"Media take a stand (at last) on Assange."
Varnishing the truth.
We got to know Tareq Haddad shortly after his principled resignation from Newsweek’s London bureau in 2019, when his editors censored a story about leaks emerging from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons that revealed chemical weapons attacks in Syria were being fabricated. In what journalist Alan Macleod called “Operation Mockingbird 2.0,” Haddad subsequently revealed how the U.S. State Department manipulates and distorts newsrooms and media coverage worldwide.
We have remained in friendly touch with Haddad these past several years. He has been a diligent, dedicated observer of the Assange case—work we have much admired. We are pleased here to publish his analysis of the open letter recently published by four major dailies and one weekly, in which they call for the U.S. to drop most of its case against Assange.
Exactly 12 years on from 28 November 2010, when WikiLeaks and its media partners—The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and El País—collectively began to publish and report on the quarter-million diplomatic cables from American missions across the world, these five media partners last week issued a joint open letter urging the U.S. government to drop its prosecution of Julian Assange for “publishing secrets.”
This letter appeared quite unexpectedly late last month and is on its face an immensely positive development for the WikiLeaks founder, who has been incarcerated since 2019 but in fact lost his liberty nine days after the first cables were published in 2010. But the document needs to be carefully parsed for what it says and fails to say at this critical point in the Assange case. Upon further inspection, it’s promptly apparent that it falls woefully short of already-low expectations.
First, the five publications—four dailies and a German weekly—do not call for the total dropping of the prosecution. This suggests they have no issues with one of the charges. Then, in their negligence, not only do they fail to recognize the impact of this remaining charge on journalism, but how evidence presented at Assange’s extradition hearings in London demonstrated that U.S. prosecutors misled British courts on the allegation in question. Worse still, after years of inaccurate and malign reporting on Assange, the outlets continue distorting Assange’s actions and the wider evidence in the letter itself—begging the question, Have they in fact done more harm than good with this half-hearted effort?
Even within the letter’s first few words, it starts to go awry. While the publications finally acknowledge, implicitly at least, that they, too, published the same secrets, and should in theory have faced the same charges as Assange, the outlets refrained from stating that the charges should be dropped completely. The distinction is critical to understanding their actual position on the case.
In also trying to justify why they’ve collectively taken so long to say something in defense of Assange, though some have previously published individual editorials opposing the prosecution, the news outlets write:
This group of editors and publishers, all of whom had worked with Assange, felt the need to publicly criticize his conduct in 2011 when unredacted copies of the cables were released, and some of us are concerned about the allegations in the indictment that he attempted to aid in computer intrusion of a classified database. But we come together now to express our grave concerns about the continued prosecution of Julian Assange for obtaining and publishing classified materials.
However, this cadre of journalism’s best and brightest, supposedly, make no further mention of the allegation regarding conspiracy to commit computer intrusion—indicating they have no objections to charging Assange with this offense. They may be forgiven for thinking this would reduce Assange’s charges from 18 counts to one—taking away 17 charges under the Espionage Act, each carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. What they cannot be excused for, however, is not knowing that the remaining charge, carrying five years, is the flimsiest of them all and should’ve been opposed with the same intensity.
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