This week, I was proud to join the board and help launch the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a new organization which plans on crowd-funding for a variety of independent journalism outlets whose prime mission is to seek transparency and accountability in government. You can read about the first group of four organizations — which includes the National Security Archive, MuckRock News, and The UpTake and WikiLeaks — here.
Recently, I sat down with George Washington Law School professor and constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley and my close friend Kevin McCabe to discuss WikiLeaks’ impact on transparency, the government’s response, and the comparison to the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg (also a co-founder of the Freedom of the Press Foundation).
WikiLeaks was extralegally cut off from funding after two Congressmen successfully pressured Visa, Mastercard and PayPal into refusing to do business with the journalism organization in late 2010. We hope that the Freedom of the Press Foundation will become a bulwark against these types of unofficial censorship tactics in the future.
This is the first part of our conversation.
John Cusack: Did you guys see this piece by Ellsberg before the Election?
Kevin McCabe: No.
Jonathan Turley: No.
John Cusack: Was really meaningful, I think about what it meant to vote for Obama — Ellsberg’s is a principled stand — but had taken the Chomsky position to stop the Republicans in swing states. But do it with no illusions.
Jonathan Turley: Right.
John Cusack: Anyway, I thought the Ellsberg thing was fascinating. And I spoke to — Jon, you know Michael Ratner? He said he knew you —
Jonathan Turley: Yeah.
John Cusack: I spoke to him about this request to see Julian Assange in London. I was just thinking Assange, and as Hedges and Ellsberg sue over NDAA, we have a situation where, if things are as they appear to be, Assange is locked up for basically exposing war crimes.
Jonathan Turley: Yeah. I think the fascinating thing about Assange is that the very same act of disclosure, if he were recognized as a journalist, might have brought him the Pulitzer Prize. Assange holds this curious status. The media doesn’t quite know how to handle him. They can’t decide whether he is a villain or a hero, or some type of villainous hero. And many people are ignoring the content of a lot of what he disclosed.
You and I have talked about this in the past, John, that the material released by WikiLeaks ticked off the US government, primarily because it showed that the government had been routinely lying to the American people. That produced tremendous anger from government officials who are not used to be exposed in this way, including members of Congress. These are people who tightly control what the public knows and what information is allowed out of the government.
Frankly, most governments are used to lying to each other – to a degree that most people would find shocking. Part of diplomacy is the art of strategic lying. These cables show the level of deceit shown by government not only to other governments but to their own citizens, including our own. And so it was a tremendously embarrassing disclosure.
Some of these disclosures were quite startling and far more important than the media suggestion in the coverage. For example, we’ve talked about the cable showing the Obama Administration threatening Spain if Spain carried out its right under treaty to investigate the American torture program, in light of Obama’s refusal to do so.
John Cusack: Yeah, it doesn’t seem like this guy is being hunted around the world because he embarrassed some diplomats.
Jonathan Turley: Right, it is more than that.
John Cusack: I would love to discuss what these underlying legal principles are. Do you think he feels he’s doing something that should be done by journalists and publishers — do you think he’s filling a gap in journalism, or is this a new sort of journalism? Perhaps he doesn’t care about those distinctions, but should we?
Jonathan Turley: Well, the response to Assange is remarkable — it was something of a paradigm shift. The media’s used to insular disclosures that are controlled and focused on subjects like the secret prisons in Europe, or the torture program. What Assange did was a massive release of material that showed the breathtaking dishonesty by the US government and governments around the world . . . it showed how much of our domestic and international politics are just a type of kabuki, that–
John Cusack: In that way, it’s adequately analogous to the Pentagon Papers. In the same way – say Eric Holder signing statements saying you can kill American citizens is the same kind of bullshit legal patina akin to John Yoo’s torture document. What are the important difference or parallels, between the Ellsberg releases of the Pentagon Papers and WikiLeaks’ release of the exposure of war crimes and state lies?
Continue reading the rest of the story on The Huffington Post