John Oliver, the latest late-night TV show host to tackle Julian Assange’s arrest by British police from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, is the first to call WikiLeaks’ founder “the most controversial Australian export since Vegemite.”
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After nearly seven years holed up at the embassy, Brit police literally carried him out like a rolled up carpet on Thursday.
Oliver was among those who noticed CNN’s initial coverage focused on Assange’s “bedraggled beard,” “lengthy hair,” and that he looked “tired” and “much older” than he did when he first entered the embassy, calling it “a weird tone to take on story that is this important.”
“His arrest sparks a difficult debate about the efficacy of journalistic protections in the age of cyber espionage, but look how bad he looks! He like a peeled potato rolled in spider webs! He looks like Kenneth Branagh’s ghost!” Oliver mocked.
Assange’s arrest, Oliver insisted, is a “big deal.”
Among reasons Ecuador wanted him gone, Assange did not make life easy for his hosts. Among their complaints: his cat making a mess, Assange skateboarded in the halls, he stole wifi, his indoor soccer games destroyed embassy equipment, and the government had to require him to start cleaning his bathroom.
“It is easy to dislike Julian Assange,” Oliver agreed, reminding viewers he first fled to the embassy to escape extradition to Sweden on rape charges – charges Assange has denied.
And, in addition to valuable information WikiLeaks has helped release, the org also “recklessly published sensitive personal data of hundreds of ordinary people, potentially putting lives at risk,” Oliver said. And, who can forget that WikiLeaks publication of hacked emails helped to elect Donald Trump.
“You are allowed to dislike him,” Oliver told his viewers. “But America’s current attempt to extradite him hangs on a specific charge many journalism advocates find unsettling.”
The DOJ wants him extradited to the U.S. for alleged conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, stemming from correspondence with Chelsea Manning before the publication of sensitive documents 2010.
“On its face, it currently seems more than a little flimsy,” the HBO late-night host said. “Because the indictment’s language seems to criminalize a broad range of legally protected and common journalistic activity.”
And, while it’s not clear what else Assange might be charged with, or if the UK will extradite him, the U.S.’s efforts are worrying, because “journalistic freedoms maybe under threat,” Oliver warned.
“And, unfortunately, in order to protect them… I’m really sorry, everyone, but it might actually be time to defend Julian Assange.”
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