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NYTimes' Chief Bill Keller on Wikileaks: Chilling to Contemplate Gov't Prosecution

Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times and a past guest of ours, is publishing a detailed account in the Sunday magazine of the Times’ relationship with Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange. The Times was one of several news outlets that reported on diplomatic cables given to them by Wikileaks. He writes,

[W]hile I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public, let alone the passage of new laws to punish the dissemination of classified information, as some have advocated. Taking legal recourse against a government official who violates his trust by divulging secrets he is sworn to protect is one thing. But criminalizing the publication of such secrets by someone who has no official obligation seems to me to run up against the First Amendment and the best traditions of this country. As one of my colleagues asks: If Assange were an understated professorial type rather than a character from a missing Stieg Larsson novel, and if WikiLeaks were not suffused with such glib antipathy toward the United States, would the reaction to the leaks be quite so ferocious? And would more Americans be speaking up against the threat of reprisals?

It’s all part of a controversial new chapter in the history of the First Amendment and its limits. Some U.S. lawmakers have called for Assange’s prosecution. The real-world blowback from the leaked cables stretches all the way to the Arab world, where anti-government sentiment in places like Tunisia and Yemen has been fomented by cables that were damning of their leaders. (See our memorable show in which John Perry Barlow and John Negroponte debated issues around secrecy.)

Listen back to our interview with Keller; and see his very interesting On Point blog debate over coverage of Catholic issues.

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Aug 28, 2015
Lightning first ignited the Meadow fire on July 20, 2014 in Yosemite. By September 8, the fire had charred 2,582 acres. Bernie Krause has recorded soundscapes of national parks destroyed by large areas of forest fires. Listen below.  (National Park Service)

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WDBJ-TV7 meteorologist Leo Hirsbrunner, right, wipes his eyes during the early morning newscast as anchors Kimberly McBroom, center, and guest anchor Steve Grant deliver the news at the station in Roanoke, Va., Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward were killed during a live broadcast Wednesday, while on assignment in Moneta. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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