power look foolish or even venal.

PR people like Luke Walladge encourage public debates that proceed in an orderly manner toward the ends to which they have been paid to direct such debate. Public debates with multiple viewpoints and access to hard data are a nightmare for PR professionals: journalists and others may be divided over Wikileaks but PR people are unequivocally opposed.

The parallel here is with the links between tobacco consumption and cancer: hard data was released to the public domain establishing such links unequivocally, while tobacco companies employed quality and quantities of PR professionals to pooh-pooh the hard data without being able to refute it scientifically. The facts have given the momentum to anti-tobacco measures in public policy and private lifestyle. Likewise, the facts presented on Wikileaks have the potential to produce public policy outcomes that PR people can't control. That's why PR people hate it: show me a journalist who hates Wikileaks and I'll show you someone with too much PR jizz on their face.

I agree wholeheartedly about protecting people from violent reprisals where they're doing the right thing. Where I depart from Walladge is that I lack the blanket trust that he has that we have full access to all the information we need - thanks to PR pros like himself. I have to doubt Walladge's commitment to representative democracy when he comes out with this:
Would you like the entire contents of every SMS and email you ever sent anyone, your bank details, your private medical records and the like to be made publicly available? Of course not.

My private details are not equivalent to expenditures by the Commonwealth Treasury on matters which go against what I would wish my country to be. What sort of person conflates private matters with public ones? Public officials whose egos are invested in their positions to the point where they can no longer be trusted to execute their responsibilities in the public interest - and suckholes like Luke Walladge who act for them.
There are many who opposed the US ‘Patriot Act’, or the supposed terrorism legislation of the UK, or even the abuses and power of the Crime and Corruption Commission in Western Australia.

The defenders of these Kafka-esque impositions have long argued diminished privacy is worth the supposed benefits of security and safety.

Luke, mate, this is the very case that you've made all along - and now you're undermining it by calling it "Kafka-esque"? We do enjoy great security and safety in Australia, and partly this is due to covert operations. You can overdo the whole cloak-and-dagger thing, and this is where your piece fails because you hadn't realised this until just before the end. So you accept that some official secrecy is bad - so much for the blanket condemnation of Assange, but then PR dollies have a greater need for their story to be clear than true.
Assange is not presenting “facts”.

Oh yes he is. Actual cables with real impressions and actual policy positions. If he'd forged them all this would be a different scenario altogether.
He is not a whistleblower. A whistleblower, by their very name and nature, involves a particular incident or incidents of corruption, ineptitude or wrongdoing - not the ad hoc disclosure of confidential information.

As a PR person, Walladge can deal with whistleblowers: smears, assertion that black is in fact white, the whole armoury of that 'profession' to muddy the waters and say that it's the whistleblower's word against everyone else. What he can't deal with is having people's words flung back in their faces, which is what happened with Wikileaks' release of the SIPRnet cables. That's why Assange is 'dangerous': he's beyond the capacities of PR professionals to deal with.

He doesn't have an agenda against anything for which you can prepare an 'Information Pack'. Calling him a "Marxist" in this day and age is quaint rather than genuinely menacing: talking about the 'proletariat' is a bit like calling for horse-drawn vehicles to replace those powered by internal combustion. Assange presents information in its raw form: PR professionals, mate, don't worry about the raw stuff and spin it to get you to view it in a certain way that makes you (not) act the way the people who pay PR professionals want you (not) to act.

Imagine a PR campaign against Assange: it would be long on untested assertions and short on addressing the issues raised by Wikileaks about US foreign policy. It would be laughed away by the sort of people who make Luke Walladge's life hard - people who take the time to gather information, think and act to secure better public policy outcomes.
Assange and his co-conspirators at WikiLeaks talk about democracy and freedom of speech, all the while seeking to give succour and comfort to the enemies of that philosophy.

Free speech in a democracy inevitably gives comfort to enemies of free speech and democracy; again, this is not new to the Wikileaks phenomenon. Where these principles differ from other methodologies of government is that those who hold to those beliefs know that free speech and democracy are worth having and are strong enough to withstand the challenge. Autocracies can't cope with free speech and democracy because they aren't strong enough in themselves, not because they lack the PR services of Luke Walladge. You can condemn anybody for giving succour to the enemy if you speak out against any government policy really, but it's so absurd that few people other than Luke Walladge really try to advance this ideology (and oh yes, it is an ideology).

I don't agree with Julian Assange on everything, just as I don't disagree with Luke Walladge on everything. I agree with the general idea that we should have access to more information about public policy than we currently do: but if I was a PR professional like Luke Walladge I'd probably be less encouraging of the idea of an informed populace challenging government decisions with freely available facts and logic.


  1. The man uses his own name as a hashtag on twitter. He hasn't written an opinion piece - it's a cover letter for a job application.

  2. For whom, to do what is the question. In a world where information is likely to be more plentiful than scarce, Luke might struggle with only old-school PR tricks up his sleeve.

  3. Nice article. The need for checks and balances is because it is not safe to assume government will always get things right without letting us know why they are doing what they are doing.

  4. ... or the next worst option to secrecy, filtering it through people like Walladge.

  5. He wants back in the ALP most like.

    PR is an abscess on the conscience of the world.

  6. I think traditional PR, which Walladge is displaying, will be less effective than he might imagine - which suggests that his next employer/clients might not be well served by such actions.

  7. The journalism academics are even worse:


    This is the creaking sound of someone who can sense collateral damage to their first preferences as it becomes apparent that you can do this stuff without a 3-year Journalism degree.

  8. First, they let their profession run down: no training except monkey-see-monkey-do, no ethics/standards that are enforceable, and the product is only what they feel like producing. Then, they get blindsided - all the wealthy patrons gave up in disgust, save only a man who cannot be disgusted except by losing money (and he's not as young as he used to be). No wonder they're scared.

  9. Let me tell you Andrew you are spot on. Some of these Walladigsms have come from my conversations with Luke over drinks! He rather fancies himself as the next Paul Keating and will tell anyone who listens he resembles PJK! Haha! Whats more embarrasing is his wild gesticulating and loud " important" sounding phonecalls in public! Eeeek!