Julian Assange, apparently eager to demonstrate the textbook definition of irony and hypocrisy, has publicly criticized British publisher Canongate Books for publishing an unauthorized memoir of his life. The notorious WikiLeaks head, who has made a name and career for himself by publishing people’s secrets for the world to see, has condemned Canongate for publishing “Julian Assange: The Unauthorized Autobiography.”
Assange authorized the book last year and worked on it with a ghostwriter before getting cold feet and trying to back out of the deal. However, he failed to repay the advance he earned on the book, so Canongate went ahead with the publication anyway.
The book’s U.S. publisher has decided not to publish the memoir. According to a Wired.com report, Assange will also continue to earn royalties on the book despite his protests.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this whole situation was some sort of publicity stunt on Assange’s part. It draws more attention to him, which feeds his notorious ego, and his book, which will make him boatloads of cash.
So while Assange loudly and publicly complains about how he’s been wronged, he can quietly turn a profit every step of the way. As a commenter on BoingBoing.com so aptly put it, it’s “like narcissism with compound interest.”
Don’t get me wrong: I’m a huge supporter of Assange’s work.
WikiLeaks is taking major steps toward an open and transparent Internet and putting some much-needed public scrutiny on world governments, militaries and corporations. The organization gives people information they have a right to know about leaders who are trying to keep secrets from them, and that kind of work should always be applauded.
However, the man himself can be very hard to like or respect sometimes, with the sexual assault allegations, his overwhelming arrogance and his jetting around the world anonymously from mansion to mansion like some sort of amateur Bond villain. His negative public image casts a shadow over the achievements of WikiLeaks, and this new controversy with his memoir is just icing on the cake.
While the instinctive reaction is to discount Assange’s complaints as mere hypocrisy, likening Canongate’s “unauthorized” publication of the book to WikiLeaks’ publication of state secrets is not such an entirely accurate comparison.
Even though both cases involve the release of private information about people who would have loved to keep that information secret, Canongate did it for profit rather than in the name of freedom and transparency.
Unlike WikiLeaks’ releases, which are freely available on the Internet for anyone to see, the book will be for sale in bookstores all over the U.K.
So while Assange may not be as much of a hypocrite as people want him to be, he’s certainly not the innocent victim either.
He’s human and does have flaws—arguably more than the average human, even. But that shouldn’t detract from the important work that WikiLeaks is doing.