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Caitlin Johnstone: “The US Government Won’t Care About Your Definition Of Journalism After The Assange Precedent Is Set”

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Written by Caitlin Johnstone; Originally appeared at her blog

Since I published my last article about about the idiotic “Assange isn’t a journalist” smear, this talking point has become more and more commonplace in online discourse. It’s very important to defenders of the political status quo for us all to believe that Assange is not a journalist, because otherwise that would mean they’re cheering for a dangerous precedent which would allow for the prosecution of journalists who exposed the truth about US government malfeasance. And that would mean cognitive dissonance, which all defenders of the political status quo spend most of their day-to-day mental energy running away from.

Caitlin Johnstone: "The US Government Won’t Care About Your Definition Of Journalism After The Assange Precedent Is Set"

So in the past few days, editorials like this one from free press avatar Peter Greste have popped up all over the place with their own definitions of what journalism is in order to argue why that label can’t possibly apply to Assange. All of these definitions ultimately boil down to the argument that because Assange doesn’t publish leaks in a way that they feel journalism ought to be practiced, it isn’t journalism and therefore sets no legal precedent for journalists around the world. As though the US government is going to be consulting their feelings about what specifically constitutes journalism the next time they decide to imprison a journalist for doing what Assange did.

It doesn’t work that way, sugar tits. Assange is being prosecuted by the Trump administration for standard journalistic practices, he stands no chance of receiving a fair trial, and it is very likely that he will be hit with far more serious charges for his activities once on US soil. The next time the US government, under Trump or someone else, sees another journalist anywhere in the world doing something similar to what Assange did, there will be nothing stopping them from saying, “We need to lock that person up like we did Assange; they’re doing the same sort of thing.”

It’s just so amazingly arrogant how people imagine that the way their feelings feel will factor into this in any way. Like the US Attorney General might show up on their doorstep one day with a clipboard saying “Yes, hello, we wanted to imprison this journalist based on the precedent we set with the prosecution of Julian Assange, but before doing so we wanted to find out how your feelings feel about whether or not they’re a real journalist.”

You won’t get to define how the US government will interpret what constitutes journalism in the future. Only the US government will. It’s amazing that this isn’t more obvious to more people.

In reality, journalism has always been and will always be defined as an activity. It’s not like being a doctor. If you happen to witness a car crash and you give CPR on the scene, you are not a doctor in that moment, but if you take some photos and post them online with a summary of what you saw then you are engaging in the act of journalism and all the legalities and rules of journalism apply to you.

The particular journalistic activities that the US is currently trying to extradite Assange for is encouraging a source to give him more documents and conspiracy to help Manning hide her identity so that she would not be persecuted for her heroic act of whistleblowing. In other words, Assange was attempting to make sure Manning’s leaks had enough impact to justify the risk, and also to try and make sure she wasn’t caught and tortured for it.

As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out on Twitter, the indictment describes an activity that all investigative journalists partake in all the time. A source offers you some docs and you see a gap that needs to be filled, you will ask them to get them for you. A source fears they will be found out and you do what you can to hide their identity. That’s journalism at its most raw and dangerous and important. Check out the film Spotlight to see a fairly true version of what the journalists at the Boston Globe had to do in order to expose the pedophile ring of the Catholic Church. These high level crimes must be exposed for people’s safety, but the higher the level the crime, the more risk there is in its exposure.

To be clear, you only have to engage in these kinds of activities when you are exposing the most powerful people with the most political clout for the most heinous of crimes. Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning suspected she was risking years of torture if she was found out, and history has since proved them both correct.

So of all the many enraging aspects of all of this extraordinary act of Nice Guy Fascism, one of them is the constant bloviation of the mainstream media elite with their endless personal definitions of what makes a one journalist. You’d think they were quaffing wine at an opening and wanking on about whether the paintings in the gallery were really art. “This journalist is not a journalist, my five year old son could paint that!” they grandstand to any poor bastard within earshot while inhaling olives and patting the waitress on the bum.

