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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 1/17/13

What Is an Assange? Part 2

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Two and a half weeks ago, I was pleased to help launch the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which aims to promote and help fund independent journalism organizations who aggressively report on issues that the U.S. government considers secret. You can read about it here (and see Freedom of the Press Foundation co-founder Daniel Ellsberg's post here).

Below is the second part of my conversation with Jonathan Turley and Kevin McCabe. You can read part one here.

We left off speaking of Assange, publishers and journalists -- about definitions and constitutional protections in the new digital world -- and the grey areas that seem to be artificial and convenient for those in power -- with the media's largely passive response.


Jonathan Turley: The government is treating him as if he is a hacker. In fact, many people insist that it's clear he's not a hacker, that he somehow got this material from a third party.

John Cusack: -- Like the New York Times got from Ellsberg -he was the third party

Jonathan Turley: Right. I think that if he's a hacker, it's difficult to treat him as a journalist. And it may be difficult to treat him as a whistleblower.

Kevin McCabe: Another element to it -- my understanding of it; was that when he was negotiating with the Times, regarding what would be reported therefore verified and validated through the New York Times and the Washington Post -- he lost any ability to get into the club, because of the way he engaged them.

Apparently when the Times set out parameters, Assange became difficult and insisted on a different approach, the Times was like no, that's not how we do it and Assange lost any institutional support going forward, on an ongoing basis, to be considered a journalist because he wouldn't play by those rules. So it's just an interesting part of the dynamic, when you so eloquently put that -- it's sui generis, but of what? He's neither fish nor fowl, but he's serving, and filling a vacuum and serving the public by disclosing information and reporting information everyone should be aware of.

John Cusack: So Jon, on the same terrain -- if you give me information and I decide I want to put it out on, say Twitter, -- and it'll reach a million plus people -- am I in the same class as Assange -- if somebody sends me a video of a crime, and I believe a crime has been committed? Do I have a right or moral obligation to expose the truth...And am I protected?

Jonathan Turley: Well, this is a longstanding conflict that we've had in the civil liberties community with Congress. In fact, I testified before the House Intelligence Committee years ago on the move by a number of members to criminalize the publication of classified information, whether you're a journalist or anyone else. So they were including all the journalists, as well as non-journalists.

And this had the support of the Republicans and Democrats. Members of Congress tend not to like whistleblowers, or journalists for that matter, because they get them off-script and when they are most vulnerable. They make this less controllable. I have previously testified before both Democratic and Republican members considering a disastrous move toward criminalizing the publication of classified information regardless of how you receive it.

The question of your releasing the same information on Twitter is interesting. Given your status, you actually reach more people than virtually all of the daily newspapers. So you're reaching over a million-plus people with a single tweet that most newspapers would dearly love to replicate.

John Cusack: We both blog and write on line -- as we are now --

Jonathan Turley: Then, we get into this serious question of why you're not a journalist but Chris Matthews is. I mean, you actually are likely to reach 100 times more people than MSNBC would on any given evening because of your status.

John Cusack: One of Arianna's big ideas was to create what she calls citizen journalists to participate and have your voices heard, -- and ordinary people could be alongside -- right up there with Hillary Clinton. And blog, and she'll aggregate news. She's created this kind of revolution in her own way. But it has to do with connectivity and aggregation and the idea of a citizen journalist. So is Assange basically a citizen publisher? It gets back to the same question -- what are the rights of people to expose the truth? Where are their protections?

Jonathan Turley: I think that's right. And this is where I think the media has decided to go conspicuously silent. Because there's no question that Assange's release of this information resembles the type of act for which journalists have received Pulitzers. He released information that came to him, and information that had not been released in any other forum. That information dealt directly with government deception and potential crimes.

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