The Two Sides of the Assange Indictment

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been re-indicted with violations of the Espionage Act. Journalists reacted to this, predictably, with worry that it will portend more charges against journalists for publishing classified information that it’s in the public’s interest to know. The intelligence community and state department types reacted, again predictably, pointing out that WikiLeaks was willfully negligent in publishing, failing to protect sources and methods at all.

The answer lies in the middle, of course. Assange is utterly condemnable. WikiLeaks beside him. Both for their poor showing of integrity, and for their assistances of foreign governments to the detriment of reason and democracy. Meanwhile, the long-standing traditions of the First Amendment are not so easily abandoned. Bad actors, acting in bad faith, to do bad things, are still afforded the protection of that hallowed law.

While there should be obvious civil liabilities for publishers that do real harm to individuals, the bar for criminality must remain set at active participation in the illicit gathering of classified or otherwise private materials. While the indictment of Assange indicates the prosecutors believe there are instances of that, and they should be able to seek to convict on those counts, the acts of mere publication, however unwise, should be protected.

The fact of a despicable individual not having a book to be thrown at them does not grant them even a modicum of redemption. However much one may hold bloodlust for the deserts menu to be trotted out, however vengeful the public attitude, and however blueballed it may find itself, the facts of a person’s character remain unchanged. A scoundrel is not more so for wearing an orange jumpsuit, and many innocents have worn them or the stripes.

The integrity of Julian Assange depends upon him alone. The integrity of the First Amendment, infinitely more important and more valuable than Assange, depends on the collective effort to see it used as wisely as possible, but to see it defended against the overreach of prosecutors under any and all circumstances.


The governments of the world, employing confidential and covert sources and methods, would do well to properly compartmentalize that information so that no organization or individual could meaningfully corrupt their capabilities. The technical capabilities to mask documents and databases, to keep informants and operatives safe, must be taken as seriously as possible (including against the corrupt interests of a lunatical president and a pliant attorney general).

As damaging as the WikiLeaks releases have been (alongside other acts of espionage against the nation), they could have been far less so if the government and military did more to protect identities.

A Free Press

One of the biggest reasons the United States has advanced is that we have a strong media (endowed with the natural freedom of the press, with its recognition in the First Amendment) that has helped to keep corruption in check. Those who value liberty must value fact-based reporting of the state of our institutions and of the world.

Indeed, where the US has gone awry it is often coincidental with media failures. Think of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq as a good example. Fox News is another good example.

A year into the imitation presidency, with a president who cannot understand the role the nation has played, with its quest to move ever-forward, we continue to see attacks from a man that must always pretend to know what he is doing. And yet, the media continues to indulge his pretense. I could not count the number of editorials and op-eds that have called on the president to take some action or other, always failing to understand that this is not a White House equipped to take advice to heart.

There were a number of times when the media decided he was becoming presidential or sounding or appearing to be the man of the office. Ha!

But the presses roll on. They learn, which is why we need them. A self-governing nation must have a learning mechanism. It reviews the facts and attempts to keep the narrative on track: we still require good governance. We must strengthen the rule of law once again. We must take care of the planet. We have an obligation to our neighbors to help them better themselves. We must know the state of things to make sound economic decisions, too.

The press lets us know when abuses have come to light. They try to uncover abuses, they try to tell the story that our founders knew when they wrote amendments against police corruption, against military permanence, and against religious zealotry infecting government. Those that wish to wrap themselves in the Constitution while committing those sins should not be surprised as it constricts around them.

And the press will be there to report the tale.