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Trump Against the First Amendment

| May 30, 2019

When Wikileaks had a sense of humor. (John Penley)

When Wikileaks had a sense of humor. (John Penley)

For a time it looked as if the federal government’s case against Julian Assange had it right: he was indicted on one count of conspiring to hack into a Pentagon computer network. No matter what one may think about a whistleblower, a journalist or a crusader, breaking and entering is a crime, and it’s difficult to make the case that obtaining information through criminal means is justifiable. The government may have had trouble proving that Assange himself was hacking computers. He relied on former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to gain access to 250,000 diplomatic cables in 2010. The government claimed he was trying to help Manning break a code to do so. The government had an arguably reasonable case.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive That changed a week ago when the government filed an entirely different indictment, slapping Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act–not for breaking into a Pentagon computer, not for stealing information, but for publishing the 2010 documents.

That’s a problem. Because suddenly, Assange, who is a remarkably distasteful narcissist with the morals of a worm, and who has no problems conspiring with Russian henchmen, is being turned into something of a hero again. Or at least an anti-hero, which amounts to the same thing. (The early years after Wikileak’s founding in 2006 were classic if raw whistleblowing stuff, their worth measured by a reliable ratio: governments loathed the leaks in direct proportion to how much national papers and their readers devoured what Wikileaks gave them: banking, big oil, and climate change scandals, and of course the Pentagon revelations which, manner of acquisition aside, showed our government’s conduct in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo at its abject worst, as if Vietnam taught nothing better than how to better hide mendacity and war crimes. Wikileaks’ record during Assange’s confinement to his 350 square feet at the Ecuadorian embassy in London curdled as Assange did, his pronouncements–“The surest escape from the mundane is to teleport into the tragic realm”—his behavior and his morals trending more toward Alex Jones than any recognizable journalist. That was his intention: “We come not to save journalism but to destroy it,” he told a New Yorker reporter two years ago.)


Who he is scarcely matters. The outlet Wikileaks provided and the journalism it enabled does, though he unwittingly may be the very means of journalism’s destruction at Donald Trump’s hands. You could always rely on the Trump Administration to overreact. It’s doing so in this case, not by protecting secrets, but by declaring war on journalists. Trump has spoken several times of wanting to rewrite libel laws and demolish long-standing First Amendment standards, even those that apply to speech about politicians. Maybe this is his way to challenge the law and get a radical ruling from his new buddies on the Supreme Court. It’s a potential calamity for the First Amendment and a free press.

The day before the 17-count indictment was announced I was reading in the French press about eight reporters being summoned and interrogated by the French intelligence services over the reporters’ roles in exposing corruption under Emmanuel Macron, including a reporter from Le Monde. I couldn’t believe it was happening in France, which is no slouch when it comes to press freedoms. (Remember Charlie Hebdo.) But I certainly never imagined it could happen here, at least not since booze and bollocks got the better of Joe McCarthy. That’s what the indictment against Assange amounts to.

It’s a variation on the way the government tried to go after Daniel Ellsberg, who gave the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. That secret history revealed every government lie that made the Vietnam War possible. Nixon tried to demolish Ellsberg’s life by going after him personally while challenging the Times’s right to publish the Pentagon Papers all the way to the Supreme Court. Nixon failed on both counts, decisively and rightly so at the Supreme Court, even when he claimed the Times was publishing secrets that endangered national security. Because the public’s right to know will almost always trump government’s claims to secrecy.

Same with Wikileaks. The overwhelming majority of documents Assange put on line just provided transparency that neither warranted nor deserved secrecy. Most secrets don’t. He was criticized for publishing the names of diplomatic sources or spies in a few cases, supposedly putting American interests and individuals in danger. In all those years to date, there’s not been a single document published by Wikileak that led to the somebody’s harm. At least none that we know of. I’m pretty sure that if the government could make that linkage, it would have been screaming it from the top of the Washington Monument.

Instead, we have the president hanging from that obelisk like King Kong, firing missiles at us, enemies of the people. It isn’t Assange who was indicted last week, but the First Amendment.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam.


12 Responses for “Trump Against the First Amendment”

  1. Fredrick says:

    First of all I am glad to see a new editorial from you. It has been a long time and I was beginning to worry. Why you picked this as a topic makes me wonder however. So many other things that you could have picked that really matter. The homeless situation in our community to the plight of those who enter the country illegally. Who should we be helping, our veterans and own citizens or those who violate our border? That seems more concerning than Mr. Assange and a concern about the “press”, I will worry about the press when there is a press again. A press shares facts and lets me draw my opinion. I do view Assange as being more credible than what we have as a “press” today on CNN, MSNBC, Fox and the others which have turned news into nothing but opinion shows. The trash / support Trump 24/7 has become quite boring and the 2 year fiasco of a BS partisian investigation and the on going BS has completely lost my interest. The economy is doing well and will have it’s ups and downs, and the left has done NOTHING for the last 2 years in regards to improving things and it looks like they will do nothing for another two. They can only hope for the economy to tank to have any chance.. Isn’t sad that they have to hope for that to regain power? And the “press” just keeps with the mantra of the left. As I said, when the real press is attacked or there is an attempt to silence it I will be concerned but calling what we have now “fake news” or “enemy of the people” means nothing because that is not the press. They are mouth pieces for a particular party, and care about themselves and not the people of the United States.

