On a personal level, the editors and reporters did not warm to him. He would turn up in their newsrooms wearing a stab vest and no shirt, tell lewd jokes, and make high-handed demands. They complained—sometimes in public. Yet these irritants were the least of their problems: News outlets quickly ran into serious ideological issues with Assange, primarily over the handling of material and how it would be redacted.
Bradley P. Moss: Julian Assange isn’t worth it
As an organization that believed in radical transparency, WikiLeaks wanted all the material in the public domain. Journalists, meanwhile, wanted to redact information from the reports that could put people named in them, most of whom had done nothing wrong, at risk. The clashes became bitter, but having handed over the material already, Assange was chained to what came to feel like a doomed marriage with his publishing partners.
This barely scratches the surface of the difficult relationships Assange has had with those he’s worked with. The real problems ran far deeper. As it rose in prominence thanks to the array of leaked documents, WikiLeaks internally had all but fallen apart. The six people who had done most of the work running the website had a major difference of opinion. It is telling that Assange, the sole holdout against what he saw as insubordination, was the one who stayed. That left WikiLeaks as a virtual one-man band, forced to bring in new acolytes largely in their early 20s (of which I was one) to run the show, a comically inexperienced team for a story that could not have been more complex.
All of which came before the most obvious of the impediments to working with Assange: In late 2010, he was arrested on allegations of sexual assault and rape—accusations he angrily denied, and which his supporters claimed were deep-state smears. Those working with, and for, him were now faced with trying to advance a story and a cause they believed in that were inextricably entwined with a man accused of serious sexual crimes.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, one of Assange’s close associates, introduced to me and other colleagues and associates as “Adam,” turned out in reality to be Israel Shamir, a pro-Putin anti-Semite who was photographed leaving the interior ministry of Belarus just days after being given 100,000 U.S. diplomatic cables. In a world that likes its morality to be black and white, that likes its heroes and villains to be distinct and discernible, Assange in 2010 gave no one what they wanted. He was both a confirmed annoyance and a possible criminal, but also a man who had enabled a new kind of journalistic collaboration and transparency, revealing previously unknown stories of the U.S. at war.
On the surface, Assange has since made himself easier to categorize. Despite his protestations that he was fleeing U.S. prosecution by taking sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, the case he was facing at the time came from Sweden, in connection to the rape and sexual-assault allegation against him. Having exhausted every legal avenue against extradition, Assange used the asylum process to evade arrest, denying two women their day in court. One case has been dropped. The other is unlikely to get going, as the U.S., which has filed charges of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, has taken precedence in extradition.