These people have obviously had their personal opinions taken far too seriously for far too long. It’s truly the hallmark of someone whose mother put too many of their crappy crayon drawings on the fridge when you think that your precious little homespun definition of what constitutes journalism will serve as a legal precedent in the years to come. No one will care about your feelings regarding who is a real journalist or not when the long arm of the US empire reaches out across the planet and nabs the next guy for exposing inconvenient truths about the US military-industrial complex or US corporate interests. No one is going to grant you a sit-down and consult you about your oh-so-fascinating ruminations about the next journalist they wish to use Assange’s precedent on.

It’s obvious to any journalist who doesn’t have their head up their ass that this is the beginning of the end of the fourth estate. Want to expose the US corporate corruption fueling the degradation and desecration of your environment in your particular province in the world? Oh well, uh-oh, now you’ve found yourself on a plane to Gitmo.

Journalism is an activity. It is bringing the detrimental activities of the powerful to the light, regardless of how you do it, whether it’s through the legacy media, publishing documents, or making a Facebook post. The powerful are not entitled to a private space where they can abuse humans or resources. They don’t get to commit crimes in secret just because they are rich or in government. Journalism is the only way the everyday person has any window into what the powerful are doing to them, doing to their planet, doing with their tax money, and doing in their name.

So in every way it is probably even worse if you don’t consider Assange a journalist. This precedent puts every single person on earth in danger. That means you can be nabbed wherever you may be on the globe for helping a whistleblower, and I’m sorry to say to all you impassioned bloviators, you will not be consulted on how your feelings feel about whether they fit your dubious definition of what a journalist is, because journalism is an activity, not an elitist club of which you have been the self-proclaimed gatekeeper for so long.

These narcissistic wankers are a severe danger to press freedom and they need to put their personal proclivities aside and start fighting a very dangerous legal precedent that is being set right before our eyes.

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paul ( original )

The US Government is always singled out as the main offender in this type of situation. This may be correct. However, other Western Governments are little better. They are just less powerful and so a bit less obvious. I find it hard to identify any Western European Government which isn’t actively trying to suppress dissent . I also find it unconvincing when some say these European Government are just responding to US or other pressure, and that they are puppets. That removes agency from them when in fact they are guilty and evil in their own right and should be judged accordingly.


You are right about Governments trying to stamp out dissent.
But only the USA persecutes people long after the threat is gone.
The US is vengeful.

paul ( original )

Good point. But I am not sure Tommy Robinson would agree.


President Stump wanted to charge Assange with treason, and was unhappy that it only applied to Americans.


Ahh, remember that buzzword of about a decade ago – ‘citizen journalism’ – premised on the the new and rapidly increasing inter-connectivity in western society. The bold rhetoric and promise of a new media paradigm to compete with the century old, legacy, corporate media. But turns out, most governments do not like radical shifts in the established media paradigm – and the consequent unpredictable disruptions to their control of the media narrative. So when Wikileaks created a radical and new website platform, for revealing leaked and compromising documents, about state and corporate actors, the biggest western state actor of all went full retard over it. The US has systematically worked ever since to find means to shut it down, and make personal example of Assange – the personal consequences are meant to be clear for any others with similar ideas about this sort of digital public access model, using leaked data, to hold major actors publicly accountable. The Wikileaks project has in essence proved a challenge to the western soft-power model for control of the media narrative – and the final arrest of Assange in a sequence of dubious legal events – reveals the US has resorted to the hard-power model (criminalizing the challenge) in order to maintain control of the media narrative.


Of course Caitlan Johnstone is wrong about one thing, these so-called journalists claiming Assange wasn’t practicing journalism will never have to worry about being grabbed off of the streets and prosecuted once an example of Assange is made, for the simple reason that these so-called journalists will NEVER be in danger of ever practicing journalism.

Michael Wilk

Assange’s critics in corporate media are no more than glorified stenographers, children who have utterly refused to grow up and who think they’re untouchable. They won’t be gloating so much when the U.S. decides to makes examples out of them should they ever dare step out of line.

R PLobo

presstitutes presstitutes presstitutes – msm whores to the zionazis.


Great article.

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