Is Assange a Journalist?

When someone says “Assange isn’t a journalist”, they aren’t telling you what Assange is. They’re showing you who they are, says Caitlin Johnstone. Plus Ray McGovern answered the question on CNN nine years ago.

By Caitlin Johnstone 

As discussed Saturday, whenever Julian Assange is in the news and people are defending him you always see a bunch of hyper-emotional empire loyalists running around online trying to manage the narrative about him. One of the most common talking points which comes up is that Assange is “not a journalist”.

The reason this talking point comes up, of course, is because the WikiLeaks founder is besieged by powerful forces who are attempting to imprison him for publishing inconvenient facts about them, and his defenders often voice their concerns about what this means for the future of press freedoms. The completely baseless claim that Assange is “not a journalist” is used in an attempt to defuse the argument that his prosecution by the U.S. government could lead to the same fate for any news media outlet which publishes leaks on the US government anywhere in the world. If he’s not a journalist, then his prosecution sets no precedent for real journalists.

This argument, if you can call it that, is fallacious for a number of reasons. For starters, as The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald explained last year, there’s not any legal distinction in the U.S. Constitution between news media outlets like the The New York Times and an outlet which solely focuses on publishing leaks. If you set the precedent with any publisher, you’re necessarily setting it for all of them. Greenwald writes the following:

To begin with, the press freedom guarantee of the First Amendment isn’t confined to “legitimate news outlets” – whatever that might mean. The First Amendment isn’t available only to a certain class of people licensed as “journalists.” It protects not a privileged group of people called “professional journalists” but rather an activity: namely, using the press (which at the time of the First Amendment’s enactment meant the literal printing press) to inform the public about what the government was doing. Everyone is entitled to that constitutional protection equally: there is no cogent way to justify why the Guardian, ex-DOJ-officials-turned-bloggers, or Marcy Wheeler are free to publish classified information but Julian Assange and WikiLeaks are not.

Secondly, anyone with a functioning brain can see that Julian Assange is indeed a journalist. Publishing facts so that the citizenry can inform themselves about what’s going on in their world and what’s happening with their government is the thing that journalism is. Duh. The need for an informed citizenry is the entire reason why press freedoms are protected so explicitly under the U.S. Constitution, and publishing facts about the most powerful institutions on earth indisputably does create a more informed citizenry.

April 5, 2010: Julian Assange addressing National Press Club about WikiLeaks Collateral Damage video from Baghdad showing U.S. air attacks that killed civilians on July 12, 2007. (Jennifer 8. Lee, Flickr)

You can look at any conventional dictionary definition of the word and come to the same conclusion. Merriam-Webster offers “the public press” and “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media”. The Oxford English Dictionary offers, “The activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or preparing news to be broadcast.” Your Dictionary offers, “the work of finding, creating, editing and publishing news, or material written and presented for a newspaper, magazine or broadcast news source.” These are activities that WikiLeaks is undeniably involved in; they collect and publish newsworthy information to be circulated by themselves and other news sources. The fact that they do their part differently (and better) than other outlets doesn’t change that.

Which explains why the WikiLeaks team has racked up numerous awards for journalism over the years, including the Walkley Award for Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism (2011), the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism (2011), the International Piero Passetti Journalism Prize of the National Union of Italian Journalists (2011), the Jose Couso Press Freedom Award (2011), the Brazillian Press Association Human Rights Award (2013), and the Kazakstan Union of Journalists Top Prize (2014).

The claim that Assange is “not a journalist” is both an irrelevant red herring and a self-evident falsehood. It is made not by people with an interest in maintaining a small and specific linguistic understanding of what the word journalism means, but by people who want to see Julian Assange imprisoned by the same government which tortured Chelsea Manning because he made them feel emotionally upset. It’s a fact-free argument made entirely in bad faith for inexcusable motives: the desire to see a journalist imprisoned for telling the truth.

When someone says “Assange isn’t a journalist”, they aren’t telling you what Assange is. They’re showing you what they are. 


As early as Dec. 2010, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern on CNN answered the same question, arguing that Assange is a journalist, not a “high-tech terrorist.” McGovern was never invited back to CNN domestic service after this interview and only once more on CNN International.

Caitlin Johnstone is a rogue journalist, poet, and utopia prepper who publishes regularly at Medium. Follow her work on Facebook, Twitter, or her website. She has a podcast and a new book Woke: A Field Guide for Utopia Preppers.” This article was re-published with permission.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A CIA analyst for 27 years and Washington area resident for 56 years, he has been attuned to these machinations. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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31 comments for “Is Assange a Journalist?

  1. Debbie Blissmer
    April 17, 2019 at 04:01

    Caitlin, i follow your stories with interest and pride. I am very much a senior living on social security or i would certainly contribute to keeping you going. I enjoy every thing you write but particularly this one. #ASSANGE

  2. Zhu
    April 9, 2019 at 07:04

    For too many, Assange’s “crime” was not supporting the “Church of Hillary”.

