Posted on: January 14, 2011 11:36 AM, by Ed Brayton

McClatchy has an article about the lack of support that Julian Assange is getting from journalists in the United States despite the obvious danger that any prosecution of him might pose to them.

The freedom of the press committee of the Overseas Press Club of America in New York City declared him “not one of us.” The Associated Press, which once filed legal briefs on Assange’s behalf, refuses to comment about him. And the National Press Club in Washington, the venue less than a year ago for an Assange news conference, has decided not to speak out about the possibility that he’ll be charged with a crime.With a few notable exceptions, it’s been left to foreign journalism organizations to offer the loudest calls for the U.S. to recognize WikiLeaks’ and Assange’s right to publish under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

The danger to journalists from any prosecution of Assange is obvious to anyone with a pulse. Some of the most important work ever done in American journalism was based on leaked classified information. Imagine if the New York Times could have been prosecuted for publishing the Pentagon Papers, which revealed lies from the government on the Vietnam war that resulted in 2-3 million deaths.

We would not know of the existence of the Bush administration’s warrangless wiretap program if the Times had not been leaked classified information and published it. Indeed, there are a great many things we would not know about our own government’s unconstitutional behavior if not for classified leaks — and undoubtedly a great many more unconstitutional actions being undertaken that we do not yet know about because they have not been leaked.

The indispensable Glenn Greenwald explains why so many journalists remain unsupportive of Assange:

Greenwald said he thinks journalists aren’t rallying to defend WikiLeaks because it has no building, no ties to the U.S. and doesn’t feel obliged to consult with the U.S. government before publishing. The issue, he said, is that American journalists too often befriend the government and seek its approval for their work.Besides, he said, the Constitution protects everyone’s right to publish.

“What matters is the activity itself and not who the person is. Bob Woodward is no more entitled to publish classified information than some random person out of the phone book,” Greenwald said.

I agree. But I think there’s a bit more to it than that. I think it’s also because Assange is viewed as a threat by some journalists, not to the country but to their jobs. It’s quite similar to the reaction of many journalists to bloggers doing real investigative journalism. Many journalists view blogs as a threat to the old boys club of ink-stained wretches — and they’re right. The last few years has made that clear.

It’s the same reason, I think, that the Michigan Messenger got zero support from other news organizations when we got shut out of the Michigan Republican convention two years ago. If that had been the Detroit Free Press or a Booth or Newhouse publication that had been shut out there would have been a unified protest of the whole thing. But we were dismissed as a “mere blog” — despite our award-winning work and our membership with the Society of Professional Journalists and adherence to their code of ethics.

It’s the same reason we have to fight tooth and nail to get credentials in some of the states we’re in. The old boys club of journalists don’t like it when interlopers who didn’t come up the same way they did horn in on their work.

But the reality is that if they do not defend the work of bloggers and of Assange, they will soon find themselves in the crosshairs of the DOJ as well. It is not possible to prosecute Assange for leaking classified documents without also making Bob Woodward a target too. And James Risen. And all of us, ultimately.


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