MSNBC.com reported Thursday that Julian Assange was hiding out in the Frontline Club, a club for journalists in London, where reporters "closed ranks and kept his whereabouts to themselves." That Assange "knew…he would be well-fed and, more importantly, safe" at the Frontline club demonstrates the bizarre affinity that journalists have for the Wikileaks founder.
Assange's mission is not journalism's mission. He sees no inherent value in truth; information is simply a means to his (very political) end. He doesn't want transparency; by his own admission, Wikileaks's endgame is opacity. He is not a reformer, he is a destroyer.
And yet UK Spectator writer Alex Massie proclaimed in one headline last month: "Yes, Julian Assange Is A Journalist." Massie wrote:
I don't have to agree with Assange's motives (or even his own, long-term desires) any more than I need agree with Daniel Ellsberg's politics to think that Wikileaks, like leaking the Pentagon Papers, constitutes a public service. (The Pentagon Papers, mind you, were much more significant and, actually, much more damning.)
Assange is "of course" a bad guy from the perspective of the Pentagon who'd much rather avoid this kind of scrutiny. But in this instance it's not obvious that Assange - even if he were an American - is required to put the putative interests of American (or British or even Australian) "national security" above all else; far less that he should presume that the public interest in how our wars are fought counts for almost nothing.
Is Assange "irresponsible"? I dare say he is. But not as irresponsible as those who permitted the torture of prisoners or the grisly abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and lord knows what else.
And that seems to be where journalists find common ground with Assange: he seeks transparency and accountability and to speak truth to power. Sure, he may be harming the national interest, but he's doing so simply out of a desire to keep politicians and the military (the people in charge of national security) honest - a journalist's task if there ever was one.
But then there's the problem that none of that is actually true. Assange has no interest in making the American political system more transparent or responsive. He does not want to keep the American government honest, he simply wants to destroy it - or at the very least, render it completely useless and ineffective - by forcing it to be opaque, secretive, and, eventually, unable to function.
But don't take my word for it. One need only read Assange himself to conclude that the man wants nothing short of the downfall of the American government, as Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz noted:
In 2006, Mr. Assange wrote a pair of essays, "State and Terrorist Conspiracies" and "Conspiracy as Governance." He sees the U.S. as an authoritarian conspiracy. "To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed," he writes. "Conspiracies take information about the world in which they operate," he writes, and "pass it around the conspirators and then act on the result."
His central plan is that leaks will restrict the flow of information among officials—"conspirators" in his view—making government less effective. Or, as Mr. Assange puts it, "We can marginalize a conspiracy's ability to act by decreasing total conspiratorial power until it is no longer able to understand, and hence respond effectively to its environment. . . . An authoritarian conspiracy that cannot think efficiently cannot act to preserve itself."
Berkeley blogger Aaron Bady last week posted a useful translation of these essays. He explains Mr. Assange's view this way: "While an organization structured by direct and open lines of communication will be much more vulnerable to outside penetration, the more opaque it becomes to itself (as a defense against the outside gaze), the less able it will be to 'think' as a system, to communicate with itself." Mr. Assange's idea is that with enough leaks, "the security state will then try to shrink its computational network in response, thereby making itself dumber and slower and smaller."…
Or as Mr. Assange told Time magazine last week, "It is not our goal to achieve a more transparent society; it's our goal to achieve a more just society." If leaks cause U.S. officials to "lock down internally and to balkanize," they will "cease to be as efficient as they were."
When the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, its stated objective was to make the federal government more transparent and more responsive in the hope that it would better serve the American people. Assange, on the other hand, wants to close the federal government, to make it more opaque and insulated until it can no longer serve the American people.
It's a bit ironic to see Massie and all the reporters at the Frontline Club, all of whom hail from a nation still living under the Official Secrets Act, rushing to the defense of a man who openly seeks the destruction of a government that guarantees press freedom, and all in the name of "journalism."
But then, reporters have always been suckers for the "underdog" narrative, even when it has meant supporting undesirables. Media love affairs with a Fidel Castro or a Hugo Chavez seem to have had more to do with their oppositional attitude towards the United States and other world powers. Of course if one examines the statements and writings from these figures, it usually becomes clear that they are despotic, narcissistic thugs.
The "one of us" attitude many reporters seem to have taken towards Assange is perhaps due more to the romanticism of his David v. Goliath conflict with the United States than to anything he has said or done. After all, when one examines his own stated objectives, it's fairly clear that he is not a journalist, and in fact that he seeks to use information as a destructive political tool (also known as propaganda), which runs directly counter to the core mission of journalism.