The battle between Julian Assange and New York Times executive editor Bill Keller took place in person — well, almost — over the weekend, for the first time since Keller escalated the beef in a New York Times Magazine tell-all. (There, he called Assange “arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous,” and said he smelled bad.) At U.C. Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Symposium, though, Assange made his presence known via Skype, while Keller too participated in the discussion moderated by Slate’s Jack Shafer. SF Weekly‘s Matt Smith was there and has a run-down of the media drama, including an accusation from Assange that the Times buckled to please Pentagon’s in a seemingly unethical way.
First, though, Shafer stirred the bad blood by asking Keller about his pejorative description of Assange:
“We weren’t writing an academic report — it was a story,” Keller said. “That was information the reporter brought to me, and it was used as color.”
But Assange soon got to more substantive issues, claiming Keller and the Times insisted that WikiLeaks publish information before the Paper of Record, in Smith’s words, “in order to preserve the appearance that the newspaper was keeping Assange at arm’s length as a source of information no different than any other. The reason for this, Assange alleged, was that the Times wished to avoid looking like it was involved in a conspiracy to unveil secret information and possibly violate the Espionage Act.”
“Their role is to hold powerful organizations into account,” Assange preached. “It is not to cover up.”
Keller, in his Assange story, wrote, “Assange provided us the data on the condition that we not write about it before specific dates that WikiLeaks planned on posting,” or the complete opposite of Assange’s claim over the weekend. At Berkeley, Keller insisted he merely gave the government a chance to comment before publishing the story, as is customary at an institution like the Times.