When Julian Assange was originally indicted, the government carefully avoided bringing charges that directly implicated press freedom. In this new set of charges, however, Assange is indicted under the Espionage Act and actions regularly engaged in by most media organizations are implicated. Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute, argued that this set of indictments is what many press freedom organizations have been worrying about since the original indictment. It is, he says, the first time in a hundred years, the Espionage act has been used against a publisher for publishing information. We are, he says, “crossing a new and very dangerous frontier.”
Adam Serwer of the Atlantic Magazine points out that Assange is the perfect person for Trump to use to set a precedent for prosecuting the people he really wants to prosecute, i.e., the people investigating him. This case is intended to expand Trump’s powers so he can “go after the very journalists who have been exposing his corruption for the past three years.” “He has picked Assange” because liberals hate him so much.
Additionally, Serwer points out that this prosecution will not stop leaking. It will, however, mean that the government will leak information selectively to influence opinion. The government can manipulate the public by using classified information with no power of the press to contradict the information.
Jaffer notes that we are not sure that Assange will be extradited, but even if he isn’t, the indictment alone has a chilling effect. “It’s about control of information.” “The indictment itself is going to send a very chilling message.”
Jaffer and Serwer made their comments on “All In” with Chris Hayes, MSNBC 5/23/19.