'Modern fascism is breaking cover': Journalists react to Assange Espionage Act charges
The US government’s indictment of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange on 17 additional charges under the Espionage Act has shocked and horrified journalists who are calling it an unprecedented attack on press freedom.
The new indictment claims Assange endangered the lives of individuals working for the US government when Wikileaks published leaked documents received from intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010. Under the draconian Espionage Act, which has never before been used against a journalist publishing classified information, Assange faces up to 10 years in prison for each charge.
“Assange was complicit with Chelsea Manning…in unlawfully obtaining and disclosing classified documents related to the national defense,” the Department of Justice said in a statement, while National Security Division head John Demers insisted “Julian Assange is no journalist.”
Actual journalists, however, were horrified by the “unprecedented assault on the First Amendment.”
This is the first time in history that anyone operating in a journalistic capacity has been charged under the Espionage Act. If you claim to be an advocate for “press freedom” yet cheer this outrageous, unprecedented assault on the First Amendment, you’re just a complete idiot
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) May 23, 2019
“This is the first time in history that anyone operating in a journalistic capacity has been charged under the Espionage Act,” Michael Tracey tweeted, adding in another tweet that the charges represented “the gravest attack on the First Amendment in years — possibly ever.” Even the Obama administration, which prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined, ultimately opted not to pursue charges against Assange, concerned such prosecution would violate the First Amendment.
John Pilger didn’t mince words, declaring “Modern fascism is breaking cover” and warning mainstream media that they were next.
The war on Julian #Assange is now a war on all. Eighteen absurd charges including espionage send a burning message to every journalist, every publisher. The target today is #Assange. Tomorrow it will be you on the New York Times, you on the BBC. Modern fascism is breaking cover.
— John Pilger (@johnpilger) May 23, 2019
The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald highlighted the hypocrisy of mainstream media “proclaiming to be so very concerned about attacks on a free press” while remaining mute on Assange’s prosecution – or even cheering it on.
All those who spent the last 2+ years proclaiming to be so very concerned about attacks on a free press will now have to decide whether they really meant it, or whether – due to feelings about Assange – they will cheer the Trump Administration’s frontal assault on press freedom: https://t.co/4yW1DB58wP
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 23, 2019
It’s sick to watch liberals cheer the prosecution of Assange by Trump’s Justice Department, headed by William “Exonerate the Iran Contra Criminals” Barr, as though this prosecution is not a massive attack on press freedom, rather some gotcha about the 2016 election. It’s deranged
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) May 23, 2019
WikiLeaks called it “the end of national security journalism and the first amendment, while NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden affirmed the case was much bigger than Assange, warning that it “will decide the future of media.”
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Even some mainstream media journalists finally seemed to realize the gravity of the situation.
BREAKING: In a stunning escalation of the war on the free press, the Trump administration has indicted a publisher for revealing government secrets. https://t.co/8E95whChki
— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) May 23, 2019
The Espionage indictment of Assange for publishing is an extremely dangerous, frontal attack on the free press. Bad, bad, bad.
— Chris Hayes (@chrislhayes) May 23, 2019
“What happens to Assange today can happen to the NYT or WaPo tomorrow,” investigative journalist James Ball tweeted.
As I have said in other tweets: this is unprecedented (or close to it), and what happens to Assange today can happen to the NYT or WaPo tomorrow. This is dangerous, dangerous territory.
The argument for the UK to reject extradition just got much stronger. https://t.co/Z52hjbv2NO
— James Ball (@jamesrbuk) May 23, 2019
Countless organizations confirmed that Julian #Assange is a journalist. It is undeniable. A journalist, registered. A publisher, awarded. The case against @wikileaks is a threat against investigative journalism, globally.
— Renata Avila (@avilarenata) May 23, 2019
Jeffrey St. Clair of CounterPunch made an important distinction between Wikileaks’ journalism and the mainstream media, however: “Assange has had to issue fewer corrections than the NYT and none of his stories has helped launch a war.“
If Assange’s journalism helped launch wars, I’m sure he would be safe
— Karen Kline (@ConsiderThis1) May 23, 2019
I get the point, but don’t think we can minimize the fact that this is very much a war on Wikileaks and Assange. They’ve exposed the crimes of the powerful in ways other media orgs haven’t; accordingly, according to the powerful, they must be destroyed. https://t.co/YxfJjYEVer
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) May 23, 2019
Assange was arrested last month upon his eviction from the Ecuadorean embassy in London. He is currently serving 50 months for an eight-year-old bail-jumping charge, having sought asylum in the embassy in 2012 out of concern that sexual assault charges levied against him by the Swedish government were a pretense for extradition to the US.
A US indictment unsealed last month charged him with conspiring with Manning to unlawfully access a government computer, but other whistleblowers warned other charges would follow.
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