Is Julian Assange a journalist, a whistleblower, or a thief?
Before being implicated in the acquisition and release of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s emails in 2016, Assange and WikiLeaks published diplomatic cables and video footages of an airstrike that killed two Reuters photographers, provided by Chelsea Manning.
WikiLeaks describes itself as a “media organization” that “specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying, and corruption.”
For argument’s sake, let’s assume that WikiLeaks is a “news organization.” If so, are Assange and his cohorts journalists?
Journalists don’t need a license to practice like doctors, lawyers, and barbers. Neither do reporters have to take an exam like certified public accountants and truck drivers.
As a result, there is no legal definition of a journalist. Congress has failed to do just that. A few years ago, Sen. Chuck Schumer tried to define a journalist as a person who does the following:
…with the primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information regularly gathers information (quotes, photos, documents) through interviews, direct observation, or analysis, and tends to disseminate that information as it is being gathered, and plans to disseminate it via broadcast, print, or electronically.
The key part of the definition that exudes Assange and WikiLeaks is that neither gathers information through interviews, direct observation, or analysis. Assange and his group get material from leakers and via hacking databases.
Moreover, journalists have no special standing under the law. If reporters engage in criminal activity, they face the same penalties as anyone.
For example, in 2000, author James Sanders was convicted of conspiring to steal seat fabric from the wreckage of TWA Flight 800 as part of his investigation into the cause of the explosion. His claim that the prosecution was selective and vindictive, designed to punish him for challenging the official explanation for the crash, didn’t fly with the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
At about the same time, freelance reporter Larry Matthews found out that the First Amendment was no defense when he was charged with trafficking in child pornography while researching a story. The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to allow Matthews to argue that he didn’t intend to break any law but was only gathering news.
The U.S. government has charged Assange with computer intrusion conspiracy for helping Manning access Department of Defense materials. As a result, he engaged in a crime and any standing as a journalist does not matter.
Finally, is Assange a whistleblower as he’s often portrayed in the media?
Assange did not discover or disclose wrongdoings as an insider. Rather he received information from whistleblowers and published it. His methods are different from journalists in that he usually puts out everything or provides the information to other media.
As a result, he does not qualify as a whistleblower under U.S. law, with the protections these statutes provide.
As I put it many years ago, Assange is an internet terrorist whom I hope will face justice as soon as possible.