#MillionMaskMarch: Epic, Global — But Where Were the News Networks?

On November 5, 2013 tens of thousands of protestors marched in 477 locations around the globe. There were masks, chants, goofy signs, sincere view points, arrests, beatings, police opening up with non-lethal projectiles on protestors, flag burnings. There was lots of print/online coverage, but where were CNN, MSNBC and Fox News? And why weren’t they giving this global event any play as of November 6 at 9:54pm?

NBC News Worldwide did online coverage, ABC News posted a photo from Brazil and mentioned in the caption a global march, while CBS News had nothing. Al Jazeera America ran eight photos on their website.  RT.com gave the Million Mask March a big spread on their website (Oh hai, Mr. Putin and your pals in the Kremlin!) plus posted videos on YouTube; the BBC posted three stories.  CNET posted a story.

But considering the airtime the (failed) truckers’ protest got on Fox, and the amount coverage given by cable news programs–which can provide up-to-the minute, breaking news stories via affiliates–to a crack smoking Canadian mayor, Justin Bieber’s alleged brothel visit, and Google’s mystery barges, you’d think that the telegenic sight of a global protest–one set against landmarks like the White House and Buckingham Palace with cute masks and catchy slogans–would have merited 30 seconds of cable network news time. The Million Man March was happening in Europe, in Australia, in Asia, Africa, South America. It was happening here. In the US. Did you see anything on your local news channel, in your local paper?

A November 6 search of CNN, MSNBC and Fox News’ websites showed no stories about a worldwide Million Mask March protest, nor of the ones in Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, or Atlanta (Though in Denver both the local  ABC station and the Denver Post ran a story after the fact, focusing on arrests, and Portland, Oregon’s KATU posted a YouTube video of police beating protestors). The map of Million Mask Marchers (below) is covered in dots indicating marches and participation.

But wait: There is no live footage by the major networks. No wrapped-with-a-bow “look at what happened” video story. Oh wait, there were two CNN ireports, but those are viewer created, and Fox Latino had two stories. En español.

There were protests across America, around the globe, all themed, organized via social media and websites, and they were ignored, overlooked, avoided–pick a verb–by the major broadcast news organizations.

Twitter #MillionMaskMarch has a running thread of press coverage, and the written word and dead tree media—the Guardian, the Independent, even the gutted and limping  Los Angeles Times all ran stories (though the LA Times’ sister TV station KTLA did not cover the Million Mask March in downtown Los Angeles)—came through where  television stations didn’t. The Washington Post covered the protests, as did the Wall Street Journal and  International Business Times, but a November 6, 2013 search of the New York Times for the terms “million mask march,” “protest” “anonymous” and “Guy Fawkes” turned up nothing about the November 5, 2013 Million Mask March, though this item from earlier this year is pretty interesting:

A decision by authorities in Bahrain to outlaw Guy Fawkes masks looks like a pretty desperate and ineffective way of crushing dissent.

And a decision by network and cable news to ignore Anonymous and its global protests is equally as desperate and ineffective.

Photos: Twitter feed #MillionMaskMarch

The Fifth Estate and Mediastan

I paid for and sat through The Fifth Estate, me and nine other people at the ArcLight multiplex on Sunset Blvd, a 2:20pm show on the first day of release.  And my take away: Don’t use a pseudonym based on your family cat or get a giant WikiLeaks tattoo on your back, dumbass.  I also walked out thinking

Julian Assange, he’s a pretty cool guy and doesn’t afraid anything.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Assange as quirky and twitchy and uncomfortable in his own skin, a very different Assange than I’ve seen speaking before crowds, in interviews, in the Wikileaks-produced Mediastan (available free Saturday night, 7pm-6am Pacific  Eastern Time per wikileaks update,  for audiences in the US, Canada, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal and Estonia) where he has warmth, humor, and passion. Cumberbatch also doesn’t capture Assange’s hot geek sexiness, and I think somewhere along the way we’re supposed to see Assange as megalomaniacal, or at least as an ego-driven monster. Maybe I have dated too many real-life narcissists, megalomaniacs and ego-driven nutjobs to be affected by a cinematic version. I was on Assange’s side the whole time, even though he was pretty much a cipher. Daniel Berg was a wuss, and the relationship between the two isn’t that compelling (plus it is distorted by filmmakers for the narrative interest; Wikileaks has several pages of inaccuracies). Berg comes off as a short-sighted unlikable lick-spittle who sabotaged WikiLeaks for reasons that are posed as high-minded in The Fifth Estate, but were actually more self-serving in real life.

