It’s not a stretch to say that few people are disliked more within media circles than WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Yet with the news that Trump’s Justice Department has filed secret charges against him, the rights of many journalists who despise Assange may also hang in the balance.
It’s still unclear what charges the Justice Department is bringing against Assange, who has lived under diplomatic protection in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the past six years. But if the secret charges implicate any of WikiLeaks’ publishing activities, it could ironically be just the precedent the Trump administration needs to directly go after journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post.
With that in mind, I recently spoke to James Goodale — the famed First Amendment lawyer and former general counsel the New York Times, who led the paper’s legal team in the famed Pentagon Papers case — about the dire impact the Justice Department’s move may have on press freedom, regardless of whether people consider Assange himself a “journalist.”
James Goodale: When I wrote the book pointing out the dangers to the First Amendment if Assange was prosecuted, I made it my business to see if I could gin up support within the media/press community to stick up for his rights, since his rights would affect everyone else’s. I had occasion to speak to many groups in connection with the promotion of my book. Every time I mentioned the fact that establishment press should advocate for Assange’s rights, I heard hoots of laughter or people shouting at me that I didn’t understand the journalism profession.
I was dismayed that I got very few converts in the journalistic community that would take my position that it was necessary to support Assange — not for Assange himself, but for the First Amendment.
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