Last week, I interviewed Alex Gibney, director of the new documentary We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks. Gibney told me he found it ironic that Julian Assange and supporters like Oliver Stone were attacking his film without having seen it. "The transparency organization won't see the film but feels free to denounce it. What does that tell you about evidence and truth?" he asked.
Well, someone from WikiLeaks has apparently now seen the film (or at least heard it -- more on that in a moment) and was not impressed. A full "annotated transcript" of the film was posted on WikiLeaks today in an attempt to correct "factual errors and speculation," accusing Gibney of selective editing and attacking the credibility of his sources, including collaborators-turned-critics like Daniel Domscheit-Berg and James Ball. As WikiLeaks argues:
The film implies – erroneously and when evidence is to the contrary – that Assange may be guilty of "conspiring" with Bradley Manning. This not only factually incorrect, but also buys into the current US government position that journalists and publishers can be prosecuted as co-conspirators with their alleged sources or with whistleblowers who communicate information to them. This is a dangerous proposition for all journalists and media organisations — not just WikiLeaks.
The film actually makes exactly the opposite argument, depicting the U.S. government as hypocritical for criticizing WikiLeaks but not the media organizations that were happy to publish its cables.
I was also curious to see Assange's account of his interactions with Gibney. The director claims the WikiLeaks founder said the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million, and asked Gibney to tell him what other interviewees were saying. WikiLeaks' version is, not surprisingly, a bit different:
[Assange] explained to Gibney that four factors played a role in the decision whether or not to participate:
While Alex Gibney is happy to allow the false imputation Julian Assange demanded $1 million for an interview to remain in his film he is careful not to allow the same 'mistake' to appear in the film's pre-publicity material:
- Security: Raw footage of WikiLeaks work could find its way into the hands of the US Department of Justice. This could endanger WikiLeaks staff.
- Financing: WikiLeaks had previously received an offer of £800,000 for its cooperation in a British documentary project. WikiLeaks rejected the offer for security reasons. In the film and in interviews, Alex Gibney distorts this conversation by attempting to portray Julian Assange as greedy. Yet in reality Assange rejected these offers because these were not in the greater interest of the organisation, despite the fact that WikiLeaks had already been under an arbitrary financial blockade for a year when this negotiation took place.
- Information: Gibney told Julian Assange that he would be interviewing members of the US government for the WikiLeaks film. Assange detailed the different forms that the continuing US persecution of WikiLeaks and its allies had taken. Assange said WikiLeaks was interested in understanding the progress of the US investigation into itself and its sources. Any information that Gibney picked up about the matter in the course of his interviews might be of interest to WikiLeaks.
- Impact: In an email pitching the documentary to WikiLeaks from 10th of March 2011, Alex Gibney said "while you know that many docs will be made on this subject, I have a sufficient global reputation (oscar, oscar noms, worldwide fans) and such a substantial budget for production, worldwide distribution and promotion that my documentary will reach an audience that will dwarf the reach of all the other documentaries combined". Julian Assange explained that the impact of the documentary was potentially problematic.New York Times correction: December 21, 2012: "An article on Thursday about the coming documentary "We Steal Secrets" and other films about WikiLeaks and Julian Assange referred imprecisely to a comment that Alex Gibney, the maker of "We Steal Secrets," says in the film about Mr. Assange's demands for money in exchange for collaborating on it. While he says that he rejected the demands, and that the market rate for an interview was $1 million, he does not specifically say that he rejected a demand from Mr. Assange for a $1 million fee for an interview."Source: Click here.
WikiLeaks has co-operated in other productions, including a film by the well respected Academy Award nominated film maker, Laura Poitras, which will be released later this year. Another film, co-produced with Ken Loach's 16 Films, will be released shortly.
WikiLeaks also claims that the film defames Bradley Manning and depicts him as a "crude gay caricature," a bit of a strange criticism for a film that's overwhelmingly sympathetic to the imprisoned whistleblower.
Interestingly, the transcript WikiLeaks posted doesn't include any of Manning's own words, which were featured extensively in the documentary. In the film, transcripts of Manning's chat logs appear on the screen as text rather than in the audio. This has led to a bit of a back-and-forth on Twitter, with Gibney and co-producer Jemima Khan accusing Wikileaks of doing some "selective editing" of its own:
@wikileaks Translation: WL did NOT publish complete transcript. It is missing all manning's printed words, almost 1/4 of film. Bad science.— Alex Gibney (@BaLueBolivar) May 24, 2013
Judging from the responses on Twitter, WikiLeaks supporters seem to be celebrating the annotated transcript as a definitive takedown of the film. This is all a little ironic given that, while the film is undoubtedly harsh on Assange, it's pretty sympathetic to the ideological goals of WikiLeaks itself. A lot of folks seem to be having trouble making a distinction between the two.