Props to the filmmakers for showing the Collateral Murder video and reminding people of that and of what Private Manning risked in order to release the video and subsequent documents. The film also lets the audience know of all WikiLeaks’ successes including publishing Scientology documents, information related to banking scandals, Kenya, Colombia, Gitmo, the Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War, and much more, while shaking a finger about the the non-redaction of names (which was pretty much non-starter, since there has been no proof of blowback from the cables’ publication). Overall, The Fifth Estate is not a particularly great movie, there are some laughs and a little bit of tension and drama, but it drags in places, and is full of historical inaccuracies. And seriously, when the biggest revelation about a man whose organization changed not only the news media, but also the world, is that he dyes hair, that’s pretty tragic.

Meanwhile Assange co-produced Mediastan which presents an inside look of how WikiLeaks reporters, armed with their cache of  cables set off across Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and into US-occupied Afghanistan in 2010 to give copies of related cables to news organizations in each country.  It’s great filmmaking, and reveals a great deal about power, media and the powerlessness of the media, both in regimes under dictatorships and in West.  In the ‘Stans, publishers and reporters fear retaliation, even if names are redacted, and those fears carry through to the Guardian, the Washington Post and the New York Times as editors tip their hands about power and access.  The US State Department funds some foreign media; other places it is controlled by the government–the irony of the name the newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan is painful–and no one really wants to risk their their access or their lives.

MEDIASTAN will be available free to watch online Saturday night, 7pm-6am Pacific   Eastern Time for audiences in the US, Canada, Ireland, Lithuania, Portugal and Estonia. The film will also be available worldwide to buy or rent online at all other times. Watch it at http://wikileaks.org/Mediastan. I paid to rent it earlier this week and look forward to watching it again.

MEDIASTAN was directed by Johannes Wahlström and produced by Julian Assange with Rebecca O’Brien and Lauren Dark at Sixteen Films. It is being distributed by Journeyman Pictures.

Julian Assange Media Rollout in Anti-Promotion for “The Fifth Estate”


Julian Assange is stirring a bubbling cauldron of interest that could result in The Fifth Estate‘s coffers running over, with the fair-haired boy of cyberspece delivering the Midas touch for the box office gold.  WikiLeaks founder Assange has been giving interviews to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association which will be publishing them this week, ahead of the film’s release, RT Spanish “Behind the News” host Eva Golinger, and weirdly, ABC’s “This Week.”

Why is it weird that Assange spoke to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s Sunday morning news show? Because ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Company. Disney’s Touchstone is distributing The Fifth Estate, produced by DreamsWorks, which has a television distribution deal with ABC/Disney. Talk about corporate synergy.

Stephanopoulos announcing that Assange would be

 live from his London hideout

was a tad melodramatic, because we all know where Assange has been since June, 2012–in the Ecuadorian Embassy, 3 Hans Crescent, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 0LS, United Kingdom, the building with all the nice policemen ringing it to prevent the easy-to-spot Assange from escaping and going…where, exactly?

Here are some highlights from Assange laying out his complaints about The Fifth Estate to ABC and RT. In both interviews, Assange discusses the government surveillance and the dangers to journalists who cover whistleblowing and report on leaks are facing. He also discusses his future, and in the RT interview, goes into detail about the asylum process, concepts of sovereignty and freedom, Google’s involvement with the State Department, the Obama’s administration’s exceptionally high record of prosecuting espionage cases, and that it is

a linguistic abuse to call speaking to the media espionage. Similarly it’s a linguistic abuse to say that WikiLeaks as a publisher, when it publishes, is conducting espionage.

Both interviews make for fascinating reading. In the interest of Fair Use, and because La Figa focuses on the intersection of politics, entertainment and pop culture, here’s what Assange had to say about The Fifth Estate in both interviews. There are links to the full inteviews, which I encourage you to read. First up, ABC’s “This Week,” from their transcripts:

There was no approach to us by DreamWorks, in any formal capacity whatsoever, other than an informal approach by Benedict Cumberbatch just days before shooting began.

This is a film that is based upon my life’s work, the work of my organization; we have people in extremely serious situations. [UK citizen] Sarah Harrison, who accompanied Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, now effectively in exile in Russia because of the terrorism investigation here.

