I could hold this for tomorrow’s Friday Five, but I want to editorialize a bit here, so…
All right, so, while I am all in favor of transparency and recognize that without whistle-blowers even more corruption, malfeasance, and war crimes would go unpunished than already do, however, not all so-called hacktivists are good guys. Assange has claimed to be a journalist because he supposedly brings information to light. For part of my college career my major was journalism, and I have some strong feelings about journalistic ethics. One of the tenants of journalistic ethics is that if one engages in covert methods of uncovering information, one’s ethical obligations (to ensure accuracy, objectivity, while avoiding causing harm to innocent people) increase.
One of the basic questions an editor is supposed to ask when dealing with sensitive information of a diplomatic, political, or military nature, is will releasing this information place people in danger? And yes, you weigh that against the harm that has been caused or is being caused by whatever it is you are about to expose. It can be a difficult question.
But another one of the harms to innocent people that journalists are supposed to think about is: will releasing this information impede or interfere with legitimate democratic processes? Because elections matter, and who is in power can mean the difference between life and death— particularly for society’s most vulnerable.
The way in which Assange and his colleagues have stolen and dumped, unfiltered, large amounts of information into public view means that they are not even thinking about those kinds of questions. Therefore, what they are engaged in is not journalism, let alone ethical journalism.
I have no idea whether he is guilty of the sexual assault in Sweden that first sent him to seek asylum in the Ecuadoran embassy, but since Sweden isn’t exactly a vicious totalitarian state known for convicting innocent people of bogus crimes, I do wonder why an innocent man wouldn’t be willing to have his day in court there.
Yes, I believe in the Golden Thread of Justice: I believe that a person must be presumed to be innocent until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But I am allowed to judge his character, and here is the thing that completely disinclines me to have any sympathy for the man: after taking shelter in the Ecuadoran Embassy for seven years—seven years in which these people sheltered him, fed him, and suffered strained relations with many allied states—when they asked him for the umpteenth time that he clean his own room and take care of his own cat, rather than expecting embassy staff to do those things for him, he sued the government of Ecuador claiming that these demands are a violation of his civil rights.
Expecting you to clean up after your own cat is not a violation of your civil rights!
He’s a self-important, arrogant jerk. And frankly, everyone is still being way nicer to him than he deserves.
BBC News – Footage shows Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorian embassy:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here