WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange visited Gawker (or at least, its Web site) on Monday to answer reader questions about his new book, “When Google Met WikiLeaks.”
. And while a lot has changed for Gawker’s masthead and for Assange himself since he first rose to prominence, it would be remiss not to note Gawker’s awkward history with Assange.
At least one Gawker commenter agreed with us:
The link leads here, to a post about Assange’s television show.
Especially in the earlier days, there was a tension for many sites in covering Assange — and by extension, WikiLeaks — and it was very much visible in the way Gawker chose to approach the subject.
On the one hand, WikiLeaks became famous because it facilitated the publication of several important, consequential stories about the security state by providing leaked classified documents to journalists.
On the other hand, WikiLeaks, the organization, has more and more existed as a support structure for the career of the man who founded it — a man who is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, avoiding extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges.
WikiLeaks and its supporters have argued that such criticism is a distraction from its mission.
In the past, Gawker (specifically, former Gawker writer Adrian Chen) has gone hard on the criticism against Assange for those reasons. But that tone has softened a little as his immediate newsworthiness waned.
Below is a recap:
“An insufferable self-styled Don Juan”
Gawker obtained and published a series of e-mails between Assange and a woman who claimed to have briefly met him in Melbourne years ago. In the “exclusive,” Chen, the former Gawker writer, speculated that the exchange — which included Assange tracking down the phone number of the then-19-year-old woman when he was 33 — fit an emerging profile of the WikiLeaks founder:
“His online dating profile and blogging reveal an insufferable self-styled Don Juan, and he currently stands accused of raping and sexual molesting two Swedish women. (He was released on bail from a British prison earlier today.)”
“Pale nerd king”
A 2012 Gawker post begins: “In a new Rolling Stone interview, pale nerd king Julian Assange claims ‘hundreds’ of women have ambushed him and tried to marry him while he’s been under house arrest in England. We would love to hear from all of these suitors.”
In soliciting comments from any women who have tried to marry Assange, Gawker writes:
“Was RyanAir offering a special $1 fare to fly to London to propose to Julian Assange? Is there a secret Facebook group, where all the potential wives arranged rideshares or something? How do they feel about the fact Julian’s under house arrest for dodging rape and sexual assault accusations by two Swedish women?”
“Real-life The Matrix extra”
…is how Gawker described Assange after he lost his extradition hearing.
“I agreed, which was a lie.”
After years of some pretty sick burns against Assange, Gawker’s then-editor John Cook interviewed the WikiLeaker about his new book (no, not this one, the previous one). The interview was supposed to be about the book, and only the book. That didn’t quite happen, but the fact that Assange and Cook spoke at all represented progress for his relationship with the site:
JC: So you think the various people who’ve worked with you and ended up in conflict with you — the Times, the Guardian, your former spokesperson Daniel Domscheit-Berg, WikiLeaks activist Birgitta Jonsdottir — those people are all just jealous?
JA: That’s off-topic, but we are proud of the many hundreds of relationships that we have had that have been strong. We’re a large organization, span many continents and have many agreements and we’re also proud that when people break their agreements, as in the case of the New York Times, they are — we don’t work with them again. Or in the case of employees who need to be suspended, we’ve only suspended one person in our history, but of course others may try and reinterpret those events in order to draw attention away from their own behavior.
JC: What does the fact that the way that the cables were eventually released in full—
JA: WikiLeaks is really a litmus test for those people who walk the talk in the media. How much will they really follow their protestations to be brave publishers, and how much do they really want to lick the boots of power? Well, you can tell by their engagement with us and what they do.
JC: So the Times and the Guardian lick the boots of power?
JA: Absolutely. It happens everyday.