People hate a conspiracy theory, unless a federal prosecutor proposes it, even if unfounded in law or fact. So it may be with Julian Assange. The Hon. James Goodale on what that means for Julian, the press, and free thought in America:
James Goodale: When I wrote the book pointing out the dangers to the First Amendment if Assange was prosecuted, I made it my business to see if I could gin up support within the media/press community to stick up for his rights, since his rights would affect everyone else’s. I had occasion to speak to many groups in connection with the promotion of my book. Every time I mentioned the fact that establishment press should advocate for Assange’s rights, I heard hoots of laughter or people shouting at me that I didn’t understand the journalism profession.
I was dismayed that I got very few converts in the journalistic community that would take my position that it was necessary to support Assange — not for Assange himself, but for the First Amendment.
There’s speculation on what Assange could be charged with. There’s a possibility that he could be outright charged under the Espionage Act for the act of publishing classified information. Then there’s the “conspiracy” theory — that Assange was engaged in a conspiracy with his sources by asking them or soliciting more information from them that the sources may have gathered illegally. Do you find that type of charge would be just as dangerous as a charge for publishing information?
I do find that that charge would be just as dangerous. As a matter of fact, a charge against Assange for “conspiring” with a source is the most dangerous charge that I can think of with respect to the First Amendment in almost all my years representing media organizations.
The reason is that one who is gathering/writing/distributing the news, as the law stands now, is free and clear under the First Amendment. If the government is able to say a person who is exempt under the First Amendment then loses that exemption because that person has “conspired” with a source who is subject to the Espionage Act or other law, then the government has succeeded in applying the standard to all news-gathering.
That will mean that the press’ ability to get newsworthy classified information from government sources will be severely curtailed, because every story that is based on leaked info will theoretically be subject to legal action by the government. It will be up to the person with the information to prove that they got it without violating the Espionage Act. This would be, in my view, the worst thing to happen to the First Amendment — almost ever.
I’ve been on the soapbox for this for over 10 years trying to wake everyone up to the dangers that exist with this approach. Therefore, the stories we’ve read with respect to government’s present action against Assange, it’s blood-curdling. It appears the government may try to adopt this “conspiracy” theory to apply to news-gathering.
Washington has been trying to gain extended power over the press for 40 years, through brute force and judicial gymnastics. Times may be bad enough, the people dumb enough, now, for DC to succeed. Our loss.
UPDATE: The war on freedom continues: The UN would make more free speech criminal, especially for those would correctly criticize the third-world-ification of the first world.