This Tuesday, 500 days after a PayPal-Mastercard-Visa boycott crippled his WikiLeaks organization, Julian Assange’s face will be beamed onto the television screens of almost half a billion people (and streamed online by countless others). The inaugural episode of his new talk show, The World Tomorrow, filmed wherever Assange has been living out his U.K. house arrest, will feature a “notorious guest,” whom we know little about except that he (or she) is “particularly controversial” and “highly charismatic.” Perhaps it’s every hotel maid’s worst nightmare, Dominique Strauss-Kahn? Or fallen Chinese princeling Bo Xilai? The editor-in-chief of Russia Today, the channel that will broadcast Assange’s show, told Reuters, “I have no doubt that this particular guest and this interview will lead to calls to shut us down from some especially hawkish personalities who have little respect for freedom of speech.”
There are some obvious red flags waving here: the sealed-lips secrecy of an organization dedicated to whistleblowing, the “freedom of speech” pandering by a TV channel whose Kremlin ties are common knowledge. Chances are Assange’s television debut, this “notorious guest” of his, and the impact of the entire project have all been widely overblown. In fact, with WikiLeaks and the Occupy movements waning and Assange still facing extradition to Sweden over sexual abuse charges, his currency has probably never been lower.
Yet WikiLeaks did shock the world (and its most powerful governments) once upon a time. Maybe its founder has another bombshell trump card hidden up his sleeve. The promo released yesterday, for one, had a notably defiant tone about it. “For 500 days now I’ve been detained without charge, but that hasn’t stopped us. Today we are on a quest for revolutionary ideas that can change the world tomorrow.”