Julian Assange & the News Cycle: Guantanamo Bay Info Starts With WikiLeaks


Earlier today, we reported on the new information available about Guantanamo Bay, as some of the world’s largest news organizations began publishing piles of previously classified documents about more than 700 prisoners detained there since 2002. The information was leaked to Julian Assange and his WikiLeaks organization, but the New York Times and the Guardian, both of which pissed off Assange personally and have ended their working relationships with the polarizing figure, also had scoops of their own based on the same info, adding a complex media component to an already multifaceted story. Yes, Obama promised to close Guantanamo and hasn’t, all while human rights violations continue, but in Press Clips, our daily media column, we’ll spell out the behind-the-scenes drama in publishing this week’s leak.

GITMO Go-Around: At The Huffington Post, Michael Calderone has the story of the New York Times‘ maneuvering, wherein they received the GITMO documents WikiLeaks has been holding since at least late last year from a non-WikiLeaks source and brought in NPR and the Guardian to help make them public. (The head of NPR’s investigative branch used to run the Times‘ Guantanamo page, while the Guardian gifted the Times the last WikiLeaks drop they were left out of.)

This time, though, the Times‘ dealings with an outside source made the whole thing a race. “WikiLeaks is not our source,” Times executive editor Bill Keller told HuffPo. “We got the material with no embargo,” he said, referring to Assange’s rules on when partnering publications can run with their WikiLeaks-provided stories.

This time, WikiLeaks was working with publications like the Washington Post and the McClatchy newspaper chain, as well as the Telegraph in the U.K. The Telegraph moved first with their Guantanamo story on Sunday when WikiLeaks lifted the embargo, sending all of the other publications flying into action.

WikiLeaks blamed disgruntled ex-employee Daniel Domscheit-Berg, endless source of Assange gossip, for setting off the race, but boasted winning anyway.

At Gawker, though, John Cook complicates the story further by blaming — what else — Assange’s egoism and instincts toward self-preservation. Assange, according to Cook, is actually holding on to most of the information he has:

Wikileaks’ own headline–“The Guantanamo Files: 779 classified prisoner dossiers revealed from the world’s most notorious prison”–is a lie. ‎Wikileaks has only teased 80 of the files it claims to have, promising that the rest “will be released daily over the coming month.” It made a similar promise with the 250,000 classified diplomatic cables that it never actually released–so far, 7,579, or 3% of the total, have been released. The rest remain, for all intents and purposes, classified. When it comes to the Gitmo files and the cables, Assange is an agent of secrecy, not its enemy.

Bradley Manning, the U.S. private in military custody for leaking to Assange, may very well be WikiLeaks’ only valuable source for now. Cook writes:

…Assange has come to view the unpublished bits of Manning’s cache as, literally, insurance. That’s what he called the 1.4 gigabyte encrypted file he posted to Wikileaks last year, just a month before allegations of rape surfaced against him in Sweden. The clear implication was that if anything happens to him–like, say, extradition to Sweden to face the aforementioned charges–a password would be distributed and the file made public. With each new disclosure, that insurance file affords him less and less leverage, which explains his reluctance to follow Manning’s wishes and actually disclose information.

Read the rest here.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has done all it can to distance itself from Assange in recent months because of these very issues — rape charges, controlling rules on what can be published when — but as the Atlantic Wire points out today, “on 63 days so far this year the paper’s reporters have relied on WikiLeaks documents as sources for their stories.” With each organization so intertwined, it becomes harder to separate international news from WikiLeaks, and therefore, from Julian Assange, no matter your thoughts on the man. The Times making moves without him seems a move toward independence, but if Domscheit-Berg indeed took the Guantanamo files when he left, it’s still Assange near the beginning of this chain that’s making it all move.

Couric Still Quitting: Katie Couric is quitting just like everyone knew she would; 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley is set to replace her. Only about six more reports on this until it’s actually official.

Mr. Monopoly: Dan Abrams’s blog network (where I once worked) added its seventh site today in Mogulite, charged with covering “the ultra-wealthy and powerful.” Amy Tennery is running the show with Peter Lauria as a consulting editor. It may be the prettiest Abrams site yet, save all of the hideous, old white men on the homepage. (They’re probably not going anywhere, though we’ll welcome the Oprah stories when they come.)

Today in Corrections: It’s not just your annoying emailing uncle — The Onion‘s jokes accurate enough to fool the New York Times too.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 25, 2011

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