  3. Gregory Herr
    April 8, 2019 at 23:40

    I’m just sorry I had to be subjected to Joe Lieberman before being able to see Ray McGovern tell it like it is.

    Caitlin’s reflection on the purpose of journalism–what journalism is, and why press freedom is fundamental–is right to the point.

  4. Grady
    April 8, 2019 at 17:32

    Left out of the discussion and reporting is that Assange isn’t going to get a fair public trial by a jury of his peers. Not one of the prisoners at Gitmo or any accused in the blatantly fallacious 9/11 ruse (9/11 commission report is thoroughly inaccurate and incorrect) will get a fair trial by jury. That would include legal discovery and put all the lies and cover up on display. Never gonna happen. Military tribunal with no due process, guilty with no chance at being proven innocent. This is Assange ‘s fate, an orange jumpsuit in Gitmo, or maybe solitary confinement in Leavenworth. The real criminals are in our three branches of government and power, bought and paid for by a legally corrupt system. The USA is a sick and unsound society. Venezuela anyone?

  5. Frederike
    April 8, 2019 at 15:41

    They have to say that he is not a journalist, or their whole case falls apart. A real journalist cannot be prevented from publishing his evidence.
    The real problem is that a person with a functioning brain has become a rarity and a real mystery to those without one.

    • Frederike
      April 8, 2019 at 15:48

      And Ray McGovern is just wonderful with his calm and smile towards such an arrogant reporter at CNN who asks the most inane questions.

  6. herbert davis
    April 8, 2019 at 14:29

    Brilliant. Of course this is all about the deep state regulating what the people of faith are fed.

  7. April 8, 2019 at 12:55

    The term “journalism” has lost its meaning in these dark days. In the mainstream it is nothing but propaganda anymore, carefully crafted to manipulate the unsuspecting/disinterested public. The few real journalists left, like Assange, have been slandered as subversive Russia lovers by the criminal class. So sad.

  8. hetro
    April 8, 2019 at 12:16

    Sam F, below, makes a crucial distinction on the question of what journalism is:

    “Injury to the US, by means of exposing information, consists in such acts as revealing defensive plans (not plans of aggression), damage to legitimate government programs (not unconstitutional spying upon citizens). If the legitimacy of the secret program is dubious or controversial, and the secrecy amounts to concealment of activities never explicitly approved by the people, then the exposure is journalism or free expression, not an act of subversion or war upon the nation.”

    The key concept is legitimacy. Assange has been dedicated to revealing crimes, not harassing legitimate government programs. Note there has been NO discussion of this distinction in what has been revealed, as with (particularly important) The Collateral Murder video. Instead, as usual, the approach is to move straight on into demonizing and emotionalizing because all such revelations threaten government power and control–and particularly this, versus, because he made them “emotionally upset,” although he did that too.

  9. firstpersoninfinite
    April 7, 2019 at 23:36

    Huge fan of Caitlin’s work, but you might want to address the following:

    “It is made not by people with an interest in maintaining a small and specific linguistic understanding of what the word journalism means, but by people who want to see Julian Assange imprisoned by the same government which tortured Chelsea Manning because he made them feel emotionally upset.”

    Either Chelsea should refer to a “she” or “he” should refer to Bradley Manning. Just an editorial point. As usual, spot on all the way!

    • Kat G
      April 8, 2019 at 12:30

      I appreciate your sensitivity to gender identity. I think the “he” in this sentence refers to Julian Assange, not to Chelsea Manning. If you remove the prepositional phrase, “by the same government which tortured Chelsea Manning”, the sentence would read, “It is made not by people with an interest in maintaining a small and specific linguistic understanding of what the word journalism means, but by people who want to see Julian Assange imprisoned… because he [Julian] made them feel emotionally upset,” i.e., the people upset with Julian likely think that his release of the DNC emails threw the 2016 election to Trump and have no idea that the Grand Jury is based on Julian’s role in Manning’s military intel leaks in 2010. Cheers from one Grammar nerd to another!

    • David G
      April 8, 2019 at 13:49

      Maybe the “he” is Julian.

    • April 8, 2019 at 15:44

      No, the problem is the missing commas- Caitlin uses correct pronouns for Chelsea.

      It should read:

      “It is made not by people with an interest in maintaining a small and specific linguistic understanding of what the word journalism means, but by people who want to see Julian Assange imprisoned by the same government, which tortured Chelsea Manning, because he made them feel emotionally upset.”

      The he at the end refers to Julian Assange.

  10. Sam F
    April 7, 2019 at 22:58

    Excellent points raised by Caitlin Johnstone, Ray McGovern, and Glenn Greenwald. Mr. Assange is a journalist, and has the same rights to freedom of expression under the US Constitution as any US citizen. The People of the United States are much endebted to him for the truths he has told.

