It’s season five of Happy Days and the Fonz ends up harnessed in to some sort of jetski thing in order to jump a shark. It’s not a totally ridiculous thing – after all, this is a programme where the man could jumpstart a jukebox with his fist and had women literally swooning at his feet – but it’s spawned the phrase “jumping the shark” which is used anywhere and everywhere. You’ll forgive me if I use it now for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
Because the Australian has now jumped the shark, and possibly his website too. The past few weeks and a look at the world of 2011 in the cold light of a New Year’s hangover has seen an awful lot of negative articles focusing on the less brilliant aspects of the otherwise stunning US Embassy Cables.
Now the focus is on Assange and his sexual peccadilloes, and the fact that he is supposed to have had sex by surprise (which is a horrible term for what is essentially rape) with two women. Just before Christmas we had the press feeding frenzy, which has died down and left us with…well, not an awful lot anymore.
Stories in the press have a half-life: everyone knows that. But the newer style of journalism – whereby you drip feed a baying public small parts of a story (for perhaps the best example of how it’s done, see The Daily Telegraph‘s MP’s expenses stories) – manages to extend that half-life a little longer. It still depreciates, however, and we’ve pretty much come to the end of the usefulness of WikiLeaks’ US Embassy cables.
Even the clamour over Assange has gone down. And it’s not because he’s keeping his head down – he’s threatened in recent days to spill the names of Middle Eastern double agents working for local governments and the US. It’s just that no-one cares anymore. We had some decent leaks out of it (work on my book on African gas and oil benefitted greatly from some of the cables coming out of embassies in Abuja and Lagos, for example) but ultimately we’ve now got the crud that sunk to the bottom of the ocean and no-one really wants. It’s the discarded bottletops and ringpulls that do little but get washed up on shore in 20 years time and choke all the birds.
That’s one line of thinking. Another is that since Assange broke away from the Guardian in his all-too public spat, that paper has lost interest. And because Assange ran to The Times (forever to be followed by the disclaimer “£”, which signifies for all on the internet that you have to cough up cash to see the content) the audience for his unfiltered thoughts has fallen off the edge of a cliff.
2010 was the year of WikiLeaks, really. 2011 isn’t looking like it will be.