Vanity Fair's lengthy profile of Julian Assange's contentious relationship with his media associates is out today. It catalogues the myriad negotiations, anxieties, and quibbles over release dates, exclusivity, and redacting names that colored the whole multiple-news-partners/one-leaker arrangement. Polyamory, the whistle-blowing version. The primary focus of the article is the rifts between Assange and reporters he was once close to at the Guardian, his first mainstream media connection. After the Guardian published information from a leaked police report about the sex-crimes accusations against Assange, the WikiLeaks founder blew up. Assange claimed the Guardian was trying to "undermine my bail application" all because a reporter, Nick Davies, was upset about a broken embargo. The embargo part, at least, appears to be true. In Vanity Fair, Davies says the first time he ever stopped talking to a source was when Assange gave the entire Afghanistan database to the television network Channel 4 a day before the Guardian's WikiLeaks package was supposed to go live. As Reuters' Felix Salmon noted, the underlying takeaway seems to be Assange's mercurial, prickly nature and its effect on those he works with:
In 34 years, I’m sure that Davies had been treated much worse than that by sources. Instead, there seems to be something about Assange personally which sets people on edge and makes them dislike him intensely: his biggest fans are often those who have never met him or who have known him only for a very short amount of time. That’s unfortunate, to say the least: it takes an issue which is messy to begin with and makes it a great deal messier.
Davies is not alone, of course. There's the upcoming book from Assange's former right-hand man that promises to delve into his “high-handedness, dishonesty, and grave mistakes." And there's the similar fight Assange had with the Times a few months earlier when they published a critical piece about him personally. Here's a nifty comic in case you're keeping track of Assange's other haters.
But perhaps one of the things his associates find so disagreeable is his hypocrisy when it comes to leaking. In addition to the hypocrisy over the leaked police report (surely as fair game as a diplomatic cable), there was Assange's reaction when one of his subordinates leaked a tranche of the Iraq War documents that was supposed to contain more damning information. The WikiLeaks employee leaked it to Heather Brooke, a British freelance journalist who had written a book on freedom of information. The Guardian quickly hired Brooke and even shared the documents with Der Spiegel and the New York Times, hoping to be able to get around their agreement to wait for Assange's greenlight to publish.
On the afternoon of November 1, 2010, Julian Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks.org, marched with his lawyer into the London office of Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian. Assange was pallid and sweaty, his thin frame racked by a cough that had been plaguing him for weeks. He was also angry, and his message was simple: he would sue the newspaper if it went ahead and published . . .
Wow, we never thought we'd see the day, but anger and threatening legal action over a leak? Looks like Assange and the Pentagon have something in common after all. Unlike the Pentagon, however, Assange's concerns were eventually placated when the Guardian agreed to hold off for a while and include a couple more media outlets. The tense process of getting Assange to calm down involved "a great deal of coffee followed by a great deal of wine." Maybe he's not so different than the rest of us.
The Man Who Spilled the Secrets [Vanity Fair]
Assange’s mental health [Felix Salmon/Reuters]
Related: Julian Assange Picks a Media Fight With the Guardian