  2. Stranger in a strange land says:

    American Democracy is under attack unequaled in its history. Much like the hope some had that DJT would “pivot” and become presidential and become all American’s president, We can hope that the Trump appointed SOTUS justices will “pivot” and protect the constitutional rights that will be tested with cases against detestable individuals or groups. Like the pornography case against Larry Flint, the justices will have to see past the individual and embrace the fundamental rights being challenged. If they do not, and go down the road of chipping away at our constitutional rights, kiss the USA goodbye.

  3. Richard says:

    In all of the years past when Trump was just a successful businessman and real estate investor, people from all walks of life wanted to be “buddies” and “rub shoulders” with him. Now that he is OUR president, everything that he touches, does or says is criminal making him out like he is the scum of the earth. Maybe those that are throwing stones should look into a mirror one day. You just might be surprised as to what you see looking back!

  4. Traveling Rep says:

    Thank you for that Frederick! I could not have said it better myself. I wish more people would see it that way.

  5. snapperhead says:

    Priceless…complaining about the partisanship and opinion shows of the news channels while opining and criticizing the left. News channels are a business..they broadcast what viewers tune into. Our news and politics is just a reflection of it’s people. People so hell bent on being right they refuse to accept facts that doesn’t favor their “team”. Btw if it wasn’t for freedom of the press how would you know about the crisis at the border, homelessness or problems at the VA?

  6. Fredrick says:

    @snapperhead…..while you got part if it right (“News” channels are a business) you missed the majority of the point I am afraid. The “news” portions of the media, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, CBS…. and even Flaglerlive at times, are riddled with partisanship and opinion. That’s the problem. If you are relying on the “opinion” shows for news you are already a sheep. The biggest issue is these “news” stations, all of them, have allowed the bias of their opinion shows to bleed all over the reporting of the news. Do what a reporter is supposed to do. Just report…. stop providing an opinion when reporting the news. When their is a hurricane off the coast, I really do not need to hear that it’s because Trump left the Paris accord which is accelerating global warming.

  7. Citizen says:

    You got to love Trump! No BS, he tells it how it is and these little winey complainers cant handle it! I think its great everytime somebody complains, it means he got to you and once again he wins! Im so glad he is and will contine to be our President!

  8. tulip says:

    Trump was NEVER a successful businessman in the truest sense of the word. Only successful at conning people our of their money to invest in his projects, never paying workers, never paying back loans to the point that no bank except Deutchse bank would lend him money and Trump never pays it back, owes money to the Russians, had to sell a lot of his properties to pay of some debt and has bullied and lied his way through life and has laundered money and hid money so he didn’t have to pay taxes, and lied about his income, and has no empathy or respect for anyone.

    The economy is only good for the wealthy and the stock market. How many of you are making great salaries now? Sure, the minimum wage got raised but so did the prices of everything, so it’s back to square one and we are going to lose more by paying tariffs. Businesses got a tax break, which Trump did in order to help his companies and family owned organizations. Most of those businesses gave their employees a little bonus and kept the rest for themselves and the shareholders.

    So if you want the USA to continue to be in the chaos and divisiveness and anger and disrespected by the rest of the world , if you want a President that defends and “loves” murderous rulers like Putin and Kin Jung UN, takes away women’s choice, and much much more, than Trump is your choice. For those of us who would like to see the USA returned to sanity, and much more calmer for us and our children and grandchildren and elect officials that are sane, and want to do what’s best. No leader is perfect, but next to the antics and lies of Trumps, the others all look pretty good. Do some research and not just believe everything Fox news says and keep your mind open. If nothing else people should ask themselves what kind of country do they want for the future generation.

  9. Sherry says:

    “If” Assange were an actual accredited, professional journalist, I would agree that many of his publications should be covered by the first amendment.

    However, I see Assange more as that nefarious “Pawn Shop” whose owner knowingly accepts “STOLEN” merchandise and then sells it to the highest bidder. . . or, uses it to bribe someone. All “criminal” activities for which the perp should be held accountable. “Information” is POWER, “Information” is valuable. . . Assange is a criminal “Power Broker” who has been using loop holes and skirting the laws of several different countries for many years.

    Simply because the STOLEN information he trades in has ONLY shifted the balance of power through the manipulation of a Presidential election in the US . . . and, no one we know of has yet been murdered. . . does not exonerate him from the criminal activity of dealing in stolen valuables.

    Freedom of the legitimate press. . . YES! Freedom to “hack”, “steal”, and “publish” STOLEN information, NO!

  10. Edith Campins says:

    @Richard
    Hard to believe that there is still anyone who believes the myth thatt rump was a successful business man.
    Every line of business trump started on hs own, 16 in all, failed.
    Six Corporate bankruptcies.
    Inherited the real estate business from his father, didn’t create it.
    Had his products made overseas, not in the US.
    Only president to refuse to release his taxes or divest himself from his own business interests.
    Repeatedly lie about his worth.
    Misused his charitable foundation until it was ordered shut down.
    Lastly, you must not be from New York. trump was widely disliked in both charitable and business circles.
    Those are facts,

  11. Sherry says:

    Right On Edith!

    No one I know EVER wanted to cozy up to the likes of donald trump. . . for many years dishonest, unethical, sexist . . . to say the very least. And yes, I count as my friends several successful, powerful people who actually have always had high moral character.

  12. richiesanto says:

    Tulip and Edith have the story straight on the non prez rumpf. He was never a successful businessman and if he had just taken the dough his dear daddy gave him and put it in an index fund- he would be worth what he claims. He is quite successful in lowering the bar on presidential behavior with lies, insults, tweets and his intense “love affair” with foreign dictators!

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