The Biden administration has no way of squaring its free-press rhetoric with its persecution of the world’s most famous journalist, writes Caitlin Johnstone.
By Caitlin Johnstone
Listen to Tim Foley‘s reading of this article.
Wednesday was World Press Freedom Day, and it saw U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Deputy State Department Spokesman Vedant Patel confronted about the glaring hypocrisy of the Biden administration’s persecution of Julian Assange for the crime of good journalism.
During an appearance at a World Press Freedom event hosted by The Washington Post’s David Ignatius on Wednesday morning, Blinken was confronted by Code Pink activists Medea Benjamin and Tighe Barry demanding justice for Assange before being swiftly dragged off stage.
“Excuse us, we can’t use this day without calling for the freedom of Julian Assange,” said Benjamin, holding a sign saying “FREE JULIAN ASSANGE.”
The two were immediately rushed by many security staffers and the audio from the stage was temporarily cut.
“Stop the extradition request of Julian Assange,” Benjamin can be heard saying.
“Two hours and not one word about journalist Shireen Abu-Akleh, who was murdered by the Israeli occupation forces in Palestine, not one word about Julian Assange,” said Barry.
‘Here to Celebrate Freedom of Expression’
“We’re here to celebrate freedom of expression, and we just experienced it,” said Ignatius without a trace of irony once the dissent had been silenced. He then returned to the subject of how bad and awful the Russian government is for imprisoning American journalist Evan Gershkovich.
Then during a White House press briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Karine Jean-Pierre was asked a question by CBS News’ Steven Portnoy that was so inconvenient the press secretary flat-out said she wouldn’t answer it.
“Advocates on Twitter today have been talking a great deal about how the United States has engaged in hypocrisy by talking about how Evan Gershkovich is held in Russia on espionage charges but the United States has Espionage Act charges pending against Julian Assange. Can you respond to that criticism?” asked Portnoy.
“What is the criticism?” asked Jean-Pierre.
“Well, the criticism is that — the argument is that Julian Assange is a journalist who engaged in the publication of government documents,” Portnoy replied. “The United States is accusing him of a crime under the Espionage Act, and that, therefore, the United States is losing the moral high ground when it comes to the question of whether a reporter engages in espionage as a function of his work. So can you respond to that?”
“Look, I’m not going to speak to Julian Assange and that case from here,” said Jean-Pierre.
And then she didn’t. She just dismissed Portnoy’s question without explanation, then babbled for a while about things Biden has said that are supportive of press freedoms, then again said “I’m not going to weigh in on comments about Julian Assange.”
This type of “I’m not answering that, screw you” dodge is a rare move for a White House press secretary. They don’t normally just come right out and say they refuse to answer the highly relevant and easily answerable question a reporter just asked. Typically when the question is too inconvenient they’ll either offer a word salad, say the answer is the jurisdiction of another department, or say they’ll get back to them when they have more information. It’s not the norm for them to just wave away the question without even pretending to provide a reason for doing so.
Trying to Stay on Mixed Message
But really, what choice did she have? As Wall Street Journal White House correspondent Sabrina Siddiqi recently acknowledged on MSNBC, the job of the White House press secretary is not to tell the truth, but to “stay on message and control the narrative.”
There is nothing about the Assange case that is on-message with the White House narrative. Just the other day Biden said at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that “journalism is not a crime,” yet his persecution of Assange is deliberately designed to criminalize journalism.
There’s simply no way to reconcile the U.S. government’s story about itself with its efforts to normalize the extradition and persecution of a journalist under the Espionage Act. If your job is to make the White House look good, the only way to respond to questions of U.S. hypocrisy regarding the Assange case is not to respond at all.
Later in the press conference, Jean-Pierre responded to another reporter’s questions about press freedoms in China with an assurance that the Biden administration will “hold accountable the autocrats and their enablers who continue to repress a free, independent media.”
Also on Wednesday afternoon, AP’s Matt Lee cited the aforementioned Code Pink protest earlier that day to question Deputy State Department Spokesman Vedant Patel about Assange, and was met with a similar amount of evasiveness.
“So then can I ask you, as was raised perhaps a bit abruptly at the very beginning of his comments this morning, whether or not the State Department regards Julian Assange as a journalist who would be covered by the ideas embodied in World Press Freedom Day?” asked Lee.
‘Does State Department Regard Assange as a Journalist?’
“The State Department thinks that Mr. Assange has been charged with serious criminal conduct in the United States, in connection with his alleged role in one of the largest compromises of classified information in our nation’s history,” Patel replied.
