Julian Assange's Tepid Relationship With Reporters

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 24 2013 6:04 PM

Julian Assange Has a Cold

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A police officer stands guard in front of the Ecuadorian Embassy on June 17, 2013, in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been living for the past year.

Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

That headline is misleading—we don't know if the founder of WikiLeaks has a cold (and apologies to Gay Talese). But Julian Assange's delivery during his call with reporters Monday about Edward Snowden was slow and methodical bordering on lethargic; he stopped himself midsentence multiple times, pausing at length before rephrasing an answer. Whose question produced the only hard news of the call? Matthew Mosk of ABC, who asked about Snowden's laptops.

For a man whose life goal is to promote freedom of information, Assange is hesitant, though not uncomfortable, around reporters. During the WikiLeaks call, Assange chatted about the semantics of "rendition" versus "extradition" with Jane Mayer of the New Yorker and swatted a question posed by Andrea Mitchell asking what other routes Snowden could have taken aside from leaking the NSA documents directly to the press. Scott Shane of the New York Times asked Assange what aspect of the NSA's surveillance program he objected to. Did he disagree with the U.S. intercepting terrorist communications?

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"There are not multiple types of human beings—American human beings and other human beings," Assange answered cryptically. "To my way of thinking, there is a larger, more significant political problem. When an organization like the NSA has intercepted nearly the entire world's communications on such a scale ... it leads to a concentration of power which is so dangerous that it must not be tolerated."

BBC Washington correspondent Paul Adams asked Assange if he found it ironic that Snowden is seeking protection from countries—China, Russia—that are notorious for privacy violations within their own borders.

Their exchange is worth posting in full:

Assange: I simply do not see the irony. Mr. Snowden has revealed information about mass unlawful spying, which has affected every single one of us. The U.S. administration has issued a series of bellicose, unilateral threats against him and against others who are attempting to support his rights. That is a very serious situation, and any country which assists in upholding his rights must be applauded for doing so.
Adams: Even when they don't uphold those rights for their own citizens?
Assange: That's another matter. In these cases, we do not criticize people for seeking refugee status in the United States despite its use of torture, drone strikes, secret bases, kill lists, and so on.

All this is a media ouroboros—as reporters keep pushing the "Where in the World Is Edward Snowden?" narrative, the public outrage Snowden tried so hard to invoke will slide off the map.

Emma Roller is a Slate editorial assistant. Follow her on Twitter.

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