Oversight

Former New York Times Chief Lawyer: Rally to Support Julian Assange — Even If You Hate Him

Why the Justice Department’s case against Assange sets an incredibly dangerous precedent

Trevor Timm
GEN
Published in
9 min readNov 21, 2018

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Photo: Barcroft Media/Getty

It’s not a stretch to say that few people are disliked more within media circles than WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Yet with the news that Trump’s Justice Department has filed secret charges against him, the rights of many journalists who despise Assange may also hang in the balance.

It’s still unclear what charges the Justice Department is bringing against Assange, who has lived under diplomatic protection in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for the past six years. But if the secret charges implicate any of WikiLeaks’ publishing activities, it could ironically be just the precedent the Trump administration needs to directly go after journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post.

With that in mind, I recently spoke to James Goodale — the famed First Amendment lawyer and former general counsel the New York Times, who led the paper’s legal team in the famed Pentagon Papers case — about the dire impact the Justice Department’s move may have on press freedom, regardless of whether people consider Assange himself a “journalist.”

Every time I mentioned the fact that establishment press should advocate for Assange’s rights, I heard hoots of laughter.

Goodale is currently an adjunct professor at Fordham Law School. His 2013 book, Fighting for the Press, detailed his press freedom battles with the Nixon administration and how journalists’ rights are still threatened today. (Note: I worked for Goodale as a researcher and editor on the book at the time).

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Medium: In 2013, you wrote a book about your experiences leading the New York Times’s legal defense in the Pentagon Papers case, and you prefaced the book with a warning to the public about the dangers of the Justice

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Trevor Timm
GEN
Writer for

Trevor Timm is the executive director of Freedom of the Press Foundation. His writing has appeared the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Intercept.