Of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and the Selectively Curious Media

(AP Photo/Marco Garcia, File)

Back in 1996, a year known as the one when people should have voted for Bob Dole but didn’t, Tracy Bonham made her big splash on the music charts with a song featuring a chorus detailing personal woes, concluding with her sardonically screaming, “Everything’s fine.”

The song came to mind while reading a recent post by whistleblower Edward Snowden about Julian Assange of WikiLeaks infamy, titled Everything Going Great.

After a lengthy and somewhat rambling preamble regarding bad faith’s meaning, Snowden gets to his point, namely that the U.S. attempt to extradite Assange is a direct attack on freedom of the press.

I agree with my friends (and lawyers) at the ACLU: the U.S. government’s indictment of Assange amounts to the criminalization of investigative journalism. And I agree with myriad friends (and lawyers) throughout the world that at the core of this criminalization is a cruel and unusual paradox: namely, the fact that many of the activities that the U.S. government would rather hush up are perpetrated in foreign countries, whose journalism will now be answerable to the U.S. court system. And the precedent established here will be exploited by all manner of authoritarian leaders across the globe. What will be the State Department’s response when the Republic of Iran demands the extradition of New York Times reporters for violating Iran’s secrecy laws? How will the United Kingdom respond when Viktor Orban or Recep Erdogan seeks the extradition of Guardian reporters? The point is not that the U.S. or U.K. would ever comply with those demands — of course they wouldn’t — but that they would lack any principled basis for their refusals.

One can make the argument that Assange isn’t a journalist but rather a cyberspace raconteur seeking whatever potentially embarrassing information — against whichever government or institution strikes his fancy — is obtainable through any available means for self-aggrandizing purposes. This delves into the question of when, if ever, it is acceptable for journalists to illegally obtain material for a story or use material obtained unlawfully. The answer shouldn’t involve whoever is in office and thus may be hurt by such revelations. But let’s get real. Hunter Biden’s laptop, anyone?

In Snowden’s view, by not fully supporting Assange, the media is declaring itself guilty of the same crimes for which Assange is charged, thus worthy of the same punishment.

Obfuscation, withholding, meaning-manipulation, meaning-denial — these are just some of the ways in which some journalists, and not just American journalists, have conspired, yes, conspired to convict Assange in absentia, and, by extension, to convict their own profession — to convict themselves.

While the thought of seeing any given CNN or MSNBC reporter being hauled away in handcuffs because they reported something they weren’t supposed to know–this as opposed to their specialty of reporting that about which they know so much that isn’t so–is delicious it also brings up a chilling point.

Our government’s taste in going against people reporting inconvenient truths is most selective. The Obama administration and James Rosen, his inability to keep his hands to himself notwithstanding. The 2021 edition of the FBI harassing Project Veritas reporters in general and James O’Keefe in particular. The Trump administration hurting White House pool reporters’ feelings. (One of these things is not like the other, but don’t tell Brian Stelter and company that.)

If we had honest media dedicated to the truth and not the narrative, it would be rallying around Julian Assange. This is not the case. Instead of being infected with the omicron variant of COVID, the media is infected with omertà. When the worm turns against the worms, the cost will be high. In ignoring Julian Assange’s plight because the Democrats were the ones embarrassed by his actions, the media sets itself up to have no one to blame but itself when the government comes down hard at the release of classified (read: embarrassing) material.