By Roxana K.
Bill Keller of the New York Times has spilled the secrets about his paper’s dealings with Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/30/magazine/30Wikileaks-t.html?hp). The story serves as an introduction to Open Secrets: War and American Diplomacy, an e-book on the Wikileaks disclosures that the Times is publishing next week. In the introduction, Keller writes about how Wikileaks approached the Guardian to collaborate, how the Guardian brought in the Times.
“Over the next few days, Schmitt huddled in a discreet office at The Guardian, sampling the trove of war dispatches and discussing the complexities of this project: how to organize and study such a voluminous cache of information; how to securely transport, store and share it; how journalists from three very different publications would work together without compromising their independence; and how we would all assure an appropriate distance from Julian Assange. We regarded Assange throughout as a source, not as a partner or collaborator, but he was a man who clearly had his own agenda.
Mr. Keller writes how they all tried to keep “an appropriate distance” from Assange. He calls Assange “a source” knowing well the implication of such characterization when the US government is building a case against Assange. Keller indirectly incriminates the man who brought the most important story of his editorial life while exonerating himself. Keller does not seem to be satisfied by exposing Asange to criminal liability but goes further and attacks his character in the most sophomoric fashion:
“ [Times reporter Eric] Schmitt told me that for all Assange’s bombast and dark conspiracy theories, he had a bit of Peter Pan in him. One night, when they were all walking down the street after dinner, Assange suddenly started skipping ahead of the group. Schmitt and Goetz stared, speechless. Then, just as suddenly, Assange stopped, got back in step with them and returned to the conversation he had interrupted.
Why is this an important part of Keller’s reporting? What dark secrets did the skipping reveal to Keller? Keller has more to opine. Apparently, he was much offended by Assange’s style and hygiene.
“When Schmitt, who served as the paper’s point man for the Wikileaks relationship, first met Assange, he was “like a bag lady walking in off the street, wearing a dingy, light-colored sport coat and cargo pants, dirty white shirt, beat-up sneakers and filthy white socks that collapsed around his ankles. He smelled as if he hadn’t bathed in days.
The piece is a fascinating read on how Keller’s personal details of his encounter with Assange shed much light on Keller’s personal contempt for the Wikileaks’ founder. I assume that this is how Mr. Keller would like to express his appreciation of a man who did him an invaluable service by that is with snide remarks of a cool boy who denies that he was ever friends with the nerdy boy who sat next to him on the school bus and helped him with his homework for a whole year. I like that nerdy kid, Mr. Keller, he has much more guts and courage that you will ever have.
Here’s an illustration of the difference between what Wikileaks is trying to accomplish and the way an establishment institution like the Times works. Regardless of how Keller tries to spin, The Times didn’t just alert the State Department to the contents of the cables it hoped to use, it essentially collaborated with the government by hosting shadow censorship panels.
“Subsequent meetings, which soon gave way to daily conference calls, were more businesslike. Before each discussion, our Washington bureau sent over a batch of specific cables that we intended to use in the coming days. They were circulated to regional specialists, who funneled their reactions to a small group at State, who came to our daily conversations with a list of priorities and arguments to back them up. We relayed the government’s concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets.
Mr. Keller, I would like to thank you for your snide remarks and patronizing voice and the shameless use of the materials given to you by a man who put his life in line to hand them over to you. I wish you much success with your e-book and I think you should donate a large portion of it to Julian Assange defense fund just so you don’t have to deal with Karma for years to come. You might want to consider that many of us prefer the ethics of a truly independent publishing outpost of Wikileaks and courage of a man who is not afraid to skip or wear worn-out clothes. Finally, your lack of courage is making radical transparency as advocated by Wikileaks an urgent matter.