The movie 'The Fifth Estate' opens in U.S. theaters nationwide today by DreamWorks and is worth a look. Although, surprisingly many people I spoke with were unfamiliar with the word WikiLeaks or the name Julian Assange; some were familiar with the name Bradley Manning and his desire for a sex change operation. None could put the three together as part of one story so perhaps this movie will help fill in the gaps in people's knowledge. This is a small sample, however may go to what the average American knows about the revolution set about by WikiLeaks. Assange is the founder of the non-profit media website WikiLeaks.org (launched in 2007) with the stated goal "to bring important news and information to the public."
The movie begins as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his colleague Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl from the movie 'Rush') team up to become underground watchdogs of the privileged and powerful. On a shoestring, they create a platform that allows whistleblowers to anonymously leak covert data, shining a light on the dark recesses of government secrets and corporate crimes. Soon, they are breaking more hard news than the world’s most legendary media organizations combined. But when Assange and Berg gain access to the biggest trove of confidential intelligence documents in U.S. history, they battle each other and a defining question of our time: what are the costs of keeping secrets in a free society—and what are the costs of exposing them?"
In late 2010, the U.S. government leaned on financial institutions to deny processing donation payments to WikiLeaks. There is no legal basis for the blockade, as attested by US Treasury Secretary Timothy C. Geithner. Those institutions included Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union. WikiLeaks worked around the 'banking blockade' and donations can be made today. WikiLeaks promotes a crude but smart video depicting the influence financial institutions have on the lives of individuals and organizations. WikiLeaks is financially supported by the general public.
'The Fifth Estate' movie purports to be based on a true story, however Assange made a public declaration this is not the case. WikiLeaks and Sixteen Films announced yesterday the release of Mediastan – the WikiLeaks road movie. The release of Mediastan is timed to challenge the US & Canadian opening of 'The Fifth Estate' today. U.S. and Canadian audiences will be able to watch Mediastan online for free during an exclusive promotion period on Saturday night. Viewers can also rent or buy the download of the film at any other time. As part of his statement Assange says:
There are dozens of positive books about WikiLeaks, but Dreamworks decided to base its script only on the most toxic. So toxic is the first book selected by Dreamworks that it is distributed to US military bases as a mechanism to discourage military personnel from communicating with us. Its author is publicly known to be involved in the Dreamworks production in an ongoing capacity.
Dreamworks' second rights purchase is the next most toxic, biased book. Published and written by people we have had a bitter contractual dispute with for years, whose hostility is well known. Neither of these two books were the first to be published and there are many independent authors who have written positive or neutral books, all of whom Dreamworks ignored.
Dreamworks has based its entire production on the two most discredited books on the market.
I know the film intends to depict me and my work in a negative light.
I believe it will distort events and subtract from public understanding.
It does not seek to simplify, clarify or distil the truth, but rather it seeks to bury it.
The film is based on the book “Inside WikiLeaks” by Daniel Domscheit-Berg and the Guardian book “WikiLeaks” by David Leigh and Luke Harding. Cumberbatch was on this past Sunday's 'This Week with George Stephanopoulos' describing his role as Assange saying, "The difficulty was trying to portray him as a three dimensional human being; not vilify him or glorify him."
Assange is a 42 year old Australian citizen who was listed as the 68th most powerful people in the world in 2010 by Forbes magazine. Assange created WikiLeaks to do the job he felt the mainstream media was not doing - publishing the truth. Assange has been described as everything from an anarchist to a libertarian to a terrorist. This summer Assange praised U.S. Senator Rand Paul and libertarians as America's "only hope" in politics.
The website publishes original source material alongside news stories allowing readers to decide for themselves what the truth is with current news. WikiLeaks focuses on governments around the world, however it was not until Bradley Manning handed over 2500,000 documents (ultimately 700,000) to the website, including intimate communication the U.S. government had described its relationships with other world leaders, did Assange feel the wrath of a world super power with 'CableGate'. The information contained in the leak was relatively mild and no state secrets were put out for public consumption. Videos of U.S. military and coalition forces killing innocent people abroad did come out of the leak.
Despite the U.S. government's assertion Manning's release would likely result in its humans assets deaths, there has been no proof that has been the case nor the idea that the release of the documents have put Americans in any greater danger than they were before the release. On November 29, 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "...could have serious repercussions: imprisonment, torture, even death." As described in court, no one died or were tortured due to Manning's actions. The Obama administration uses the same fear tactics and outright lies the U.S. government has used for decades to propagandize American citizens.
Americans are not sure what to think of Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks or Julian Assange. Some view him as a 'hero' while others view him an enemy combatant. Libertarians seem on the fence as well. Christopher Preble, the Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies with the libertarian CATO Institute said in 2010, "For now, because I don’t trust individual leakers to be able to discern which material is legitimately classified, and which is not, I believe that individuals who possess classified material and knowingly release it to people not cleared for such information should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law." In 2010, the Libertarian Party chairman, Mark Hinkle said:
"Publishing documents provided by a government agent is not a crime. Embarrassing public officials is not a crime. Regardless of the degree to which the released documents are helpful or harmful, Assange and WikiLeaks are exercising their rights, and American politicians and government agents should stop threatening and harassing them.
"Freedom of the press is not a luxury, and the prospect of a government able to silence dissent and prevent the press from communicating unfavorable information about the behavior of government employees should frighten anyone who loves liberty. It is understandable that government officials who are lying to the public and covering up misdeeds want to keep their actions secret, just as a criminal doesn't want the police to find out about his crime. As Steven Greenhut of the Pacific Research Institute notes, 'If it weren't for anonymous sources and leaked information, the journalism business would serve as a press-release service for officialdom.'
"Private Manning deserves the presumption of innocence, due process, a speedy and fair trial, and decent treatment while in prison. If Manning revealed information which did not damage national security or result in harm to others, but instead revealed evidence of incompetence, corruption, or other illegal activities, then he should be able to raise that as a defense at any trial. Just as when Daniel Ellsberg released the Pentagon Papers in 1971 and had his subsequent prosecution dismissed by the courts, an important principle is that information which is being kept secret to protect wrongdoing is not in fact legally and properly classified. A jury should be able to judge both the facts and the law, and to acquit Manning if the jury finds his actions to be justified.
"Two years ago, candidate Barack Obama praised the long tradition of information leaks by defending those who revealed Bush-era covert actions. 'We only know these crimes took place because insiders blew the whistle at great personal risk.... Government whistle-blowers are part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal.' Obama appears to have forgotten this statement, just as he has forgotten many other statements and promises he made while campaigning."
The Fifth Estate refers to citizen journalism. “Fifth Estate” is used to describe media outlets (including the blogosphere) that see themselves in opposition to mainstream media (the official press) any class or group in society other than the clergy (First Estate), the nobility (Second Estate), the commoners (Third Estate) and the press (Fourth Estate). It has been used to describe civil society, the poor or the proletariat.
"In 1787, as the U.S. Constitution was being written, Thomas Jefferson wrote, 'Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.' His recognition of the critical need for a free press led him and others to demand a Bill of Rights, where freedom of speech and freedom of the press were listed in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.