MSM Needs to Protect Assange, Not Only Themselves, From Espionage Act

© HaxorjoeThe New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority.
The New York Times building in New York, NY across from the Port Authority. - Sputnik International
With WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange now facing 18 charges in the US, including violation of the Espionage Act of 1917, media outlets are finally attacking the Justice Department’s move - if only out of shrewd self-interest. The indictment’s loose wording threatens to sweep up the entire Fourth Estate, journalist Joe Lauria told Sputnik.

"Corporate media has to make a choice here. They have to overcome their hatred for Julian Assange and them blaming him for Trump's election if they want to save their own hides, because they are on the line right now," Joe Lauria, editor-in-chief of Consortium News and author of the book "How I Lost, By Hillary Clinton," told Radio Sputnik's Loud and Clear Friday, regardless of whether or not they become convinced of the falsity of Russiagate.

​Whereas immediately after Assange's April 11 arrest, very few major news outlets were willing to defend the journalist they hailed half a decade ago, Thursday's superseding indictment seemed to push many over the edge, with the editorial boards of both the New York Times and Washington Post publishing opinion pieces that at least partially came out against Assange's charges — if not in defense of WikiLeaks itself.

Demonstrators protest outside of Westminster Magistrates Court, where Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had a U.S. extradition request hearing, in London, Britain May 2, 2019 - Sputnik International
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The Times' Thursday editorial was titled, "Julian Assange's Indictment Aims at the Heart of the First Amendment: The Trump administration seeks to use the Espionage Act to redefine what journalists can and cannot publish," and Lauria noted that it made points edited out of the Times' story on the indictment. "It's good to see it in the editorial," he said. "Of course they're right."

"Unfortunately, this act has to be challenged in court because the Pentagon Papers case, the majority opinion was that the government cannot use prior restraint to stop a publication beforehand from publishing classified information. That was a violation of the First Amendment, and in that case the New York Times won." However, Lauria also noted the majority opinion found that "after publication, the government could go after a journalist for publishing classified information," which he noted then-President Richard Nixon tried to do.

"So it's not, in that sense, against the First Amendment — it's against the spirit of the First Amendment," Lauria told Sputnik hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou. "If it were challenged in court, it could be seen to be against the First Amendment, but right now, that hasn't happened, so this is a legal prosecution, in a sense, on a terrible law that shouldn't exist."

Assange Support Truck Driving Past Westminster Magistrates' Court - Sputnik International
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"But it's very, very heartening to see the New York Times coming forward, and it's out of no love for Julian Assange. It's out of their own self-interest, clearly, because they see that this is a precedent that's being set now with this indictment: that any news organization, in fact any citizen that possesses and disseminates classified information could be prosecuted," Lauria said. "I said any citizen, because if you retweet or you put on Facebook a classified document from WikiLeaks, you're also in possession of it, you are disseminating it. When a document that's classified comes into the public domain, the government still considers it to be classified — it's never been declassified — so they could prosecute anyone for doing this."

"But certainly the New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, any large news organization or small, that gets hold of classified information can be prosecuted under this. And what's troubling about this indictment, if you read it, is they are really just criminalizing routine acts of journalism," Lauria noted.

"The Espionage Act is global," Lauria pointed out, noting that a 1961 amendment extended the act beyond US territories. "So if the US wanted to indict the other newspapers and journalists for publishing WikiLeaks stuff that came from Manning through WikiLeaks to the Guardian, they could do that."

Noting that Assange has an upcoming extradition hearing in London to decide whether he'll be sent to the US to stand trial, Lauria said, "This might give them pause, because they will be siding with the US government to send a man to be tried for practicing journalism. So this might actually help him if it inhibits Britain from extraditing him." He also noted that a new British government might help Assange's situation.

WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange - Sputnik International
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In an April 28 story, the Post's Margaret Sullivan blasted Assange for WikiLeaks' publishing of the hacked DNC emails, lecturing them on how to "handle hacked information responsibly and thoughtfully" by drawing sharp contrasts with WikiLeaks' publishing of the document without commentary or pruning, and the practices of paragon of journalistic integrity BuzzFeed News (which has never, ever rushed to publish a story before verifying it before), the advice of a Columbia Journalism School professor and, by extension, the Post itself.

"In short: Don't publish weaponized gossip. Verify relentlessly. Nail down, and emphasize, the source of the hack and its motivation. And be transparent with news consumers," Sullivan says, "or be prepared to become, in that dreaded phrase, ‘the de facto instrument' of a foreign adversary's fondest hopes."

In other words, Assange deserves to be targeted by the US state, and even to be swept up in the false Russiagate narrative, because he published eye-opening things other news outlets wouldn't.

"They're trying to protect themselves," Lauria said. "They're saying, ‘He's doing something journalists don't do, therefore we're not doing this, therefore you're not going to be able to indict us for the same kinds of things.'"

Manning revealed her gender identity as a transgender female after being convicted and sentenced to 35 years in the military prison in July 2013 for leaking reams of war logs, diplomatic cables and battlefield video to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks in 2010. - Sputnik International
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Indeed, John Demers, the Justice Department's assistant attorney general for national security, told reporters Thursday Assange was "no journalist" but rather someone who engaged in "explicit solicitation of classified information."

Even further, a Friday piece by the Post's editorial board outright said, "We don't believe Mr. Assange's activities qualify as journalism, but the legal theory used against him could easily be applied to journalists."

"There is no law WikiLeaks broke" by publishing the names from the diplomatic cables contained in Manning's leaked documents, Lauria said, noting that two Guardian journalists published a password to the entire un-redacted Cablegate database, with source names in it that only intelligence agencies and governments could access, forcing Wikileaks to advance publication, in order to alert named informats to seek safety. 

"That is why they say he's not a journalist. That is why the Washington Post is saying, and the New York Times, by the way, when he was first arrested… said, ‘We don't do that, we're respectable journalists, we don't break into computers,' and now the Post is going to say, ‘We don't reveal the names of informants.'" Lauria noted.

Julian Assange, founder of the online leaking platform WikiLeaks, is seen through the eyepeace of a camera as he is displayed on a screen via a live video connection during a press conference on the platform's 10th anniversary on October 4, 2016 in Berlin - Sputnik International
Use of Espionage Act to Indict Assange a Threat to Journalism - US Senator

"So they're trying to defend, to protect themselves from future prosecution. But I don't think it's going to fly, necessarily."

Lauria also noted that publications like the Post opposed WikiLeaks' divulgences because of their own support for US militarism, including fanning the flames for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — wars in which WikiLeaks exposed the US engaging in war crimes.

"But now the Trump administration has gone too far with this indictment, and you've got a lot of people like the ACLU and others coming out. People here in Australia, Australian politicians, even the former foreign minister, Bob Carr, came out and said that they support Assange now," Lauria told Sputnik.

"Nobody in the Australian establishment here was saying anything in support of their own citizen, but suddenly this indictment has now caused some pretty right-wing [politicians] to come out in his defense, so this could be a positive thing if, in fact, everyone sees this for what it is."

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