We have (inaudible) an alleged media source, the 25 organizations including ours up for sentencing in under a month’s time, an ongoing grand jury investigation.

But what are the responsibilities for ethical filmmaking in that context? None of the suggested changes that we sent to participant media ended up even in the final text of the film. But there’s been a big cashing-in that has gone on….

This is a rich organization, DreamWorks. It’s making a lot of money and tries — is continuing to make a lot of money from this process. But none of — there’s no contribution to our defense fund, to the defense fund of our sources and so on.

Assange’s RT interview with Eva Golinger is a must-read. And yes, he is driving the conversation about the film, taking control of the PR. And insuring that once people have seen it–and they will, due in part of Assange’s PR blitz–they’ll be able to learn much more about WikiLeaks and its founder. Here’s what he had to say to RT about The Fifth Estate in response to Eva Golinger’s asking if the film is an attempt to discredit Assange and WikiLeaks:

I know the book that it was based on. The books were definitely an attempt to do precisely that. DreamWorks has picked the two most discredited libellous books out of dozens of books available for it to pick. But it’s coming out of a particular milieu about.. within Hollywood and that constraints, it seems, what scripts can be written and what things would get distribution. I don’t know if that was the intent of the filmmakers. It’s certainly the result, but it’s been doing quite poorly in the reviews.

I think the information we have published about it was pretty successful in knocking out any view that is inaccurate history. It’s interesting to see that in the America’s Disney, who’s responsible for the distribution there, has been putting up posters of me with the word ‘traitor’ emblazoned across my face*. You know, a laughable concept ‘cos because I’m an Australian, I couldn’t even be a traitor, in theory, to the United States. I mean it’s a type of libel.

I think ultimately people are starting to become immune to those sorts of attacks. There’s been so many as time is going by. And people who’ve been watching the WikiLeaks saga have seen many of these attacks, having seen that they’ve turned out not to be true. So I think our base is not going to be affected by the film.

More likely, WikiLeaks’ base will expand. Because as the film, which Assange so maligns, says:

If you want the truth, you should seek it out for yourself. That’s what they’re afraid of. You.

*A Google search shows there are several posters for The Fifth Estate. One shows Benedict Cumberbatch as Assange with the word “hero” across his face, another with the word “traitor.” The same is true for the face of Daniel Brühl who plays Daniel Berg, Assange’s  lieutenant who wrote the book on which The Fifth Estate is based.

Julian Assange Talks to Hollywood Foreign Press Association

In an explosion of relevancy, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, best known as the people behind the Golden Globes, the awards ceremony that for a brief moment in time was the predictor for the Academy Awards, landed a Skype interview with WikiLeaks founder and interwebs pinup boy, Julian Assange. The fifty reporters who joined on the Skype video interview will be filing the stories tomorrow and into the week, and the HFPA have dropped juicy hints about  what the platinum haired cyber-star discussed as part of the association’s rapidly expanding Round Table series of interviews.

Last month HFPA vice president Lorenzo Soria told Variety that the Association wanted a return to real journalism. Today he told Variety:

We knew that getting a story with the importance of the Wikileaks controversy would be helpful in our efforts to broaden our reach beyond just interviewing the latest movie star. We hope that interviewing Julian Assange opens the door to other major interviews….My story for (Italian daily) La Stampa runs tomorrow and I know they’re really excited. This is clearly not the kind of story you work on every day.

The Skype call was arranged between the HFPA’s offices in West Hollywood and the Ecuadorian embassy in London where Assange has been living since June 2012 when he was granted diplomatic asylum. In his interview Assange warned of the dangers posed by the American security complex. He also stated  that his family had received death threats. The interview took several months to arrange, and is timed perfectly to coincide with the release of the biopic The Fifth Estate, which Assange told the HFPA was

opportunistic and hostile.

The movie may well be, but it is also fomenting  an increased interest in WikiLeaks, Assange, and the charges against him in Sweden. And while Assange may feel contrary to the adage that any publicity is good publicity, he’s getting a lot–and by speaking up again The Fifth Estate so clearly and loudly, so is the film. People will go to see it, and hopefully they will look deeper and longer into Assange, into WikiLeaks, into Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.

And it also remains to be seen if the HFPA will nominate The Fifth Estate for any Golden Globe categories.

Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorian Embassy began in June of last year when the British government sought, per the HFPA’s explanation:

to extradite him to Sweden under a European Arrest Warrant for questioning in relation to a sexual assault investigation. Metropolitan police officers have been stationed outside the embassy since Assange entered the building and have been ordered to arrest him if he attempts to leave…

WikiLeaks has been involved in the publication of material documenting extra-judicial killings in Kenya, a report on toxic waste dumping on the Ivory Coast, Church of Scientology manuals, Guantanamo Bay detention camp procedures, the July 12 2007 Baghdad air strike video and other documents.

At one point there were five WikiLeaks film projects in development. I’m just bummed no one is making  a musical…

Julian Assange’s Unhappy Letter to Benedict Cumberbatch

Intertubes pin-up boy Julian Assange is all sandy-pants about the upcoming film The Fifth Estate, and has been for sometime, judging from a letter dated  January 15, 2013 to Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Assange in the Disney/Dreamworks bioflick. The letter was posted on the Wikileaks site yesterday and reveals that  the actor had approached Assange asking for meeting before the film began production. Assange declined, stating that while he was fond of Cumberbatch’s past films and would enjoy meeting Cumberbatch, but:

I believe you are a good person, but I do not believe that this film is a good film…I believe you are well-intentioned, but surely you can see why it is a bad idea for me to meet with you. By meeting with you, I would validate this wretched film, and endorse the talented, but debauched, performance that the script will force you to give.

Assange is basing his prescient review of The Fifth Estate on the source material, two books highly critical of  Wikileaks and its founder.  One of the authors, according to Assange, acted as consultant to the production. Assange points out there are far more truthful/favorable source materials available. Basically he calls Dreamworks part of the huge machine looking to break a cyber-butterfly on a wheel.  It’s all huge plot against him:

In other circumstances this vendetta [between Wikileaks/Assange and Assange's once-trusted lieutenant Daniel Domscheit-Berg, author of Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World's Most Dangerous Website] may have gone away, but our conflict with the United States government and the establishment press has created a patronage and commissioning market – powerful, if unpopular – for works and comments that are harmful to us.


The United States government has engaged almost every instrument of its justice and intelligence system to pursue—in its own words—a ‘whole of government’ investigation of ‘unprecedented scale and nature’ into WikiLeaks under draconian espionage laws. Our alleged sources are facing their entire lives in the US prison system. Two are already in it. Another one is detained in Sweden.

Feature films are the most powerful and insidious shapers of public perception, because they fly under the radar of conscious exclusion. This film is going to bury good people doing good work, at exactly the time that the state is coming down on their heads. It is going to smother the truthful version of events, at a time when the truth is most in demand…

Your skills play into the hands of people who are out to remove me and WikiLeaks from the world.

Reuters reports that Cumberbatch plays Assange as

rude, awkward and unkempt in the film.

At the film’s premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last month, Cumberbatch told reporters that while Assange would probably not like how he is portrayed in the film, The Fifth Estate is celebration of the Assange’s acheivements. In a July 2013 interview with The Guardian, Cumberbatch says that he was initially concerned that the film cast Assange–currently living in the Ecuardorian embassy in London to avoid deportation to Sweden on charges of sexual assault–as

a cartoon baddie…I think I may get my head bitten off by Disney for saying so, but everyone agreed with that.

Cumberbatch spent a great deal of time researching Assange and delving into the activist’s background and childhood in order to give a nuanced performance:

To have been a child in a single-mother relationship, being pursued around the country by an abusive stepfather who was part of a cult – to be taken out of any context where he could discover who he was in relation to other people – well, to then become a teenage hacktivist, and evolve into a cyber-journalist, to me makes perfect sense. And he’s still a runaway today. I find that profoundly moving.

If you like spoilers, Wikileaks posted a copy of the film’s script on September 18, 2013.  The Fifth Estate opens October 18, and Asssange’s letter makes me want to see it now more than ever. I wonder if Dreamworks will send Assange a screener…

Julian Assange Semi-Satirizes Self on Internet Cult Fave “Rap News”

Julian Assange made a surprise cameo appearance on Australian’s cult fave internet news satire program Rap News in an episode  entitled ‘News World Order – the war on journalism’, which also pokes fun at Donald Rumsfeld and and TV host Bill O’Reilly. Mr Assange contacted Rap News creators Giordano Nanni and Hugo Farrantafter seeing a previous edition about the Pentagon’s reaction to WikiLeaks.

Assange does have a certain charisma. And possibly a stylist…