Those of us who have an interest in a free press and freedom of speech should be very afraid about now. The latest threat comes in the substance of inadvertently leaked documents and a menacing Trump administration’ Department of Justice. Trump, however, is only the latest antagonist. The Left has blood on its hands, too. Regardless of whose turn it is to twist the knife, at stake is the fate of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and the very notion of a free press itself.
A Bit Of History
First, perhaps some background to refresh our collective memories is called for. Assange has been hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy in London seeking asylum since 2012 when British courts ordered him extradited to Sweden to face questioning in a sexual assault case. That prospect has since become unlikely but another danger for him looms. Not to mention a two-year old case looming thanks to the Democrats. As a result, Assange, and supporters of freedom of the press fear his being extradited to the United States if he leaves the embassy. He may face a duel threat from each side of the political spectrum.
President Trump’s Turn At Bat
President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) now has Assange in its crosshairs. Information has been leaked from previously sealed charges that indeed he may be cited for serious breaches of national security which possibly might include the Espionage Act. That the right-wing Trump administration, already perceived to be unfriendly to press freedoms, is targeting Assange when the Obama DOJ) relented, is not in itself a surprise. That some liberal politicians now are joining the hue and cry for his scalp is, however, surprising and alarming.
Trump has had his knives out for Assange and WikiLeaks since 2012 after it was learned that WikiLeaks leaked purportedly sensitive information about U.S actions in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2010. He believed, and said so at the time, that Assange deserved “the death penalty” for having published those documents. Not known for his consistent positions, it should be noted that Trump also advocated for the death penalty for Edward Snowden in 2013.
New Irony Not Comforting For Assange
What is remarkable, however, is that his potential prosecution now is being lauded and supported by many usually press-freedom-friendly Democrats. During the Obama administration, the notion that Assange should be prosecuted for publishing the documents was regarded as extreme and dangerous in liberal quarters so, listening to the howls of protest from his left-leaning base, the Obama DOJ demurred when it came to pursuing and punishing Assange. Why is it now different for the liberal left? What has changed the equation?
Well, you may remember that WikiLeaks, and by association Assange, gained attention amid the 2016 presidential election when Russian spies allegedly gave WikiLeaks emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign in a bid to help elect then-candidate Donald Trump. Assange has denied getting the files from the Russian government or backing the Trump campaign.
Clinton’s Loss Too Much To Swallow For The Left
Quite simply, Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss to Donald Trump in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election changed both the narrative and the view of WikiLeaks—long the Left’s darling. Its newfound emotional, personal contempt for Assange – is due to their belief that he helped defeat Hillary Clinton—a painful event, the gravest crime. Their seething rage, wounds still fresh, supersede any concerns about the threats posed to press freedoms by the Trump administration’s attempts to criminalize the publication of documents and punish Assange. Irony? Hypocrisy? Selective compassion? You, dear reader, be the judge.
But it is what it is. While the Republicans and the Right have been consistent regarding WikiLeaks and Assange, the Left’s latest reversal is disheartening, to say the least. Their utterly craven and authoritarian mentality that is about to put Democrats of all sorts in bed with the most extremist and dangerous of the Trump faction as they unite to create precedents under which the publication of information – long held sacrosanct by anyone caring about press freedoms – can now be legally punished.
Dems Started The Snowball Rolling
Lest we think that the Democrats are just coming late to the “Let’s hang Assange party”, think again. As all this has been going on, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is currently suing WikiLeaks and Assange for publishing emails between itself and a pro-Clinton Democratic operative John Podesta.
Those emails, by the way, were deemed newsworthy by literally every major media outlet, which relentlessly reported on them. Until this current Trump DOJ criminal prosecution of Assange, that DNC lawsuit had been the greatest Trump-era threat to press freedoms – because it seeks to make the publication of documents, which is the core of journalism, legally punishable. So, it is hypocritical at best and dangerous at worst to castigate the present administration for their current action against Assange and WikiLeaks. Trump DOJ’s attempts to criminalize those actions is merely the next logical step in this descent into a full-scale attack on basic press rights.
A “Free Press” For Each Party
What’s worse is that each political party is attempting to abuse the press or alternatively praise it to advance each’s own narrative and agenda. Think for a moment, then, the implications and ramifications of the definition of a “free press” being held hostage by whichever political party presently feels aggrieved rather than the quest for the truth. Further, view it through the lens of each parts assault on WikiLeaks which is being denied press freedoms because it is not a nuts- and-bolts news outlet.
Free Speech Under Assault Drip By Drip
Don’t WikiLeaks and Assange deserve First Amendment protections? Like him or not, or dislike what he is leaking but isn’t Julien Assange by definition a journalist? Isn’t Trump DOJ’s attempts to criminalize Assange’s actions is merely the next logical step in this the descent into a full-scale attack on basic press rights. Prosecuting someone for publishing truthful information would set a terrible and dangerous precedent and be a blow to democracy. Trump may be leading the latest assault but both political parties are shamefully culpable.