Many of you saw your long-term wishes granted: the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London.
I can’t blame you for the vitriol, sort of.
Most accounts describe Assange as unlikable — the kind of dude whose aura makes people vacate warm bar stools in winter.
But the idea of his arrest is more important than who you like.
The core argument lies in how you answer two simple questions.
First: can a civilian play the role of whistleblower against a government?
Second: is Julian Assange a journalist?
Digging the implications of those answers begs you to review the true story of a military analyst during the 1960s who obtained access to a Golconda of classified US government documents that uncovered the shocking extent of America’s real intentions and involvement in an ongoing regional war — a truth the US never previously shared with the American people.
The analyst photocopied the documents and then shared them with the New York Times, Washington post and over a dozen other media organizations, prompting a nationwide manhunt and arrest of the analyst. The charge? Espionage. The newspaper editors who published the damning information ultimately faced no prosecution.
Those documents are now known as the Pentagon papers. And the analyst who leaked the truth about the Vietnam war to the press is Daniel Ellsberg.
Despite the US government’s post-leak attempts to harass, disrupt, discredit and possibly harm Ellsberg’s life that ended in embarrassing failures — where one of the bungled incidents prompted the Watergate investigation — Ellsberg’s criminal case went to trial …
… until the government’s harassment campaign was made public. The prosecution’s case subsequently fell apart. And so did Richard Nixon’s presidency.
So what about Assange?
He was placed on the prosecution’s radar because of his published leaks about America’s apparent war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to the embarrassing admissions of diplomats across the world.
No surprise that the US government, citing national security concerns, wants Assange behind bars.
This video of civilian deaths (WARNING: graphic, 38-minute version) didn’t help relations between the US government and the most hated leaker in the Western Hemisphere.
That’s why my reference to “conviction” in this piece’s title is positioned more like a prediction.
Just like the Pentagon papers, media outlets published the leaks for months.
But Assange’s lack of US citizenship status won’t help him leverage rights he would need to defend himself in court as a whistleblower who wants to make a foreign government accountable for its actions—regardless of how accurate the leaks have been.
But what if Wikileaks and Assange can be respectively categorized as a media organization and journalist?
Nah, some of you will say, with echoes of Hillary’s potential greatness in your heads without the memory of how she and her team played themselves.
Follow that “Nah” with another question: what is a journalist?
Someone who works at a company with station call letters?
Someone with the word “News” near their name?
Someone with an official “media” declaration by a government body?
New York Tribune launched 178 years ago this week. At what point in history were citizens permitted to call the Tribune a spot that hires journalists?
Are so-called ethnic newspapers institutions of journalism? What about the Amsterdam News?
For that matter, what about Out Magazine?
All of the above can be categorized as “press“ — like it or not.
The US First Amendment protects any person or self-labeled media group that shares information and opinions. People who scribble news on wood tablets have as many rights as people who shape electrons from glass buildings adorned with satellite dishes and TV cameras.
Convicting Assange will move closer to placing the rights of American citizens to disclose truth to power at risk.
But keep on rooting for Assange — emotional warts and all — to catch a long prison sentence if freedom of the press doesn’t matter to you …
song currently stuck in my head: “dred scott: 1857” – wadada leo smith