How The New York Times Dealt with Wikileaks and Julian Assange

Bill Keller has a mammoth of a piece today about how the New York Times dealt with Wikileaks and Julian Assange.

Keller describes Assange, early on at least, as someone who would be starkly serious one moment, then giddy the next. He says that as time went on, their relationship went from cautious to “hostile.” Assange began to complain about Times pieces, and the one that finally destroyed their relationship, obviously, was the profile about Assange himself. By that time, Keller says “Assange was transformed by his outlaw celebrity.”

Keller also dives into the public’s reaction to the Times for publishing Wikileaks, and confronts the absurd notion that the paper didn’t consider the consequences of doing so:

Although it is our aim to be impartial in our presentation of the news, our attitude toward these issues is far from indifferent. The journalists at The Times have a large and personal stake in the country’s security.

He then goes on to admit that their dealings with Wikileaks has been imperfect, but neccessary:

We make the best judgments we can. When we get things wrong, we try to correct the record. A free press in a democracy can be messy. But the alternative is to give the government a veto over what its citizens are allowed to know. Anyone who has worked in countries where the news diet is controlled by the government can sympathize with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted remark that he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers.

Well put.