WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has called the New York Times “pusillanimous”
and “unprofessional” after the publication chose not to link to the
leaked Afghan war log documents directly. NYT chastised the whistle-blowing site for
putting people at risk, including the lives of hundreds of Afghan
“The debate began this morning when Assange took a couple shots at The Times in an interview with Amy Goodman on her show “Democracy Now.” He faulted the paper for failing to link to Wikileaks’ voluminous archive of secrets and for giving the White House too much say over what The Times should print. Wikileaks had designated The Times as one of three media outlets for its massive dump of Afghan war secrets published on Sunday.”
“Assange slept on the couch of one reporter. He huddled in a conference room at The Guardian’s London offices explaining his cache of documents to reporters with The Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel. Assange delayed publication of the state secrets to allow the reporters to investigate the documents he obtained. This tale of camaraderie, told by Assange in the past few days, has rubbed some reporters the wrong way.
““[W]e were not in any kind of partnership or collaboration with him,” The New York Times’ Eric Schmitt told the Columbia Journalism Review. “This was a source relationship. He’s making it sound like this was some sort of journalistic enterprise between WikiLeaks, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel, and that’s not what it was.” “
Assange didn’t like checking with the White House before publication, as the NYT did, he told Goodman:
“[H]ow the American press tends to deal with government agencies prior to publication and the standards that we have and the standards the European press has, we don’t see that an organization that is—we don’t see, in the case of a story where an organization has engaged in some kind of abusive conduct and that story is being revealed, that it has a right to know the story before the public, a right to know the story before the victims, because we know that what happens in practice is that that is just extra lead time to spin the story.”
“But we aren’t totally happy about the way that the Times has sort of defensively written. That does seem a little bit unprofessional. So, as an example, the New York Times stated that it chose not to link to our website. I mean, it is just ridiculous. The public can see that and Google it, if they want. If the New York Times, for whatever reason, wants to not link to WikiLeaks for its own defensive politics, then it can do that, and it’s perfectly entitled to. But to deliberately say that that is being avoided smacks of unprofessional conduct, to me. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s been approved by the editor to do that, but it does seem to be quite pusillanimous to be engaging in that kind of defensive conduct, instead of pursuing the real meat of the story.”
In an e-mail to The Daily Beast, NYT‘s editor Bill Keller wrote:
“Since we normally do link to source data that we have used in our stories, we thought readers were entitled to know that the absence of a link was intentional, not some oversight, and to know the reason for it.
“In our own publication, in print and on our website, we were careful to remove anything that could put lives at risk. We could not be sure that the trove posted on WikiLeaks, even with some 15,000 documents held back, would not endanger lives. And, in fact, as we will be reporting in tomorrow’s paper, our subsequent search of the material posted on WikiLeaks found many names of Afghan informants who could now be targets of reprisals by the insurgents. (The Times of London has done a similar search.)”
“Assange released the information to three mainstream news organizations because we had the wherewithal to mine the data for news and analysis, and because we have a large audience that would take this seriously. I think the public interest was served by that. His decision to release the data to everyone, however, had potential consequences that I think anyone, regardless of how he views the war, would find regrettable.”