    The dividing line between free expression and injury to the US may not be adjusted to suit the politics of the judge, but the US judiciary consist entirely of traitors whose sole “belief” is that tribal loyalty = patriotism and money = virtue, both of which are lies, their real profession. They would convict him for tribal gains.

    Injury to the US, by means of exposing information, consists in such acts as revealing defensive plans (not plans of aggression), damage to legitimate government programs (not unconstitutional spying upon citizens). If the legitimacy of the secret program is dubious or controversial, and the secrecy amounts to concealment of activities never explicitly approved by the people, then the exposure is journalism or free expression, not an act of subversion or war upon the nation.

    There is the undebated point: the line between secret programs that must be secret to protect essential and indisputable national interests (such as defense in wartime), and secret programs that conceal policies never approved by the people. Mr. Assange and other alternative news sources have not to my knowledge revealed any necessarily secret programs to protect indisputable national interests. Therefore they are journalists.

    It is a much greater offense to against democracy for economic powers to control mass media for their private gain, as with nearly all US mass media. It is they who should be abolished, by amendments to the US Constitution to restrict funding of mass media and elections to limited personal donations or government funding. We cannot get those amendments because those tools of democracy are controlled by the dictatorship of gold. That is the only treason in the Assange affair, because it is the result of economic war by the rich against the United States.

  11. Joe Tedesky
    April 7, 2019 at 22:26

    Questioning to if Julian Assange is a journalist just goes to show you how bad our American society has gone to when it comes to identifying a true reliable truthful source for our news. In fact for us to have this conversation after the MSM beat us all over the head 24/7 with allegations of a Russian Puppet President and, collusion theories abound to where there was no there there… well if you are still buying into all of that made up bullshit then you don’t deserve the real news. We Americans are suffering from poorly reported to highly left out detailed omissions of anything even closely resembling the truth that when the true is presented then it is assumed it must be a lie. I mean ‘why would our MSM lie to us’ is the go too thought and with this mindset we all fail. Yes Assange is a journalist and a damn good one at that. It’s the journalist questioning Julian’s credentials who are not journalist.

    • Eddie S
      April 7, 2019 at 23:36

      Yeah JT, you’d think people would develop a little ‘healthy skepticism’ after the way most of the public (at least the ones who didn’t read BP’s CN) was misled about WMDs into supporting an illegal war that killed 10’s of thousands of innocents (probably more). But no, they pretty much line up at the trough for the same-old-same-old,,,

  12. MEexpert
    April 7, 2019 at 21:01

    Jamal Khashogi, who wrote occasionally for Washington Post is a journalist but Julian Assange is not. Seems obvious to me.

  13. Maxwell Quest
    April 7, 2019 at 19:59

    As Caitlin points out, the establishment is grasping at straws in an attempt to sway public (and legal) opinion in their favor in order to silence (and make an example of) Julian Assange. All other attempts have failed so far. A pretext is needed, however ludicrous – some concocted, contorted, legal technicality that would allow them to circumvent the first amendment in the eyes of the gullible.

    Without this fig leaf for the state to hide behind, the media will be forced to raise a counterfeit “hue and cry” in defense of their rights – a complication which both the state and its media propagandists want to avoid at all costs.

  14. ML
    April 7, 2019 at 19:02

    People who are NOT journalists are people who don’t tell the truth! That’s who isn’t a journalist. People like Fareed Zacharia on CNN, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, all the clowns on Fox News, and all the other ilk in the alphabet soup of shite that comprise the “mainstream press” – that’s who are NOT journalists. They are but stenographers, script-readers and highly paid tarts for their corporate paymasters. They are the ones who are not journalists. Journalists tell the truth! Always. Robert Parry was a journalist. And all who follow in his footsteps, those people are journalists. Tell it like it is, Caitlin Johnstone, journalist extraordinaire because she tells the truth with great aplomb. Thank you!

    • Joe Tedesky
      April 7, 2019 at 22:29

      Good comment. I just want to add that Robert Parry risked everything by leaving Newsweek to inform the citizenry… just had to say that.

      • ML
        April 8, 2019 at 12:34

        Hi Joe T, yes you are right, Mr. Parry did risk everything. He was an honorable man. It’s been good to see you back more often. I have missed you. The comments section was not the same without you.

        • Frederike
          April 8, 2019 at 15:54

          Agreed! I look for them, always.

    • April 8, 2019 at 15:56

      I agree that they are untrustworthy propagandists of the plutocrats who pay them.

      But if we are speaking in the context where the debate is 1) who is and isn’t a journalist, and 2) the idea that those who aren’t journalists don’t have the same first amendment rights as journalists, then I want to affirm strongly and vehemently that all those lying plutocrat propagandists are journalists as are disgusting, hateful, creeps like Alex Jones.

