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.)