When news broke last night on the release of some 759 classified documents about Guantanamo Bay, made public by WikiLeaks, the media landscape in which it was reported was almost as complicated as the information itself. WikiLeaks and several of the news organizations that report its information have had tumultuous relationships almost from the start, and that background colored the way this latest batch of documents was released.
In a reversal of past exchanges, the New York Times shared the latest leaks with the UK Guardian and National Public Radio. New York Times editor Bill Keller told the Huffington Post that the Times had received its copies of the documents from a source outside of WikiLeaks. In order to better understand this complicated background of tarnished relationships, here's a brief primer of who Wikileaks has feuded with or favored, and when.
July, 2010: WikiLeaks releases 92,000 Afghan war documents to the New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Spiegel. It's the first of the so-called mega-releases.
October, 2010: In the second mega-release, WikiLeaks makes public more than 400,000 documents about the war in Iraq. The Pentagon calls it the "largest leak of classified documents in its history." The day after the release, the Times publishes a not-too-flattering profile of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on its front page. Assange is portrayed as juvenile and spiteful. A furious Assange calls the piece a "smear campaign."
November 1, 2010: Assange threatens to sue the Guardian if it publishes information without his approval after one of his own volunteers apparently released WikiLeaks information to the paper early, in a way that released the Guardian from its agreement with WikiLeaks. In a Vanity Fair article a few months later, Sarah Ellison would write that Assange "had become the victim of his own methods."
November 28, 2010: WikiLeaks officially partners with news organizations on another mega-release, the first of 251,287 diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies throughout the world. It works with the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, and El Pais, deliberately seeking the papers' advice on coordinating the timing of the releases and the redaction of the reports. The Guardian turns its information over to the New York Times, which runs with it.
January 26, 2011: New York Times editor Bill Keller eliminates any goodwill the paper may still have had with WikiLeaks with his firsthand account of the paper's dealings with Assange. Keller is harsh with Assange, writing him off as a smelly, scrappy amateur.
January 31, 2011: The Guardian publishes a book on its own dealings with Assange, infuriating the WikiLeaks point man. Assange threatens to sue the Guardian and calls it, "The slimiest media organization in the UK."
April 13, 2011: Assange clashes with Keller at a journalism symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, accusing the paper of conspiracy: "[N]ews organizations should be careful to understand their role. Their role is to hold powerful organizations into account. It is not to cover up."
April 24, 2011: WikiLeaks releases another highly inflammatory batch of documents, this time on prisoners at the U.S. facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For the first time, the organization cuts the Guardian out of the loop, instead liaising with the Telegraph. Guardian investigations editor David Leigh characterizes the move as a "double cross" and says it's the end of the relationship between his paper and WikiLeaks. Meanwhile, WikiLeaks takes the high road in a tweet: "We are pleased that the NYT, Guardian & NPR eventually added their weight to increasing our impact, regardless of the intent of some."