Desert Sage

Julian Assange’s shadow lingers over press


WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a U.S. courtroom this week to exercise his part of a plea deal, copping to a felony violation under the Espionage Act, connected to the publication of sensitive (and embarrassing) government documents pertaining to our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He iwas then sentenced to time served and released from the British prison that had held him since 2019. 

A lush spectrum of feeling has persisted about Julian Assange over the 15 years since his website actively solicited leaked information. At the outer limits, he has been hailed as a hero and martyr for the free flow of information, and villainized as a national security threat, a nihilist, a stooge for the Putin regime.

Defending Assange’s activities as journalism excluded considerations of the industry’s ethical standards and practices – a point seized upon by prosecutors. Journalism is more than dumping sensitive documents on a website, without context, without mitigation of potential harm, vetting of sources and other aspects of the news gathering process.

But here’s the rub: The federal indictment of Assange alleges a number of legitimate activities by journalists, such as talking to sources over encrypted channels and asking for government documents, are acts of espionage worthy of prosecution. The plea deal means that will not be tested in a court of law, for now.

As the Freedom of the Press Foundation argues, in the end it does not matter whether one recognizes Assange as a journalist. His case will still cast a shadow over press freedoms worldwide. 

Opinion, Julian Assange’s