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Journalism

Dec 7, 2010

In the eye of the Assange media storm

When Daniel Assange reluctantly agreed to talk with me two and a half months ago, his intention was to correct the misrepresentations that had been previously made about him in the media, clarify his often-misinterpreted relationship with his (in)famous father, and then move on with his life, writes freelance writer Nick Johns-Wickberg.

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When Daniel Assange reluctantly agreed to talk with me two and a half months ago, his intention was to correct the misrepresentations that had been previously made about him in the media, clarify his often-misinterpreted relationship with his (in)famous father, and then move on with his life. He was not seeking attention; he did not claim to have any ground-breaking information on his father — he just wanted to set the record straight.

That should have been the end of it all. In the interview, Daniel made it very clear that he was never involved with WikiLeaks, and that he had not seen Julian Assange since the whistleblower last left Australia in 2007. He was comprehensive and thoughtful in his responses, and gave some great first-hand insights into the personality of the man that the world knows so little about. As an interviewer, I couldn’t have asked him to answer my questions more honestly and extensively than he did.

But now that WikiLeaks has once again become the biggest media circus in town, this no longer seems to be enough. Over the past week, journalists have been trying to track Daniel down by any means possible: Facebook, email, telephone, and even via me. Crikey understands that at least one overseas newspaper has asked reporters to wait outside Daniel’s workplace and approach him for comment.

To a certain extent we expect this from journalists — we all have stories to write, deadlines to meet and bosses to impress. But surely, in a situation like this, a bit of respect and restraint could be shown. Daniel Assange is not like most sources: he is not a (willing) celebrity, he does not work in any position that requires him to deal with the media, and he has played no role in the story into which he is being dragged.

Our lovely photo of Daniel has been attracting some attention too. In the last few days, myself and the people at Crikey have been approached by many different local and international publications including Radar Online, People Magazine and Italian Vanity Fair wanting to use our photo. We’ve declined all of these approaches.

True to his word, Daniel has shown no interest in doing a second interview, and has declined all the approaches that have been made to him so far. There’s good reason for him to keep a low profile: last week a blogger made the radical suggestion that the best way to stop Julian Assange was to physically harm or threaten Daniel. The post attracted so much attention that it has subsequently been censored, and the author has received death threats.

So, given all the attention that Daniel is now receiving, was his decision to do the original interview with me the right choice for him? I’d like to think it was. He’d already been misrepresented in an article by The New York Post, and he was going to have to make some form of public comment eventually, if only to distance himself from the WikiLeaks saga.

Daniel and I were friends when we were younger (in case you’re wondering how an intern got this interview), and at first I was concerned that I might be abusing the connection in doing the interview. Now that I think about it, though, it was something that Daniel needed to do, and it seems that he felt safer talking to someone he knew and trusted than a journalist he’d never met before.

From what he said in that interview, it’s clear that Daniel doesn’t have anything more to say about his father or WikiLeaks, which raises the question as to why journalists have been so persistent in trying to talk to him. At a certain point, efforts to contact him, especially over Facebook and at work, are just plain harassment. I write this not only as a friend of Daniel’s, but as an aspiring journalist who’d like to work in an industry that treats people with respect.

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11 comments

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11 thoughts on “In the eye of the Assange media storm

  1. Gregoire

    Marney,

    The “line in the sand” is clear: it is between public and private.

  2. xico

    Apologies for above…. too many Assange.

    Daniel’s latest is really amazing though….. it seems everyone is creeping out of the woodwork to make comments, dubious at best, especially journalists and lawyers and wanna be celebs.

  3. xico

    Sydneylawyer: Where is Robertson’s article please?

    Also, for information of above all referring to Daniel, the man’s name is Julian Assange.

  4. sydneylawyer

    I think that Geoffrey Robertson’s article on this hit the nail on the head. Assange is a hero for the democratic right to freedom of speech and freedom of information about the government. The only reason that governments claim that what he is doing is illegal is that they wish to protect themselves from embarrassment and preserve their own power. According to the letter of the law, he probably has breached the laws which protect state secrecy. But surely our society has broader values which protect the freedom of speech of individuals and this is what the true strength of our social system is likely to be rather than a veil of secrecy which makes the decisions of our governments unaccountable.

  5. Aphra

    Good article, Nick.

    I, too, have been worried about young Daniel since I read (on Huff Post?) some high-profile lunatic or t’other calling for revenge on the lad. I hope that, at least, Australia might find itself able to ensure his safety.

  6. marney

    I really enjoyed this read, and really support wikileaks – however I found this comment a bit hard to digest: “But surely, in a situation like this, a bit of respect and restraint could be shown.”

    The reason being is that Wikileaks (which Daniel has said he supports) prides itself on flying in the face of respect and restraint for the sake of saving someone embarrassment or an uncomfortable time. It’s a bit of a contradiction to say “it’s okay for journalists to write about these top secret, potentially world changing documents, but please don’t ask his son – who spoke out about it – more questions.”

    If you are going to support laying things bare, then can we draw lines in the sand anymore?

  7. Fat Albert

    I have never been one for hyphernated last names, but I like yours, keep at it son.

  8. scottyea

    Good journalism – keep it up mate.

  9. Lucy

    Nice work Nick, I couldn’t believe it when I saw how the media were pursuing Daniel Assange, who has done precisely zero to deserve this level of attention. It’s nice to see a journo do some soul-searching about the effects of their actions, but in this case I’d say you’re in the clear; you provided Daniel with a sympathetic airing of his involvement in Wikileaks, or rather his lack thereof.

  10. shepherdmarilyn

    WEll here in Australia we jail innocent refugee kids to punish their parents for daring to come to Australia to seek asylum, why not punish this young man as well?

    Daniel will be proud as hell of his dad one day very soon as the real world wake up to the good his work has done for the few against the very powerful cowards who would kill, maim and destroy at will.

    I wish he was my relative.

  11. Keith is not my real name

    Nicely done.

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