“His actions risked serious harm to U.S. national security to the benefit of our adversaries. It put named human sources to grave and imminent risk and risk of serious physical harm and arbitrary detention. So, it does not matter how we categorize any person, but this is — we view this as a — as something he’s been charged with serious criminal conduct.”
“Well, but it does matter actually, and that’s my question. Do you believe that he is a journalist or not?” asked Lee.
“Our view on Mr. Assange is that he’s been charged with serious criminal conduct in the United States,” said Patel.
“Yeah, but anyone can be charged with anything,” Lee replied. “Evan Gershkovich has been charged with a serious criminal offense in Russia, and you say that he is a journalist, and he is obviously. And I just want to know whether or not you, the State Department — regardless of any charges that he faces — believe that he is a journalist, or he is something else.”
“The United States doesn’t go around arbitrarily detaining people, and the judicial oversight and checks and balances that we have in our system versus the Russian system are a little bit different,” said Patel, before again repeating his line that Assange has been charged with a very serious crime.
“Okay. So, basically, the bottom line is that you don’t have an answer. You won’t say whether you think he is a journalist or not,” Lee replied.
Again, Patel was left with no safe answers to Lee’s questions, because of course Assange is indisputably a journalist.
Publishing information and reporting that is in the public interest is precisely the thing that journalism is; that’s why Assange has won so many awards for journalism. Trying to contend that Assange is not a journalist is an unwinnable argument.
Later in that same press conference Patel was challenged on his claim that Assange damaged U.S. national security by Accuracy.org’s Sam Husseini.
Probing ‘Damage to National Security’
“You refer to WikiLeaks allegedly damaging U.S. national security,” said Husseini.
“People might remember that WikiLeaks came to prominence because they released the Collateral Murder video. And what that showed was U.S. military mowing down Reuters reporters — workers in Iraq. Reuters repeatedly asked the U.S. government to disclose such information about those killings, and the U.S. government repeatedly refused to do so. Only then did we know what happened, that the U.S. helicopter gunship mowed down these Reuters workers, through the Collateral Murder video? Are you saying that disclosure of such criminality by the U.S. government impinges U.S. national security?”
“I’m not going to parse or get into specifics,” Patel said, before again repeating his line that Assange stands accused of serious crimes in a way that harmed U.S. national security.
Journalist Max Blumenthal tweeted about Patel’s remarks, “According to this State Dept flack, Julian Assange’s jailing is justified because he ‘harmed U.S. national security.’ But Assange is not an American citizen. By this logic, the U.S. can kidnap and indefinitely detain any foreign journalist who offends the U.S. national security state.”
It is good that activists and journalists have been doing so much to highlight the U.S. empire’s hypocrisy as it crows self-righteously about its love of press freedoms while persecuting the world’s most famous journalist for doing great journalism.
Highlighting this hypocrisy shows that the U.S. empire does not in fact care about press freedoms at all, save only to the extent that it can pretend to care about them to wag its finger at governments it doesn’t like.
Assange exposed many things about our rulers during his work with WikiLeaks, but none of those revelations have been as significant as what he’s forced them to reveal about themselves in the lengths that they will go to to silence a journalist who tells inconvenient truths.
Caitlin Johnstone’s work is entirely reader-supported, so if you enjoyed this piece please consider sharing it around, following her on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube, or throwing some money into her tip jar on Ko-fi, Patreon or Paypal. If you want to read more you can buy her books. The best way to make sure you see the stuff she publishes is to subscribe to the mailing list at her website or on Substack, which will get you an email notification for everything she publishes. For more info on who she is, where she stands and what she’s trying to do with her platform, click here. All works are co-authored with her American husband Tim Foley.
This article is from CaitlinJohnstone.com and re-published with permission.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
Shame, shame, shame. …. Today USA is much, much, much worse than the former Soviet Union. And it is disgusting to see the behavior of the so called journalists from the legacy media.
All stations, salute the “Bull Shit Flag”, which I have hoisted. Attention to the Assange Hipocrisy of our errant U.S. government, exhibits toward Julian Assange.
Clearly in view of the entire world.
Note everyone, this is the nature of the beast we all will come to hate, authoritarian fascism is alive and well in D.C.!
Where is the civil disorder and dissent?
The internet has made it plain that Antony Blinken and Joe Biden are brazen liars. This why the oligarchy is so desperately trying to establish procedures to censor the internet. These government officials, and their corporate media chorus, all know they are a choir of liars. There is no plausible way they could not know. Therefore, it seems to me they are criminals at best and traitors at worst. I don’t like to be harsh, but the facts are plain. If justice were done, Assange would be free and Blinken and Biden in Leavenworth.
