Last night, Steve Kroft on 60 Minutes challenged Julian Assange on a variety of issues surrounding WikiLeaks, and failed miserably. But what happened last spring when Assange met a real master of the debate—Stephen Colbert?
Here is a second excerpt from my just-published book, THE AGE OF WIKILEAKS: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond). It grew out of my popular daily live-blog here on all things WikiLeaks, but covers a lot more ground, such as the following….
During this first week of publicity for WikiLeaks after the release of the “Collateral Murder” video from Iraq, most Americans had only met Assange in brief snippets on the nightly news or on one of the cable programs. For a few million people (via its original airing and then on the web), a more revealing and intense introduction came from an unusual platform: Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. On April 12, Assange appeared for the trademark, show-closing interview with its host.
Sitting across from Assange, who was wearing a light-colored, open-necked shirt and his usual brown blazer, Colbert goofed around for a minute, his own face pixilated and voice modified to protect against a drone attack. (Some reports in the media suggested, with little evidence, that the US was conducting a manhunt for Assange and seeking to detain him.) When that charade ended he gave his guest a chance to explain US constitutional guarantees on freedom of speech and the press and the need for “the flow of information.”
Maintaining a light manner, Colbert said, “If we don’t know what the government is doing, we can’t be sad about it. Why are you trying to make me sad?” This produced a boyish grin from Assange. “You are trying to bum us out about the world. All of these terrible things are going on behind closed doors and you decided I needed to hear about it.”
“That’s just an interim state, Stephen, you’ll be happier about it later on,” Assange said, smiling again.
So far, a typical Colbert interview segment. But now Colbert got serious. “Let’s talk about this footage that has gotten you so much attention recently,” he said. “This is footage of an Apache helicopter attack in 2007. The army described this as a group that gave resistance during the fight, and that doesn’t seem to be happening. But there are armed men in the group, they did find a rocket-propelled grenade among the group, the Reuters photographers who were regrettably killed were not identified as photographers. And you have edited this tape, and you have given it a title called ‘Collateral Murder.’ That’s not leaking, that’s a pure editorial.”
Assange, no smile this time, explained, “the promise we make to our sources is that…we will attempt to get the maximum political impact for the materials they give to us.”
“So ‘Collateral Murder’ is to get it political impact?”