Alex Massie

Yes, Julian Assange Is A Journalist

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I'm not sure I understand the Wikileaks controversy. If one of the many definitions of news is (and always has been) that it is something that someone, somewhere does not want you to know then, yes, Julian Assange is a journalist. Perhaps newsman would be a better, more strictly accurate way of putting it.

As such, it's strange to see Americans accusing him of treason (he's an Australian!) or William Hague complaining that the Wikileaks document-dumps put "British lives" at risk. So what?

Then there's Jonah Goldberg complaining that a column headlined "All Quiet On the Black-Ops Front" and subtitled "Why is Julian Assange Still Alive?" has - this may shock you - been misunderstood. Acording to Goldberg he wasn't suggesting Assange should be killed (true), merely that no-one should be surprised if he is murdered and that if peoples' romantic/conspiratorial views of what the CIA are capable of were accurate then Assange would be dead. Or something. As he explains:

[W]hile it’s political palatable to kill a member of al-Qaeda, “assassinating a hipster Australian Web guru as opposed to a Muslim terrorist is the kind of controversy no official dares invite.” Does anyone dispute this?

Regardless, what I find amazing is how so many of these fulminating free-speech lovers seem to think that Assange is not only a journalist but a hero. Indeed, one gets the distinct impression that what offends is any casting of Assange as a bad guy. But of course he’s a bad guy. And the idea that he’s a journalist is a joke. Perhaps it would be easier to see this if Assange were giving all of these documents solely to the Iranian government. But he’s not doing that. He’s giving these documents to the Iranians, and al-Qaeda, and the Chinese, and the Russians and everyone else. So — abracadabra! — that makes him a hero! What nonsense.

[...] a great number of my critics are being willfully idiotic, not only because they’re misreading it, but because they’re rushing to the defense of someone who is doing something indefensible. Or should I say it’s indefensible if you actually care about American national security.

Oh really? I don't have to agree with Assange's motives (or even his own, long-term desires) any more than I need agree with Daniel Ellsberg's politics to think that Wikileaks, like leaking the Pentagon Papers, constitutes a public service. (The Pentagon Papers, mind you, were much more significant and, actually, much more damning.)

Assange is "of course" a bad guy from the perspective of the Pentagon who'd much rather avoid this kind of scrutiny. But in this instance it's not obvious that Assange - even if he were an American - is required to put the putative interests of American (or British or even Australian) "national security" above all else; far less that he should presume that the public interest in how our wars are fought counts for almost nothing.

Is Assange "irresponsible"? I dare say he is. But not as irresponsible as those who permitted the torture of prisoners or the grisly abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and lord knows what else. In any case, one can easily read the latest Wikileaks disclosures and conclude that it's surprising how few blunders or abuses have been committed by British troops in times of great stress, danger and difficulty.

Responsibility? As a general rule that's not the press's responsibility. And the more you think Julian Assange is irresponsible the more, perhaps, you suggest he is a journalist - if also a newsman of a particular type.

Irresponsible, vainglorious, hypocritical, shameless, reckless? Is there any doubt he's a newsman? That doesn't mean you have to like him.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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