Forget what you think about Julian Assange. It doesn’t matter whether you like him or loath him. Nor does it matter if you think Assange and company were wrong to have distributed the leaks, or alternately if you think he’s the champion of transparency and democracy…..
None of this is the point. Not anymore.
The issue now is the dangerous nature of the campaign launched against Assange and WikiLeaks and what it points beyond itself to portend. This is about freedom of speech and freedom of the press. And it is a scary business.
Journalists cover wars by not taking sides. But when the war is on free speech itself, neutrality is no longer an option.
The WikiLeaks releases are a pivotal moment in the future of journalism. They raise any number of ethical and legal issues for journalists, but one is becoming paramount.
As I said last week, and feel obliged to say again today, our government – and its allies, willing or coerced, in foreign governments and corporations — are waging a powerful war against freedom of speech.
WikiLeaks may well make us uncomfortable in some of what it does, though in general I believe it’s done far more good than harm so far. We need to recognize, however, as Mathew Ingram wrote over the weekend, that “Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity.” What our government is trying to do to WikiLeaks now is lawless in stunning ways, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald forcefully argued today.
These are also acts of outright censorship. No, Amazon is not bound by the First Amendment. But if it’s bowing to government pressure, it’s helping a panicked government tear up one of our most basic freedoms.
consitutional lawyer/columnist Glenn Greenwald, who has taken the lead on a lot of this, also has a column on how so much of the mainstream media has been recklessly repeating falsehoods and misinformation about the leaks and their affect.
Yet, at the same time, a small but growing number of journalists and editors are speaking out with a rising sense of unease.
For instance here’s what senior editor Amy Davidson said at the New Yorker:
…Beyond Assange and his own legal situation, there is something disturbing going on: Joe Lieberman hounding private companies (before any legal actions has been taken); the way the site was repeatedly taken down; calls by politicians and journalists to kill the leakers or have them treated as enemy combatants (what does that mean? Guantánamo?); the Swiss bank account frozen (the Swiss say Assange had a false address on his form; but our ambassador there has also said some heavy-handed things to them); Visa and MasterCard stopping all transactions related to WikiLeaks. One could say that this is part of the bargain WikiLeaks signed up for—what did they think would happen? But, if it is permissible to use these measures against the site, why couldn’t they be used against any media organization that published classified information? Why WikiLeaks and not the Times, Guardian, or Der Spiegel (or The New Yorker)? If it’s because they and we are more respectable—what does that even mean? Any talk of creative uses of the 1917 Espionage Act, as by Senator Dianne Feinstein, should make one wary. (Glenn Greenwald has been following the legal side of the story.) Not that that much due process seems to have been involved in efforts to shut the site down. Does it just take the Administration saying something is illegal for it to be illegal?