WikiLetters: Pollitt on Assange

Susanville, Calif.
I was delighted with Katha Pollitt’s “The Case of Julian Assange” [“Subject to Debate,” Jan. 10/17]. She dared to challenge the consensus view of the left media, namely, that because Assange leaked information that the public has a right to know, he must also be innocent of rape. Pollitt not only decisively proved her point, she also shook her finger at fellow progressives, including Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn. She has renewed my faith in The Nation’s editorial policy.


Maple Glen, Pa.

Being attacked by Katha Pollitt is an honor, but she misrepresents me and the points I made regarding the dubious sex charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Pollitt accuses me of making light of rape in my article—specifically of the Swedish charges against Assange. In fact, as I wrote, I take the charge of rape, including date rape, very seriously, but Sweden isn’t charging Assange with rape.

Pollitt repeatedly makes the journalistically inexcusable error of talking about Assange as if he is guilty, as when she says, “It’s been known for some time that Assange was accused of using his body weight to force sex on one woman.” That’s pretty slippery wording—not saying it’s “known” that he did such a thing, just that it’s “known” that he’s been accused of it. But Pollitt goes on to say he penetrated a second woman without a condom while she was asleep, conveying the clear impression that it is a fact. It is not a fact; it is an allegation by the alleged victim.

Furthermore, this woman said the alleged (a word Pollitt doesn’t seem to like using) act happened not while she was asleep but while she was “half-asleep.” Initiating intercourse with a sleeping woman might be offensive and perhaps criminal. But what the hell does “half-asleep” mean? Could a guy know whether he’s hearing yes or no? What if Assange was “half-asleep” too? Is anyone culpable? Remember, this is two adults in bed who had already had consensual sex, making it all the more likely that Assange might have misunderstood his “half-asleep” partner’s level of enthusiasm.

As for “sex by surprise” (not my terminology), which referred to the other alleged victim’s claims that Assange deliberately sabotaged a condom and continued having sex after it “broke”: on what basis does she know he deliberately damaged it, and how would she know he knew it broke? These are two pretty sorry cases of “rape.” In fact, the leader of Women Against Rape, a British feminist organization, ridicules the charges (I quoted her). I also made the point, ignored by Pollitt, that my investigation of Interpol’s records showed Sweden had sought only two Interpol red alerts for detention of people on sex charges in all of 2010. One was a Swedish national facing multiple charges of child sex. The other was Assange, wanted only for questioning on the two women’s complaints. Calling in Interpol was a remarkable case of overkill and raises questions of political motivation, particularly given the US government’s venomous antipathy toward Assange.

Furthermore, a female municipal prosecutor initially dropped the case after discovering that both women had tweeted friends after having sex with Assange to brag about their conquests. The case was reopened by a national-level prosecutor under suspicious political conditions, a point Pollitt ignores.

Pollitt can attack me but should at least meet basic journalistic standards. Assange, never before accused of a sex crime, is innocent of these accusations, which are of a “he said, she said” nature, unlikely ever to go to trial or lead to a guilty verdict.



Pollitt Replies

New York City

One of the Swedish charges against Assange is indeed rape: the penetration (without a condom yet) of a sleeping woman. That would be rape under US law as well. If you’re unconscious, you can’t give consent. My editor and I were careful to avoid language implying that Assange was guilty: I simply recited what was known of the accusations. As for Interpol, we do not know how many people Sweden asked it to pursue because only some of the names are public. It may well be, as Lindorff argues, that Assange’s case is being pursued with special vigor because of who he is. That doesn’t tell us, though, whether he is guilty. We’ll just have to wait until the trial.



Honor Roll 2010

Lincoln, Neb.

I applaud John Nichols’s “The Progressive Honor Roll of 2010” [Jan. 10/17]—with one exception. Ed Schultz is a fine showman, full of bluster and passion. But “most valuable TV voice”? No way. OK, he’s for the working man. He’s for unions. He’s for real healthcare. Fine. All good. But his voice is shrill, and he paints the political picture in black and white, good guys and evil, much like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. We don’t need a lefty Glenn Beck. Leading progressive voice? No. That’s Rachel Maddow, hands down. She is rational, she appreciates a good argument, she gives her opponents their due, she lets the arguments fall where they may with ultimate faith in reason.



New York City

I agree that Ed Schultz belongs on the Honor Roll. Schultz brings an anger and a passion to radio/TV lacking in most progressives. He speaks the language of working-class/middle-class wage earners. When I hear him, I believe he is speaking for me. Missing on the honor roll is Paul Krugman, the only true liberal who writes for a mainstream publication.



Dexter, N.Y.

The Honor Roll ignored the person who contributes more to liberal issues than the fun-time show people getting your attention: longtime activist Amy Goodman. She gets interviews with the most recent headline-makers before the “professionals” can get off their butts!



Redmond, Wash.

John Nichols refers to “the single-payer ‘Medicare for All’ approach rejected by the Obama administration.” But Medicare for All and single-payer are two different things. Medicare for All amounts to national health insurance: people purchase health insurance from the state and are treated largely by private sector providers. Single-payer is socialized medicine: the state owns and operates a healthcare system financed by taxes.




Wilmette, Ill.

I cast my vote for continuing to reprint the older puzzles by Frank W. Lewis. My wife and I have been doing them together since we met twelve years ago and would miss them terribly if they disappeared.



Portage, Wis.

When I receive The Nation I turn first to the puzzle! Once I’ve done it I read the magazine. I find the older Frank Lewis puzzles difficult—context seems important. I look forward to the new puzzle master you announced you will be choosing.



A Confusion of Carolyns

In Katha Pollitt’s January 31 “Subject to Debate” column, it was Carolyn McCarthy (NY-4), not Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), who proposed a bill to ban the sale of large ammunition clips.

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