I gotta be honest, there are few people on Earth worthy of our censure and disgust than WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange. Whether it’s the credible rape allegations, his pathetic use of the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid the law, or his obvious and unethical influence on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Assange deserves our collective disdain. He also deserves to be in jail, but not for Trump’s trumped up charges of espionage.
The recent barrage of charges levied at Assange by Attorney General William Barr and the Department of Justice are nothing more than an attempt by the Trump administration to set a precedent to go after journalists for political reasons. First, let’s be clear that Assange isn’t a real journalist. He simply published stolen and classified information on the internet. What he did was despicable because it was brazenly partisan and dishonest by being diabolically selective. However, the espionage charges could set a legal precedent that would put legitimate and ethical journalists in jail for publishing information that came to them from sources who obtained the content illegally. Basically, they could face criminal charges for publishing leaked documents.
The problem is the Espionage Act of 1917 that was passed primarily to punish people who stole or disseminated classified information for the purpose of harming the United States or aiding a foreign enemy. However, the law also made it a crime to receive that type of information and, further, made it a crime for anyone who may have looked at it thereafter. So, under this law, the journalists who exposed government wrongdoing at Abu Ghraib would be criminally liable, as well as every single person who read the story. Obviously, the law is inextricably flawed and in conflict with the First Amendment.
Of course, Assange should be punished for his myriad of criminal and reprehensible actions. But, prosecuting him under the Espionage Act may open a very ugly can of worms and spawn a slew of unintended negative consequences. The Trump administration wants to unleash this ugly can of worms because it thinks it will allow them to quash stories that hurt them politically. In other words, the Barr can’t go any lower.
Most legal scholars agree that the Espionage Act was poorly written and point out that no one has ever been successfully prosecuted under it. Congress should have fixed this law a long time ago, particularly because there are other laws that could hold someone like Assange accountable without jeopardizing First Amendment protections. The Trump administration purposefully chose this legal route because they hope it will lead to their ability to throw journalists in jail who expose government malfeasance.
So, even if you don’t give a rat’s ass about Assange or his legal issues, this case should trouble you deeply. It’s just one more example of Trump turning the presidency into a third-world dictatorship.
In America, we’ve never had a president that has attacked the media like Trump. In fact, Trump has even suggested implementing a state-run media that would spout his propaganda. Hey, if it works for his boyfriend, Kim Jung-Un, why not here, right?
Liberals have got to stand up for a free and unrestricted press. Just because conservatives can’t handle the truth doesn’t mean it should be labeled fake news. It certainly doesn’t mean that we should be throwing reporters in jail.
Now, more than ever, it’s important for journalists to safeguard their sources and perform their due diligence with the highest ethical standards. We can’t let Trump and his ilk turn America into a banana republic.
The Washington Post may claim that “Democracy dies in darkness”, but at twentytwentynews we think “Democracy dies in apathy”.