Do these people realize how hypocritical they are? How stupid they sould?
I’m beginning to think they really, really believe their own lies.
Caitlin indicates a profound truth with her conclusion on “what he’s forced them to reveal about themselves in the lengths that they will go to to silence a journalist who tells inconvenient truths.”
Double-speak becomes increasingly transparent, increasingly the elephant in the room, with Biden praising journalism while persecuting it, and the bumbling comments of officialese defending the policy increasingly inept.
Awareness grows accordingly. I wish we could reach through Julian’s prison bars to grasp his hand.
Most politicians have no integrity, a free press calling them out is not in their interest.
Why do they even bother with the pretence of answering media questions when they know, and we know, that they won’t answer ‘difficult’ questions, and won’t tell the truth about anything unless it suits the official narrative?
It’s a farce, a charade – for those few who actually believe the narratives.
Sanctioning the entire world and getting away with impunity. And all those people constantly in awe of the US…are they blind, deaf and dumb? I have no use for this country that can’t even apologize when it is called for. This constant ‘nose in the air’ is appalling.
Not one word about Shireen Abu-Akleh, of course. She was deliberately murdered in broad daylight by Israelis who know they have complete impunity. Also, the Saudi journalist Khashoggi was brutally murdered, cut up into pieces and stuffed into a plastic trash bag. That’s how the US and its closest allies respect freedom of the press.
Message received, loud and clear.
Quite. World Press “Freedom” Day has no credibility while people like Antony Blinken, Karine Jean-Pierre and Vedant Patel and others are pontificating about it.
Thank you as always. The US maintains a facade of democracy for marketing purposes, that is, for keeping the public docile while it “boils the frog.” Turn up the heat too quickly and the frog (the public) jumps out.
Consider, would a government that blatantly lies and deflects about Julian Assange and the critical for democracy role of the “fourth estate” press and investigative freedom tell the truth about anything else? NordStream for example or the entire Ukrainian conflict? The current DP goes for the big lie and is in full Orwellian mode. If the DP claims the sky is blue, you have to check it. Nothing the DP (highlighting the DP because they are currently in charge and seemingly hell bent on making this planet unlivable) says about anything can be taken at face value.
“An Empire of Lies always produces truth bombs” – Colonel Douglas Macgregor.
Daniel Ellsberg, Seymour Hersh, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden and even Jack Teixeira have indeed showed us those truth bombs. Truth bombs that can always threaten to exploded in the face of that said Empire.
No wonder that there is a global wish for the demise of that said Empire.
“Nonpersons are not to discussed.”
Actually, this version is better:
The part with Medea and Tighe has been edited out of the State Dept video on Youtube. If you search DuckDuckGo.com for “codepink” and “blinken” in videos posted the past week, you’ll get the part with their statements.
The US ruling elite are beyond feeling any shame, hypocrisy , irony or any thoughts that’d temporize their imperial agenda. After all, the US is an EMPIRE!, and we “create or own reality” (snarled Dick Cheney). ……. The US ruling elite are circling the wagons – narrative control, as well as social control is gaining steam. Every day there’re more signs of the empire’s rapidly declining fortunes, as evidenced by this sorry excuse of a press conference. ……. the can’t even bother to lie/obfuscate – just ignore the press!. ………Yesterday it was the intimidation of 150 youths at the airport returning from Cuba One can smell the desperation. …….,.,,. The rest of the world can see more clearly the nature and character of what the US empire is all about much more clearly than the general population IN the US.
Gee, do ya’ think Saturday Night Live would do a skit showing a Blinken character extolling the virtues of free expression/free press/journalism while a Medea Benjamin character is shoved out of the room for asking a question???? …… I dunno. I haven’t watched that stuff for decades, but, I doubt it.
“create or own reality” (snarled Dick Cheney)
Allegedly it was Karl Rove. Though my vote is that it was someone unfamous.
I also recall Bush Jr. saying the US constitution “is just a goddamned piece of paper”.
Update, Feb. 21, 2011: The author of the Capitol Hill Blue story has now withdrawn it. Doug Thompson messaged us to say:
Doug Thompson: This is to let you know that the piece on Bush and the Constitution has been changed and reads:
“This article was based on sources that we thought, at the time, were reliable. We have since discovered reasons to doubt their veracity. For that reason, this article has been removed from our database.”
I no longer stand behind that article or its conclusions and have said so in answers to several recent queries. In addition, I have asked that it be removed from a documentary film.
I thought at the time that madmen and drug addicts create their own realities, but they don’t work out well over the long term.