The New York Times doesn’t think too highly of Julian Assange.Bill Keller, executive editor of the NYT, penned a blockbuster essay for this Sunday’s Times Magazine, where he calls Assange “elusive, manipulative, and volatile… and ultimately openly hostile,” and then likens him (derisively) to a character in a Stieg Larrson novel:
A man who could figure either as hero or villain in one of the megaselling Swedish novels that mix hacker counterculture, high-level conspiracy and sex as both recreation and violation.
He also quotes an email from Eric Schmitt (from the NYT Washington bureau) that describes some of his first impressions of Assange as “like a bag lady walking in off the street… He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.”
Then a far more serious accusation: Keller says when “relations between the news organisations and WikiLeaks were rocky, at least three people associated with this project had inexplicable activity in their e-mail that suggested someone was hacking into their accounts.”
Apart from his sharply unflattering portrait of Assange, here are the key points Keller makes about the NYT’s entire WikiLeaks deal:
- Aside from a (commonplace) embargo on when the NYT could publish articles on leaked documents, Assange imposed no conditions on what the NYT wrote about them.
- Assange asked Guardian not to share its third WikiLeaks dump with the NYT (after things got rocky) but due partly to rogue leaks, Guardian concluded it could share the cables anyways.
- The Obama administration condemned WikiLeaks, but did not seek an injunction to halt publication. There has been no serious talk of pursuing news organisations in courts.
- The NYT tried to excise information that might harm people, but largely dismissed U.S. government concerns about information that might just embarrass people.
- Keller thinks Assange’s claims that “he served as a kind of puppet master” over NYT and other news organisations is “bollocks.”
- While he does not consider WikiLeaks “journalism,” Keller does not think it should be prosecuted, and finds the U.S. government too promiscuous in employing secrecy.
- Keller thinks the impact of WikiLeaks has been “overblown,” and news organisations have been publishing the same sort of documents as long as they’ve existed.
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