Last Tuesday a top lawyer for the New York Times named David McCraw warned a room full of judges that the prosecution of Julian Assange for WikiLeaks publications would set a very dangerous precedent which would end up hurting mainstream news media outlets like NYT, the Washington Post, and other outlets which publish secret government documents.
“I think the prosecution of him would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers,” McCraw said. “From that incident, from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and I think the law would have a very hard time drawing a distinction between The New York Times and WikiLeaks.”
Do you know where I read about this? Not in the New York Times.
“Curiously, as of this writing, McCraw’s words have found no mention in the Times itself,” activist Ray McGovern wrote for the alternative media outlet Consortium News. “In recent years, the newspaper has shown a marked proclivity to avoid printing anything that might risk its front row seat at the government trough.”
So let’s unpack that a bit. It is now public knowledge that the Ecuadorian government is actively seeking to turn Assange over to be arrested by the British government. This was initially reported by RT, then independently confirmed by The Intercept, and is today full mainstream public knowledge being reported by mainstream outlets like CNN. It is also public knowledge that Assange’s asylum was granted by the Ecuadorian government due to a feared attempt to extradite him to the United States and prosecute him for WikiLeaks publications. Everyone from President Donald Trump to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to now-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to ranking House Intelligence Committee member Adam Schiff to Democratic members of the US Senate have made public statements clearly indicating that there is a US government interest in getting Assange out of the shelter of political asylum and into prison.
The New York Times is aware of this, and as evidenced by McCraw’s comments it is also aware of the dangerous precedent that such a prosecution would set for all news media publications. The New York Times editorial staff are aware that the US government prosecuting a publisher for publishing important documents that had been hidden from the public would make it impossible for the Times to publish the same kind of material without fear of the same legal repercussions. It is aware that the maneuvers being taken against Assange present a very real existential threat to the possibility of real journalism and holding power to account.
You might think, therefore, that we’d be seeing a flood of analyses and op-eds from the New York Times aggressively condemning any movement toward the prosecution of Julian Assange. You might expect all media outlets in America to be constantly sounding the alarm about this, especially since the threat is coming from the Trump administration, which outlets like the New York Times are always eager to circulate dire warnings about. You might expect every talking head on CNN and NBC to be ominously citing Assange as the clearest and most egregious case yet of Trump’s infamous “war on the free press”. Leaving aside the issues of morality, compassion and human rights that come with Assange’s case, you might think that if for no other reason than sheer unenlightened self interest they’d be loudly and aggressively defending him.
And yet, they don’t. And the fact that they don’t shows us what they really are.
Theoretically, journalism is meant to help create an informed populace and hold power to account. That’s why it’s the only profession explicitly named in the United States Constitution, and why freedom of the press has enjoyed such constitutional protections throughout US history. The press today is failing to protect Julian Assange because it has no intention of creating an informed populace or holding power to account.…