      It’s just that there are good journalists and there are lousy, terrible, really bad journalists- not just bad in character but bad at their job.

      But I want no one censored or persecuted by the government. Joining in the game of saying who is and who isn’t a journalist is giving credence to the whole idea that we define journalism not by what they do (report) but how they do it. In the end that gives power to those who want to shut down reporting they don’t like.

      I have a Facebook friend who seriously wants FOX News forced off the air by the government because he says they have no first amendment rights because they are doing hate speech. But remember, as Glenn Greenwald keeps telling us, the greatest targets of accusations of hate speech in this nation are those who critique Israel for their treatment of Palestinians. Once we accept that hate speech has no first amendment rights, the immediate response of those we give that power to will be to shut down the speech of the Left.

  15. April 7, 2019 at 18:28

    OK, how can any decent person not appreciate Julian’s contribution to finding the truth? But is finding the truth journalism? Julian’s real contribution is in the sphere of computer programming. Today we would say he created an app. His app allows journalists and whistleblowers to meet in a confidential way to exchange information. The value of the app is for the whistleblower because whistleblowing can be dangerous, especially if it is against the US military. Tragically, Julian was born too early. Had he waited a bit he might have been able to sell his app to a venture capitalist and retire a happy billionaire somewhere. But instead he made his app into a self-promoted political tool, which greatly antagonized several governments. It is a shame because Julian is a genius and by antagonizing government, his genius was cut down, which is a great loss for humanity. There is still a lot of work to be done in exposing the dark side of our world. But there will come others inspired by Julian and the war against the dark side will yet be won. Let us hope his worst fears will not be realized and he will be let off on the basis that in a legal sense he “did nothing wrong”. Or maybe he will be able to cop a plea by helping solve the great mystery of our time: who leaked those DNC e-mails!

  16. Maxim Gorki
    April 7, 2019 at 18:00

    Seems obvious to me. The fact that it isn’t obvious to others is the problem. The problem is that the US is the greatest threat to peace in the world today. Each day I ask myself, how many innocent women and children are going to be murdered today by my tax dollars supported government? And yet we keep voting Rep and Dem every election because we don’t want to throw our vote away. Maybe we should throw our vote away, if it will save lives.

    • Eddie S
      April 7, 2019 at 23:27

      MG – I too feel the guilt you and others feel about too much of our tax dollars being spent to kill, maim, torture, and suppress too many innocent people around the world. I for one decided in this last election that I’m no longer going to vote for Dem POTUS candidates (Republicans are out of the question)who are pro-war, including the bogus ‘humanitarian interventions’ that are a Hitlerian tactic. I’m voting Green Party presidential candidates— their platform is a LOT closer to what I believe in —- check for yourself at Even though ‘tri-angulating’ Bill Clinton said that progressive/left voters would vote Democratic because ‘they had no-place else to go’, that’s false —- we can go 3rd party. Why should we vote for a party that is virtually identical to the Republicans in their militarism (and many of their other policies)? I don’t feel I’m throwing away my vote —- that’s just a meme/tactic that the Dems use to try to coerce voters to vote for a candidate they dislike and won’t act in their best interests anyway. My one vote counts as much as Hillary’s one vote, or Nancy Pelosi’s one vote, or any campaign strategist’s one vote—- no-more and no-less —- it just won’t count in the Democratic column. And yes, my candidate may not ever win, but that’s something that should bother progressive Dems who vote against their own morals & ethics for a corrupt Dem POTUS candidate, not a reason that I too should follow their lead. And IF the Dems are ever going to move leftward again, it’s ONLY going to be because they’re losing votes by not doing-so, otherwise why would/should they change? Their conscience bothering them when their making 10’s of millions in speaking fees to corporate groups?

      • Willow
        April 8, 2019 at 12:48

        It is no accident that the MSM media sleight of hand gradually turned public sentiment against whistlebliwera and Wikileaks/Assange
        Control of the narrative became sanctioned and massively funded when the Smith-Mundt Act (also known as the propaganda ban) was repealed in 2013 as part of the NDAA under Obama
        The MSM is now just another literally bought and paid for tool of the National Security State

    • Zhu
      April 9, 2019 at 07:02

      Why do you think half never vote?

  17. Robert Mayer
    April 7, 2019 at 17:29

    Tnx CN & Caitlin… Only 1st paragraph in… Imo: SOP by US DA’s is2 Overcharge2 intimidate defendant counsel 2 plead down poss “justice” costly trials… $o… Make No Mistake… Just Like CN contributer & GREAT AMERICAN HERO Mr. Kiriaku… DEATH PEN IS DEFINITELY IN PLAY!!!

    • April 8, 2019 at 16:01

      Man, you spend too much time on Twitter. LOL

      You can write normally here.

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