If the Bill Kellers of the world had any sense, they’d be pushing back hard against stuff like Marc Thiessen’s “let’s waterboard Assange” piece. Instead, they’re internalizing the same principle upon which Thiessen builds his whole argument: publishing classified information that may bring harm to someone makes Julian Assange a bad, bad man.
Assange is bad, according to Keller, because he didn’t vet his material like a true journalist. Keller’s justification is a bland assertion of something he can’t know:
In our own publication, in print and on our website, we were careful to remove anything that could put lives at risk.
The Times has no way of knowing what puts people at risk in the Wikileaks material. There’s always a chance that a story about a war is going to endanger lives, and the Times will have “blood on its hands”, to use Liz Cheney’s characteristically subtle formulation.
In better times, a New York Times editor might have the courage to use principles like the First Amendment to defend his newspaper’s right to print classified leaks. He might even be making noises about shield laws, which encourage more illegal leaking. Instead, because Assange doesn’t own a printing press or a broadcast station, he’s a bad, bad man practicing some other trade than the noble calling of the true journalist, and he’s to be derided, not protected.
It should be obvious to Keller and other true journalists that this is a very dangerous position to hold. Liz Cheney and Marc Thiessen think he’s a bad, bad man, too, and they’d be happy for the FBI to snap him up and throw him in jail for publishing something that might possibly harm the US.