Purported 'journalism' outlet seems unfamiliar with the definition; Continues dangerous smears, innuendo...
By Brad Friedman on 12/28/2010, 2:24pm PT  

The ignorance on display in this CNN interview segment concerning Wikileaks and Julian Assange yesterday is simply astonishing.

I'd expect the misinformed idiocy and/or out and out lying from one of the guests, former Bush Admin Homeland Security Advisor (now a paid CNN contributor) Fran Townsend. But the amount of ignorance about the profession of journalism, on display from CNN's very own journalist here, Jessica Yellin, almost defies words. Happily, Salon's Glenn Greenwald, a Constitutional attorney and actual journalist was the other guest on hand to help straighten both of these women out.

Watch the video, be amazed, and then I'll have a few more words on it below, as it mirrors another recent --- and embarrassing --- WikiLeaks-related segment on CNN, which we critically covered before later receiving a response from both CNN and host Don Lemon...

The week before last, we took CNN and host Don Lemon to task for a WikiLeaks segment in which, among other problems, they started off with a package that compared Assange to Bonnie & Clyde and other criminals who did things like, ya know, actually commit crimes, like killing people and stuff --- none of which either Assange or WikiLeaks has done. Not by a long shot. CNN's on-screen chyron for the segment was, shamefully, "ASSANGE: JOURNALIST OR TERRORIST" (no question mark even included)...

After my critical coverage of the segment, I received a phone call from Lemon who, while standing by all aspects of the segment, declined to allow me to put any of his comments from our nearly hour and a half phone call on the record (ironically enough). He also declined my invitation to appear live on air, on the radio, on the Mike Malloy Show, which i was guest hosting that week, to discuss the issue and offer his point of view publicly.

CNN themselves similarly declined to offer a representative to appear on air to discuss the segment, but stood behind their labeling (libeling?) of Assange as a "TERRORIST" by sending me this official statement from CNN Worldwide public relations official Nigel Pritchard:

"For reference the broadcast you mention was intended to discuss, challenge and address views that are being debated widely in the media and the public at large"

In reply, I sent this follow-up query:

Thank you, Nigel. By way of follow up, as I attempted with Don, is a "view being debated widely in the media and the public at large" enough to lend it credence worth discussion on CNN, even if, as a news service, you are able to find (very easily in this case) that there is absolutely ZERO merit or evidence to support the rather extraordinary and serious allegations --- particularly where advancing those baseless "views" could help result in the death or injury of a private citizen, as in the case of advancing the baseless "view" that Assange might be a "TERRORIST" as your chyron specially averred?

In other words, aside from their being no basis at all for the charge that Assange is a "TERRORIST", aside from irresponsible people suggesting as much without a shred of evidence, is CNN not troubled by the notion that they are advancing a suggestion which, if true, could well result in a private citizen being targeted for assassination and murder by either a governmental policy or an overzealous "patriot"?


I received no response from CNN to my follow up query.

In their segment yesterday with Greenwald, as posted above, they did not compare Assange to murderers or call him a terrorist on screen as before. Instead, their chyron this time read: "THE ROBIN HOOD OF HACKING"?

Robin Hood was, as legend has it, a thief who stole from the rich to give to the poor. Julian Assange, on the other hand, has neither stolen anything nor been charged with stealing anything. In fact --- as Greenwald is embarrassingly forced to point out over and again in the segment above (to the journalist!) --- he has neither been charged nor convicted of any crime at all related to WikiLeaks. Neither has WikiLeaks been charged with any crimes at all, much less convicted of "hacking"!

Twenty years ago, as detailed on his WikiLeaks page, Assange was convicted of hacking "and was released on bond for good conduct after being fined AU$2100." The prosecutor in the case, according to a June 2010 profile in The New Yorker said "there is just no evidence that there was anything other than sort of intelligent inquisitiveness and the pleasure of being able to --- what's the expression --- surf through these various computers".

In 1987, prior to his conviction, according to the same report, he had written "rules" for hackers as follows: "Don’t damage computer systems you break into (including crashing them); don’t change the information in those systems (except for altering logs to cover your tracks); and share information."

And yet, earlier this month, in regard to those charges when he was 20, Assange had to tell Forbes: "It's a bit annoying, actually. Because I co-wrote a book about [being a hacker], there are documentaries about that, people talk about that a lot. They can cut and paste. But that was 20 years ago. It's very annoying to see modern day articles calling me a computer hacker. I'm not ashamed of it, I'm quite proud of it. But I understand the reason they suggest I'm a computer hacker now. There's a very specific reason."

So what's left of CNN's "THE ROBIN HOOD OF HACKERS?" label that wasn't already inaccurate before their most recent segment even began? Other than "THE" and "OF", absolutely nothing. Even their question mark was baseless before the segment began, as CNN should have known if they'd bothered to practice any actual journalism in preparation.

There is no serious question, no serious debate about Assange or WikiLeaks as either "terrorists" or a "Bonnie & Clyde" or "Robin Hood" type figure. All of that is simply irresponsible, sensationalistic, childish garbage and smears from an organization which purports to practice journalism, even as its continuing, embarrassing, knee-jerk assaults on real journalists --- i.e. WikiLeaks and Assange --- reveal more and more that CNN seems incapable of practicing anything that even resembles it.

* * *

• Greenwald's own thoughts on the segment at Salon: "The merger of journalists and government officials"
• David Edwards' coverage of the segment at RAW STORY: "Greenwald trashes CNN contributors for 'extreme misinformation' on WikiLeaks"

UPDATE 12/29/10: Jessica Yellin responds to Greenwald's critique. To her credit, she was willing to engage in the debate (where Don Lemon, unfortunately, was not). To her discredit, she failed to link to Greenwald's critique when criticizing it.

One other thought on this for now: In her response to Greenwald, Yellin suggests that she "thought it would be helpful for viewers to hear a supporter explain Assange’s long-term objectives," as if to say, she should be given credit for having Greenwald on at all. There is some truth to that, of course, and she was fair enough to give Greenwald plenty of time to make his case during the segment. The same can be said of Lemon bringing Ray McGovern onto his own show a week or two ago for the segment that we were critical of as well. He said as much in response to our critique. It's swell to have an occasional supporter of WikiLeaks/Assange brought on the air to counter all of the usual nonsense heard from CNN (and so many others), but it's not swell to bring an arrogant and uninformed, anti-journalism bias to such segments, no matter who is being brought on the air to discuss it.