WikiLeaks and the cowardice of American journalism

I know the British press is nothing to write home about, but I’ve never understood why American journalists take themselves so seriously. They, after all, are the ‘professionals’ who missed Enron, the banking catastrophe and the Bush Administration’s ludicrous case for going to war in Iraq. Until recently, they were also the ‘professionals’ who were so impaled on the horns of the ‘balance as bias’ dilemma that many of them missed the global warming issue. So I’ve been cheering this fiery piece by Naomi Wolf about the slippery way US journalists have been willing to hang Julian Assange out to dry.

Here is what readers are not being told: We have ALL handled classified information if we are serious American journalists. I am waiting for more than a handful of other American reporters, editors and news organizations to have the courage — courage that is in abundance in Tahrir Square and on the pages of Al Jazeera, now that we no longer see it on the editorial page of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal — to stand up and confirm the obvious. For the assault on Assange to be credible, they would have to come arrest us all. Many of Bob Woodward's bestselling books, which have made him America's highest-paid reporter, are based on classified information — that's why he gets the big bucks. Where are the calls for Woodward's arrest? Indeed Dick Cheney and other highest-level officials in the Bush administration committed the same act as Bradley Manning in this case, when they illegally revealed the classified identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

So why do all these American reporters, who know quite well that they get praise and money for doing what Assange has done, stand in a silence that can only be called cowardly, while a fellow publisher faces threats of extradition, banning, prosecution for spying — which can incur the death penalty — and calls for his assassination?

One could say that the reason for the silence has to do with the sexual misconduct charges in Sweden. But any serious journalist in America knows perfectly well that the two issues must not be conflated. The First Amendment applies to rogues and scoundrels. You don't lose your First Amendment rights because of a sleazy personality, or even for having committed a crime. Felons in jail are protected by the First Amendment. Indeed the most famous First Amendment cases, the ones that are supposed to showcase America's strength and moral power, involve the protection of speech most decent people hate…