By Mark Lee Hunter
Julian Assange has been a remarkable source for mainstream media. So why has he been so ill-treated in return? There are many accusations levelled at him and his organisation, and whatever their bases, none of them justifies the reactions. And this hurts journalism as a whole
Over the past several months leading figures of the news industry have lined up at journalism conferences and in the MSM (“mainstream media”) to hammer Julian Assange’s reputation. Astonishingly, the people bashing the founder of Wikileaks are the same people who relentlessly pursued and used him as a source. Protecting the source is what reporters in general and investigative reporters in particular are supposed to do, but a glaring exception is being made for Assange.
It’s been happening at least since October, when David Leighand Heather Brooke, both of The Guardian and authors of recent books about Wikileaks, took the stage at the Global Investigative Journalism Congress in Kiev to denounce Assange’s alleged treachery and lechery. They did the same again in Paris at UNESCO in February. On both occasions no representatives of Assange’s organization were asked to speak; so much for open debate. The details deserve to be outed.
Leigh has repeatedly complained that Assange makes deals, then breaks them. As Leigh and Ian Harding recount in Wikileaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, Assange first annulled his exclusive deal to publish Wikileaks’ archives with The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian (he brought in two other dailies) after the Times ran a front-page piece that portrayed him as a megalomaniac. True or not, try to think of another source whom The Times exposed like this, facing the dangers Assange faces. A source needn’t be crazy to wonder whose side such partners are on and start looking for a Plan B. (Which he found, as we’ll see later.)
Leigh has also blamed Assange for the release of hundreds of thousands of raw documents that can put individuals who work with the US government in danger. What happened, according to Leigh in Kiev, is this: Assange gave him a cryptographic key allowing temporary online access to a server where the documents were stored. Leigh assumed that the key had expired when he and Harding wrote their book, and they published it down to the last letter. The server was immediately cracked and the documents spilled out. Leigh claims that Assange had not warned him that the key still worked. Publishing it was still a grave mistake in more ways than one. By blaming Assange, Leigh cannot help but raise the risks for him. According to Wikileaks, the Stratfor emails hacked by Anonymous indicate that a sealed indictment had already been issued on Assange, and that the US might “declassify the death of a source” that could be tagged to Wikileaks.