February 21, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Chris Spannos:
Bill Keller’s latest screed against Julian Assange, “WikiLeaks, a Postscript,” can be summarized as four paragraphs of jealousy, three paragraphs of character assassination, and eight paragraphs of misinformation and State Department bullet dodging—mostly repeated from previous columns and accusations over the past year but with a few new sprinkles of vitriol thrown in.
It would be sad for Keller, former Executive Editor of the New York Times, to complain about the attention Assange receives, if Keller didn’t use his own privileged position as Op-Ed columnist at the world’s most powerful paper in such opprobrious ways.
In yesterday’s column, Keller continues to abuse his platform. He expresses his personal jealousies in a one-up game of “I’m as famous as you are,” trying to gain points with how many WikiLeaks related talks he’s given (and turned down) including an “after-hours prowl through the Prado Museum and a 27-course meal” in Madrid.
After Keller discharges his vanity for all readers to see, he continues his tired misinformation campaign about Assange, writing that he is fighting “extradition to Sweden on sexual abuse charges.” Keller certainly knows that Assange is wanted in Sweden for questioning but hasn’t been charged with anything. Assange has, however, agreed to be questioned over the allegations via video link, or other remote means, from the United Kingdom.
Keller’s attack on Assange is reminiscent of a schoolyard bully seeking attention. The critical difference being that Keller is an adult in a very powerful position. When this bully throws the less powerful, in this case a recent source, under a bus it means the threat of extradition, solitary confinement, or life imprisonment—punishments which Keller and his paper have helped serve upon Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and any other potential whistleblower or publisher of state secrets.
From his Op-Ed perch Keller parrots old lies about Assange, “He compiled many hours of interviews for an autobiography, then backed out of the project, but his publisher … published it over his objections.”
On September 22, 2011 Assange publicly stated in a press release available from the WikiLeaks’ website, that, contrary to what others reported,
“I did not pull the plug on the deal, nor was I unwilling to compromise. Rather, I proposed on 7 June 2011 to cancel the contract as it stood in order to write up a fresh contract with a new deadline. I informed the publishers of this on 7 June 2011, having explained that with the upcoming extradition appeal in the High Court and an ongoing espionage Grand Jury against me in Virginia, I was not in a position to dedicate my full attention to a book that would narrate my personal story and my life’s work. On 9 June 2011 I received an email from my agency, PFD, informing me that the US and UK publishers (Knopf and Canongate) were interested in renegotiating the form of the book, and insisting on canceling the contract as it stood: ‘The primary publishers [Canongate and Knopf] very much like this idea [of changing the book agreed to in the contract into documentary form] and understand that we cannot address this until after 12 July [the first day of the extradition appeal]… Both Jamie [Byng] and Sonny [Mehta, from US publisher Knopf] (who is here at the moment) insisted on cancelling the existing contract.’ It is this contract, that had been agreed to be cancelled by all parties, that Canongate is basing its actions on.
In a meeting on 20 May 2011 with Canongate publisher Jamie Byng, I verbally agreed to deliver the agreed 100,000-150,000 word manuscript by the end of the year. In a recorded phone conversation on (or the day before or after) 15 June 2011, Jamie Byng gave me assurances that Canongate would never, contrary to rumours given to me, publish the book without my consent. We would agree to restructure the book and the deadline, and draw up a new contract. In correspondence (24 August 2011) my agent wrote: “We are going to arrange for you to have a one-to-one meeting with Jamie [Byng]… I think we could aim for a Spring 2012 publication and work a timetable that gets us there, but that’s between Jamie and you…. we can discuss a new payment schedule but they will need considerable assurances that the book will be delivered to them to publish.” However, Jamie Byng ignored my agent’s attempts to arrange a meeting with me. My agent then informed me that Jamie Byng would refuse to take any of my calls. Despite this I and two members of my team tried repeatedly to contact him through calls, messages on his voicemail, and text messages leading up to and on 5 September 2011. He did not reply to any of our attempts to contact him. During all this time we were unaware of Canongate’s secret plan to publish the manuscript without consent.
After Keller carefully places Assange’s personality in the crosshairs and pulls the trigger—again—, he begins his state apologetics by accusing WikiLeaks of not adequately protecting individuals at risk of reprisals following the publication of cables exposing their identity:
What we cannot know for sure is the fate of the many informants, dissidents, activists and bystanders quoted in the American cables. Assange published source names over the strong objections of the journalists who had access to the data (we expunged the names from our reports) and to the horror of human rights groups and some of his WikiLeaks colleagues.
Numorouse people, including Assange, have responded to this assertion that WikiLeaks was not careful enough time-and-time again. Earlier this month NYT eXaminer pointed out that in its press conference concerning the Iraq War Logs in London, Wikileaks took pains to highlight their extensive redaction process,
“The process started with the assumption that every word in every document was sensitive and then sought to uncover those deemed unequivocally safe. The remainder were subject to legal and other advice. Keller’s depiction of The Times and the U.S. Government as taking the sensible approach to ensuring the protection of individuals seeks to undermine the work that Wikileaks did to try and ensure the protection of individuals.”
Keller is concerned more with how WikiLeaks’ cables “complicate the lives of U.S. diplomats” than with human rights, corruption, and abuses of political power.
Keller argues that “The most palpable legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the U.S. government is more secretive than ever.” However, it is arguable that these assertions are more accurate when directed at Keller and the New York Times. Sources are more unsafe, and less likely to come forward. And, if the government is more secretive than ever, or becomes so, it is because Keller and The Times didn’t have the backbone to use their tremendous institutional power for truth and social justice.
When NYT eXaminer asked Assange why he thought Keller and others at The Times were attacking him, he said:
The New York Times was trying to deflect the incoming fire towards me by doing that and saying, ‘look, he’s not our man. We don’t support him. In fact we are publicly displaying that we are attacking him.’
It’s not merely that they saw WikiLeaks as a social competitor, a professional competitor, and therefore needed to try to diminish us. Rather, I think it is that the New York Times felt that it needed to demonstrate that it was hostile in order to preserve its own institutional power.
Similarly, when they wrote about the Afghan War Logs publications that the Whitehouse was ‘pleased’ with them—that word ‘pleased’—that’s a demonstration that the Whitehouse was pleased with them. It’s not news. It’s nothing to say by itself. Rather it’s to show perceived allegiance. And they were demonstrating their allegiance by conducting such a smear and similarly with the other ones that they’ve done.
Which is fascinating that the New York Times feels that it is within such a vulnerable position in the United States—that it has to do moves like that. In other cases I think it is corruption. The New York Times is attacking us because they see us as a social competitor in some way.
Chris Spannos is Editor of NYT eXaminer. Chris wrote a related piece earlier this month, “The Fourth Estate Forfeiting Its Own Press Freedoms: WikiLeaks & The New York Times” that goes into much greater depth and detail.