Sarah Palin may find common ground with Julian Assange after all. The founder of WikiLeaks is now officially trading on his celebrity: he has landed a 1.5 million dollar book deal.
The trouble is, now Assange will have to go from disrupting history to revising it. The man widely reviled as an “anarchist”, a terrorist, an enemy of the state, will have to enter the world of Palin and W., where messy lives merge into books and phony interviews and reality television programs, where serious flaws are glossed over, peccadilloes forgiven, legal expenses met by admirers and detractors alike. In this world, being a governor, a president, or a leaker of state secrets amounts to nothing more than a protracted publicity stunt, the ramp up to a non-stop book tour, the dues you have to pay to trade on your celebrity in the marketplace.
Whether Julian Assange will make this transition successfully remains to be seen, and that is already one part of his story playing into the pre-launch of his book. Everything is grist for the publicity mill. So, we are told, Assange is a reluctant author: as has been widely reported, he told the Sunday Times, “I don’t want to write this book, but I have to. I have already spent £200,000 for legal costs and I need to defend myself and to keep WikiLeaks afloat.”
Unlike Sarah Palin, Assange is not comfortable turning himself into a commodity — at least that is what we are to believe. And unlike Palin, he is probably capable of writing a book all by himself, but with the delivery of a manuscript rumored to be scheduled for March, there is no reason to expect anything very polished or any great new insights.
But it sure will sell.
Who can blame him for striking a deal? With mounting legal expenses and a book about WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg due out at the end of January (Inside WikiLeaks: My Time at the World’s Most Dangerous Website), “a memoir from Assange is a logical step,” says Sarah Weinman. Pardon me, however, if I react with less than unbridled enthusiasm. Really, what is there to tell? Why is Assange’s short-lived publishing venture worthy of a memoir? Yes, there is the matter of setting the record straight, but given his present legal circumstances Assange will have to be very circumspect about how he or WikiLeaks worked with sources and how they received leaks. He will have to be on message, and everything he says will have to be vetted and cleared by his legal team.
This isn’t going to be a candid, tell-all account (or even a polished celebrity memoir, like the books put out this year by Patti Smith or Keith Richards). But why quibble over the truth when truthiness sells best? There will no doubt be a WikiLeaks movie coming very soon to a theater near you, right after The Social Network finishes its run.
It remains to be seen whether this book deal will rescue Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, whether the publicity machine behind it (Knopf in the U.S., Canongate in the UK) will help Assange win more of the world to his side, and whether it will magically put him beyond the reach of the law, as it seems to have done with Sarah Palin and George W. Bush.