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The DNC's Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks Is an Attack on the Freedom of the Press

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The DNC's Lawsuit Against WikiLeaks Is an Attack on the Freedom of the Press

It’s a large world, filled with felonies big and misdemeanors small. And so I prefer to write long columns. But sometimes a short, sharp word is necessary. The Democratic Party is suing WikiLeaks and they shouldn’t. As Glenn Greenwald wrote last week in The Intercept:

The Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit this afternoon in a Manhattan federal court against the Russian government, the Trump campaign, and various individuals it alleges participated in the plot to hack its email servers and disseminate the contents as part of the 2016 election. The DNC also sued WikiLeaks for its role in publishing the hacked materials, though it does not allege that WikiLeaks participated in the hacking or even knew in advance about it; its sole role, according to the DNC’s lawsuit, was publishing the hacked emails.

As Greenwald points out, the Dems’ claim that “WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it ‘willfully and intentionally disclosed’ the DNC’s communications … would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting.”

After the Manning releases in 2010, the Obama Justice Department wanted to sue WikiLeaks. However, they couldn’t prove that anyone from WikiLeaks had actually stolen documents. They knew that suing WikiLeaks would have infringed on press freedom. Sue WikiLeaks, and you have to sue the Washington Post as well.

The DNC has no such qualms now.

Do me a favor: Forget for a moment that entire Dem playbook since Trump’s election has been to cover and post-facto justify their own failure. Forget the Party’s incredible blame-shifting. Forget the corruption of the Dem leadership, forget their brazen attempt to blackmail and boot out progressive activists. Forget how the modern DNC doesn’t care about all fifty states, how they enable Trump when they’re not raising money off of him. Forget the nauseating spectacle of this once-great party peddling itself to red-baiting rubes.

I’m dead serious. Forget all of that for a moment, and focus on the suit:

What the hell are they doing?

Like the Republicans, the Dems are too in love with the national security state, too indoctrinated with the romance of the virtuous empire. This is has been true since the Wilson Presidency. Obama handed out leak-related charges than the all other presidential administrations combined. But this lawsuit feels different.

Greenwald is quite right. Apart from the externalities of the suit—they’re sore about losing—this is wrong on a philosophical, moral, and Constitutional level.

I’m not naive about the party. But since Watergate, the Dems have had a central, unstated pretense: remember Nixon? We’re not like that. Remember The West Wing? We’re those guys!

That was the consolation for progressives … that the Dems, whatever their failings, whatever their Hamptons addiction, stood for the right things, sort of. And one of the things they supposedly stood for was a vigorous press.

If you want a foundation myth of modern institutional Boomer liberalism, go watch Spielberg’s The Post, where Graham and Bradlee decide to publish the Pentagon Papers and save the country. As Greenwald notes in his piece, it is extremely common for media outlets to publish stolen or hacked or illegal material. Maddow published part of Trump’s tax returns in 2017. The Post published an internal memo from the Trump campaign. The Access Hollywood tape. How many times have secret company documents been leaked to the Wall Street Journal? You can make your own list: the Panama Papers. Chelsea Manning. Edward Snowden. Seymour Hersh’s entire career. How many intelligence dossiers, how many Internet company memos have seen the light of day because the press were free to publish ill-gotten goods? It’s the Pentagon Papers all the way down, fam.

And now, the Democratic Party says it’s no go?

This entire time, have the Dems only been serious about press freedom because it’s been Times and the Post?

Or perhaps, they think it’s different because it’s WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks means Assange, and Assange means Trump?

Anyone with a functioning medulla knows that Julian Assange is a chode-rich swamp fish with the morals of a bordello madam. Assange’s principal purpose in life is to save his own ass; that’s his god, as the last two years have made depressingly clear.

But here’s a leak for you: Assange’s failings are irrelevant.

If you remember how media companies work, most media owners don’t run companies for charity. They do so for profit. If their money-hunting doesn’t invalidate their newspapers’ good works, then why should Assange’s pardon-hustling ruin WikiLeaks?

Hell, Assange could be the Zodiac Killer, if Ted Cruz didn’t already hold that honor. It would change nothing about the importance of WikiLeaks. I’ll go further. It wouldn’t have mattered in Daniel Ellsberg had sold the Pentagon Papers to pay for angel dust. The Papers remain the Papers, and the Papers needed to be read.

In this country, in every country, the press and the powerful are at war over information. We journalists fight governments, who want to protect their secrets. We fight corporations, who want to profit from the same. A civilization that runs on bureaucracy is more effective but also more vulnerable: paper and data leaks out. Our job is to catch them in the act. Press freedom demands the publishing and promulgation of illegal material. They don’t teach you that in Sunday School or Columbia J-Class, but that’s the truth. All important secrets eventually see the light; the Democrats should do likewise.

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