What's it like to work with international man of mystery Julian Assange? Bill Keller will tell you.The intrigue surrounding the persona of Julian Assange has nearly
eclipsed the stories his WikiLeaks site has broken. Keller, the New York Times'
details his newspaper's relationship with Assange in a lengthy piece for the New York Times Magazine this week (we gave you the highlights here). Assange apparently, in his first
meeting with a Times reporter, looked like a disheveled "bag lady," only
to transform into a styled skinny-suit-wearing celebrity. The piece's detailed descriptions of Assange's personality quirks quickly merges with an explanation of the tedious task of sorting through and interpreting the WikiLeaks documents and figuring out what the newspaper was looking at. Keller reviews the work with Excel spreadsheets, government officials, and more. In fact, there's a great deal on how The New York Times collaborated closely with the State Department and White House to redact the cables where national security was at stake.
So what's the reaction to this story? Many think the newspaper was nice to the wrong people.
- 'Julian Assange Is a Skipping Little Nancy Boy,' is Gawker's John Cook neat summary of the profile. This is "all true," he notes, "but there's something unseemly about Keller attacking him so openly and gleefully. ... He had accomplished reporting feats--in terms of sheer breadth and volume--that no one at the Times ever had, or ever will, match. He had something that the Times desperately wanted, and shared it with them, for free. The fact that he's also an asshole doesn't mean Keller ought to go on braying about it." Cook is also disturbed by how closely the Times worked with the government. Sure, the paper had final say on what was printed, but "the federal government prevailed on the Times not to print certain things that it did not want printed. And those are precisely the things that I most want to read."
- Leakers Beware, Balloon Juice's Mistermix writes. "Julian Assange is a wacko, but so are a lot of potential leakers. A journalist can do his duty without accusing his source of having dirty socks ... especially when doing so will only deter other sources. Who wants to risk their career and perhaps their life for someone who's apparently more concerned with your grooming habits than the information you're bringing to the table?" He suspects " Keller's arrogance is driven by two factors. First, he and his establishment paper have become ever more uncomfortable [with] the anti-establishment role that printing Wikileaks' information represents ... Second, he's building his own version of Wikileaks, so he thinks it is safe to cut out the middleman."
- What's That About Arrogance? Joe Coscarelli writes at the Village Voice. "Like any good media chief, Keller does well to slight his ally-cum-enemy in Assange, while commending his own organization for a job well done. ... Respect is reserved for America and its government, Keller insinuates."
- Telling All About the Wrong Things, Choire Sicha writes at The Awl. "[T]he Times makes much of its willingness to choose and redact Wikileaks data that might embarrass the government or private individuals who provided information. They agreed to not publish things 'like a cable describing an intelligence-sharing program that took years to arrange and might be lost if exposed.' Gosh that is intriguing! I sure would like to know more. Keller also makes an excellent case against the many popular stupid charges against the Times."
- Reporters' Emails Were Hacked? Forbes' Andy Greenberg marvels. "Keller offers no further information on the suspected hack. And though he suggests that WikiLeaks was intruding on the email accounts of its 'media partners,' it’s just as likely that the Times’ hackers were U.S. or foreign government agents, who saw the Times as an easier entry point into the Cablegate data than the more security-savvy WikiLeaks staffers."
- Keller Doubts Lasting Impact of Leaks, Wired's Kim Zetter notes. "It's clear from the piece that Keller has a low opinion of Assange and thinks the cultural impact of WikiLeaks itself has been 'overblown.' But he says the documents WikiLeaks released were valuable for providing texture and nuance and deepening the public’s understanding of how the military operates and how government diplomatic relations unfold. ... But he seems to doubt, himself, that this will be the lasting message of the leaks when he notes that 'the story of this wholesale security breach had outgrown the story of the actual contents of the secret documents.'"