Thursday, 27 January 2011

Keller a killer on dealing with WikiLeaks' Assange


Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, doesn't pull his punches in an article for the paper's magazine about dealing with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The New York Times was one of Assange's favoured media partners but Killer's article can't be described as uncritical of the WikiLeaks founder. Here are some extracts.

  • The reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated, extremely adept technologically but arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous.
  • The Times’s relationship with our source [Assange] had gone from wary to hostile. I talked to Assange by phone a few times and heard out his complaints. He 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. 'Where’s the respect?' he demanded.
  • The final straw was a front-page profile of Assange by John Burns and Ravi Somaiya, published Oct. 24, that revealed fractures within WikiLeaks, attributed by Assange’s critics to his imperious management style. Assange denounced the article to me, and in various public forums, as “a smear.”
  • Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity. The derelict with the backpack and the sagging socks now wore his hair dyed and styled, and he favored fashionably skinny suits and ties. He became a kind of cult figure for the European young and leftish and was evidently a magnet for women.
  • I came to think of Julian Assange as a character from a Stieg Larsson thriller — a man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.
  • As for our relationship with WikiLeaks, Julian Assange has been heard to boast that he served as a kind of puppet master, recruiting several news organizations, forcing them to work in concert and choreographing their work. This is characteristic braggadocio — or, as my Guardian colleagues would say, bollocks.
  • The Guardian seemed to have joined The [New York] Times on Assange’s enemies list, first for sharing the diplomatic cables with us, then for obtaining and reporting on the unredacted record of the Swedish police complaints against Assange. In his fury at this perceived betrayal, Assange granted an interview to The Times of London, in which he vented his displeasure with our little media consortium. If he thought this would ingratiate him with The Guardian rival, he was na├»ve. The paper happily splashed its exclusive interview, then followed it with an editorial calling Assange a fool and a hypocrite.
Keller does say: "But 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.

"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."

  • WikiLeaks responded on Twitter: "NYTimes does another self-serving smear. Facts wrong, top to bottom. Dark day for US journalism.”
  • The New York Times has a video on its Assange story here

Via GregMitch on Twitter

No comments: