If Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Lose, Journalism May Never Recover

Julian Assange

The question of whether WikiLeaks employees and volunteers are journalists and the outcome of the legal attacks on Julian Assange will significantly impact the future of journalism. 

By S.T. Patrick

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is starting to rack up some small victories that may have big cumulative results, though the question of whether or not he can maneuver from beneath the great legal behemoth of U.S. law is still yet to be determined. All well and good that he is achieving at least some positive results, as WikiLeaks has been a valuable contributor to the field of journalism and the most vital entity forcing government transparency in the digital age.

In May, the UN’s special reporter on torture, Nils Melzer, issued a statement clearly chastising the United States, Great Britain, Ecuador, and Sweden for their treatment of Assange.

The public rebuke of those nations against Assange has been a breath of fresh air to observers who clearly see the freedom-disparaging precedents that any Assange prosecution would set. Melzer summed up what the WikiLeaks founder has experienced for nearly a decade.

“In the course of the past nine years,” Melzer continued, “Mr. Assange has been exposed to persistent, progressively severe abuse ranging from systematic judicial persecution and arbitrary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy, to his oppressive isolation, harassment, and surveillance inside the embassy, and from deliberate collective ridicule, insults, and humiliation to open instigation of violence and even repeated calls for his assassination.”

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In early June, Swedish courts declined to issue an arrest warrant for Assange, eight years after the European arrest warrant was believed to have been issued. Seeking a new warrant against Assange, Swedish prosecutors failed to get the expected rubber stamp. Rather, the court said that an issuance would be “disproportionate.” This is a blow to many leftists in the UK and the U.S., who so desperately wanted Assange to have “rapist” permanently embedded next to a bullet point on his bio. Some leftists hate Assange, believing that he and Wikileaks worked with Donald Trump to undermine the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. Now that there is no arrest warrant from Sweden, there is also no extradition warrant from there, either. Regarding Sweden, Assange’s record is hereby clean.

The mainstream media’s tirades against Assange have been perplexing and self-serving. While they have been using Assange’s more disorganized, less rote collection of whistleblowers as stories and sources of stories for over a decade, they are now using Assange and WikiLeaks as a means by which they can delineate between “real journalists” and “mere leakers.” There has been no acknowledgment of the changing face of journalism, the dwindling importance and viewership of the mainstream, and, more importantly, the governmental accountability that WikiLeaks has forced.

Since publishing its first document in 2006 (a signed decision by a Somali sheik to assassinate government officials), WikiLeaks has released over 10 million documents. In their first two years alone, WikiLeaks exposed the daily protocol of the U.S. Army at Guantanamo Bay, that some Gitmo prisoners were off-limits to the Red Cross, the illegal activities of banks in the Cayman Islands, “the secret bibles of Scientology,” the contents of Sarah Palin’s Yahoo! email account (hacked by the group Anonymous), and a list of members in the British National Party.

WikiLeaks was never accused of being a tool of the American political right or any of its politicians then. That is a new delusion perpetrated by angry partisans. WikiLeaks was valuable and trusted through the final Bush years and even more so during the presidency of Barack Obama when it exposed the war crimes of the U.S. military.

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In February 2010, WikiLeaks began publishing documents sourced from Army Private Bradley (Chelsea) Manning. The most notable was the “Collateral Murder” video of a 2007 airstrike in Baghdad that resulted in the killing of two Reuters reporters by U.S. pilots who mistakenly thought they were carrying weapons.

What turned Assange, unfairly, into a partisan figure was the 2016 release of 1,258 emails from a personal server illegally kept in the home of then- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Also released were 20,000 emails and 8,000 documents from the Democratic National Committee, many of which showed a concerted internal campaign against Bernie Sanders and in favor of Clinton.

Are the employees and volunteers of WikiLeaks journalists? They’ve won The Economist New Media Award, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, the Sam Adams Award for Integrity, the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, the Voltaire Award for Free Speech, and a variety of journalism awards in Brazil, Kazakhstan, Italy, and the U.S. WikiLeaks was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for six consecutive years (2010-2015). Today, its founder sits in jail for exposing financial abuses, human rights abuses, and war crimes.

S.T. Patrick holds degrees in both journalism and social studies education. He spent 10 years as an educator and now hosts the “Midnight Writer News Show.” His email is [email protected]. He is also an occasional contributor to TBR history magazine and the current managing editor of Deep Truth Journal (DTJ), a new conspiracy-focused publication available at the AFP Online Store.