I write because I desire to spread truth through journalism. I, along with fellow journalists, hold our freedoms, and it’s critical that we protect our constitutional rights. In a world in which our president, Donald Trump, outwardly hates reporting that shows him in a negative light, he has recently sparked a war on journalism and journalists throughout the nation.
This war has been brought on by Trump’s recent investigation into WikiLeaks journalist Julian Assange. He has indicted Assange for violations under the Espionage Act, charging that he released confidential information through his platform. The major fault with this charge is the fact that it is completely unconstitutional. The first amendment protects the press, whether it praises or criticizes its’ subject. Trump’s agenda against media outlets like the Washington Post, The New York Times and other media outlets began even before his presidency. His efforts to prosecute Assange are an attack on journalists everywhere.
Assange is not even an American journalist, but is under fire because of his founding and reporting through WikiLeaks, back in 2006. He is accused of conspiring with Chelsea Manning to steal information about the United States’s abuse during the Iraq War. As Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times, Assange “has been indicted on 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act for his role in obtaining and publishing secret military and diplomatic documents in 2010, the Justice Department announced [last] Thursday.” This is an awful attack on the freedom of the press.
If this case were to be decided against Assange, this precedent puts all other media companies and journalists in danger. It would make every truthful journalist a target for expressing the truth with the American people. This could shift the way stories are presented and could make way for a propaganda society, similar to the extremes of North Korea.
The American government’s attempts to prosecute Assange began when he published on Wikileaks confidential government documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. , Manning is a trans woman who was indicted back in 2013. “Manning was found guilty of espionage and theft in 2013 and was sentenced to 35 years in prison after she leaked classified documents to Assange,” according to Vandana Rambaran of FOX News. “Her sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in 2017 and she was released from jail after seven years of imprisonment.”
The Espionage Act prohibits abusive language about the government, but it should not be used when exposing the truth. Provided by the A&E Television Network’s History, the Espionage Act “imposed similarly harsh penalties on anyone found guilty of making false statements that interfered with the prosecution of the war; insulting or abusing the U.S. government, the flag, the Constitution or the military; agitating against the production of necessary war materials; or advocating, teaching or defending any of these acts.”
Doing so only promotes further corruption and dictates what journalism can cover. The time period in contention was during Chelsea Manning’s time in Iraq where she hacked into confidential sources and shared the information with Julian Assange. Back in 2013, the Obama administration deliberated about whether or not Assange’s journalistic efforts could be criminalized. They found that even then, the thought of such actions would be unconstitutional. Manning was charged but Assange was not.
Thousands of messages or cables were released by WikiLeaks through Mannings insights to Assange, and Former US Secretary of 2010, Hillary Clinton “spoke after the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks began the release of some 250,000 messages from US envoys around the world,” reported BBC’s Kim Ghattas. Accordingly, no one blamed Assange, but the informant Manning who gave him the material was charged for her actions. Now, Trump is trying to repeal those decisions by indicting Assange on this previous timeline.
The duty of journalists is to provide the raw truth to the public without any consequences, This case could be the beginning of a frightful war against journalism. Not only could Assange be considered a hero, but he is the symbol of why Americans should fight for first amendment rights and for democracy. President Trump’s decision to impose such charges unveils his tyrannical perspective and the jeopardy of the free press.