NYT casts Assange as 'arrogant' (with a little 'Peter Pan')
My time with Julian
WikiLeaks is hardly the journalistic enterprise many of its supporters claim, but it will be a sad day for American jurisprudence if the website is prosecuted for spilling government secrets, the top editor of The New York Times says.
In a lengthy behind-the-scenes account of his dealings with Julian Assange, NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller paints the WikiLeaks founder as an erratic figure with “a bit of Peter Pan in him.” Mood swings, temper tantrums and a lack of care that could threaten the safety of Afghan citizens cooperating with US forces all feature prominently.
But ultimately, Keller concludes, prosecuting WikiLeaks for publishing hundreds of thousands of classified US documents would set back more than a century of legal precedents.
“While I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated,” Keller writes in an 8,000-word article defending the NYT's coverage of the WikiLeaks leaks. “Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to me to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country.”
Keller continues: “If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?”
Those familiar with Assange already have ample evidence that he is an unpredictable figure whose passion for radical transparency is trumped only by his sense of self importance. But with six months of experience dealing with the man, Keller can't help making his own case.
Exhibit A comes from “a bit of Peter Pan” in Assange that spontaneously emerged during an encounter in London with NYT reporter Eric Schmitt and Der Spiegel journalist John Goetz.
“One night, when they were all walking down the street after dinner, Assange suddenly started skipping ahead of the group,” Keller recounts. “Schmitt and Goetz stared, speechless. Then, just as suddenly, Assange stopped, got back in step with them and returned to the conversation he had interrupted.”
But a darker side soon emerged. After the NYT published a front-page profile of Assange that reported fractures within the WikiLeaks organization, the founder complained to Keller that the piece was a “smear” and demanded a front-page retraction.
After the NYT published articles based on classified documents WikiLeaks provided on the US-led war in Afghanistan, Assange was “angry that we declined to link our online coverage of the War Logs to the WikiLeaks Web site, a decision we made because we feared – rightly, as it turned out – that its trove would contain the names of low-level informants and make them Taliban targets,” Keller writes.
Assange also took umbrage with an NYT profile of accused WikiLeaker Bradley Manning, which Assange complained exaggerated the Army private's isolation as a child and his distress as a gay man in the military.
“Assange complained that we 'psychologicalized' Manning and gave short shrift to his 'political awakening,'” Keller says.
During an eight-hour meeting with the top editor of The Guardian, Assange angrily demanded that the newspaper, which was working with the NYT, stop the collaboration. Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger and Der Spiegel Editor in Chief Georg Mascolo declined.
“Given that we already had all of the documents, Assange had little choice,” Keller wrote.
A few weeks later, the publications posted articles on a new WikiLeaks dump related to classified US State Department cables.
Keller takes plenty of other jabs at Assange, including the observation from reporters who worked with him that he was “arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous.” But the real point of the piece is to defend his decision to publish carefully redacted excerpts of the WikiLeaks documents and to counter arguments that the articles threatened national security.
“The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security,” he writes. "We live and work in a city that has been tragically marked as a favorite terrorist target, and in the wake of 9/11 our journalists plunged into the ruins to tell the story of what happened here. Moreover, The Times has nine staff correspondents assigned to the two wars still being waged in the wake of that attack, plus a rotating cast of photographers, visiting writers and scores of local stringers and support staff.”
He concludes: “So we have no doubts about where our sympathies lie in this clash of values. And yet we cannot let those sympathies transform us into propagandists, even for a system we respect.” ®
My compliments to The New York Times for putting a plausible overall perspective on this issue, and my compliments to Dan Goodin and The Reg for competently bringing it to our attention.
Yes, Assange lacks the skills of a credible journalist, and yes, he's managed to make voters think in ways that governments and politicians wouldn't want them to. No one's perfect but, between them, Wikileaks and the press have manged to do well.
Perhaps Assange can cope with reality sufficiently to keep up the good work. If not then at least he's shown the way for others to follow.
Think, *before* believing what a "journalist" says ...
“While I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism". Fairly disgusting that NYT consider themselves to be "journalism". The concept of journalism died long ago, all these people do is pander to governments and self-interest. Journalists such as this clown from the NYT are simply puppets of their corporate masters (after all, all news organisations are corporations, with agendas. the idea that these people are free journalists is ludicrous at best and without doubt insulting to anyone of mediocre intelligence). He mentioned WikiLeaks "glib" antipathy towards America, but fails to mention America's "glib" antipathy to the entire world outside of the US, murdering civilians like it's a drunken Texan bbq with non-Americans for target practice (a pretty reasonable assessment of the US ... if the lives of civilians mean anything that is ... which they clearly do not to US journalists. a dead Iraqi child is just a statistic to these so-called "journalists" - or "corporate mouthpieces" to give them their correct title). what an arrogant fool that "corporate mouthpiece" is, assuming his own moral superiority and denigrating anyone that brings actual *factual* information to the public. WikiLeaks provide the public with direct factual information, instead of the impotent, blurred, biased, corporate mouthpiece factless unclear claptrap that NYT Executive Editor Mr. Bill Keller peddles ...
perhaps you should look at some of the few prosecutions under the 1917 act
It has a history of being used to stifle political dissent.