NPR Can’t Accept For Julian Assange To Protect His Sources

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Above Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

IN A TEN-MINUTE interview aired Wednesday morning, NPR’s David Greene asked Wikileaks founder Julian Assange five times to reveal the sources of the leaked information he has published on the internet.

A major tenet of American journalism is that reporters protect their sources. Wikileaks is certainly not a traditional news organization, but Greene’s persistent attempts to get Assange to violate confidentiality was alarming, especially considering that there has been no challenge to the authenticity of the material in question.

In the interview, conducted over Skype, Greene pressed Assange to verify the theory that the 20,000 leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee that Wikileaks published came from Russia.

“Did those hacks that Wikileaks released, did those emails come from Russia?” Greene asked.

“Well we don’t comment as to our sources,” Assange replied. He remains confined in the Ecuadorian embassy in London where he has lived since 2012, despite a U.N. panel’s ruling that he has been “arbitrarily detained.”

Greene brought it up again: “Every cyber expert who’s looked at this has said it’s Russia. Are you telling me that that information did not come to you from Russia?”

Greene was exaggerating: Cybersecurity consultant Matt Tait recently told Politifact that “the consensus that Russia hacked the DNC is at this point very strong, albeit not unanimous.”

Assange replied to Greene: “No cyber expert has said that our emails that we have published have come from Russia, what they have said is that they have looked at some of the hacking of the DNC over the last two years and said that the malware in that hacking appeared to be Russian.”

Greene asked again: “Do you know where these emails came from?”

Assange replied: “Yes, I know where they came from. They came from the DNC.”

NPR’s own ethics handbook urges journalists to respect and protect sources: “As an ethical matter, we would not want to reveal the identity of an anonymous source unless that person has consented to the disclosure. That’s why we take the granting of anonymity seriously.”

NPR’s coverage of James Risen, the New York Times reporter who was pressured by the government to reveal his sources, was more respectful of the obligation to keep promises. Even Terry Gross, the notoriously tough interviewer who hosts NPR member station WHYY’s Fresh Air, did not ask Risen to reveal his sources.

Mark Memmott, NPR supervising editor for standards and practices, told The Intercept in an email: “It’s our job to ask people — experts, politicians, CEOs and even other journalists — where they’re getting their information. We should always be checking the credibility of our sources, no matter who they are. Mr. Assange was free to answer or not.”

Later in the Assange interview, Greene asked again: “Do you know the source that provided them to you?”

Assange replied: “We don’t comment on sourcing, because it makes it easier for any investigation.”

Greene began to ask again: “You brought up this question of whether there’s an argument that you’re a threat to national security. There are cyber security experts who say that someone in Russia, perhaps the Russian government, was responsible for getting this information to you. If you indeed –”

But Assange interrupted: “No there aren’t,” he said. “They’re speaking about the hacks of the DNC, not our publications. There’s a difference.”

Greene again: “If the United States government thought that you might have knowledge that a foreign government hacked into a political institution in the United States” — here Assange sighed — “during a presidential election …” Assange cut in: “They haven’t asked.”

Greene also referred to Wikileaks’ “alleged sources in Russia” and “actual sources in Russia.”

Finally, Greene asked why Wikileaks is offering a $20,000 reward for information about the death of Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer who was shot and killed on July 10 in Washington, D.C.

“Any allegation that someone has been murdered because they are a Wikileaks source, even if it only has a small probability of it being true, is very concerning to us,” Assange said. “We have a perfect record in protecting the identity of our sources and we want to establish quickly exactly what the circumstances were in Seth Rich’s killing.”

“Was he a source of yours?” Greene asked.

Assange replied: “We don’t disclose sources, even dead sources.”

  • jeanpalmer

    shame on NPR… one of many reasons why I no longer listen to National private radio…

  • Southernfink

    All that really matters is related to the accuracy of the information released, since they were only emails they speak for themselves — therefore the source itself does not appear to matter, perhaps to a NeoCon.

    The difference is when a government spokesperson makes a certain claim but without providing solid and verifiable evidence to support the claim made when asked by serious journalists.

    NPR’s David Greene ought to apply this method of ”questioning” during US government press releases, that’s when its needed most.

  • John

    Freedom of information has become a dicey contradiction between the right to privacy and the right to free speech. Certainly a line has to be drawn and if hacking is stealing information, then releasing it to the public is dealing in stolen goods. Assange is a fence who is profiting by providing a platform for illegal activities.

  • PETER CHILDS

    NPR is certainly better than the mainstream media, but that’s a low bar. I would say that NPR does show occasional flashes of the excellence that one would hope would characterize their work in general but it doesn’t, and this interview is a sad case in point.

    Wikileaks is a vital tool for keeping the public (at least, those of it who care about the responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy) informed about many things that their government and their media should but won’t tell them (this is a VERY big deal; our mainstream media prevent the voting public from learning what it needs to know, far more than it informs them, and this strikes at the very heart of our democracy). If Wikileaks doesn’t protect its sources they will dry up. This isn’t rocket science; it’s a vital, basic principle of journalism. For Mr. Greene to press Julian Assange like that was not only stupid, it was enormously inconsiderate. I agree; shame on NPR.

  • Bella_Fantasia

    Wow, the perfect storm for NPR’s Greene. Combine anti-Russian propaganda with anti-Assange propaganda.

    Greene with his protestations and sound bites really can’t hold up for a second against the articulate and principled Assange.

    NPR and PBS noooz are fully bought at this point.

  • Southernfink

    Then so is the data harvest.

  • MissingLeong’s

    There is a HUGE difference between protecting sources and trying to figure out who the sources are. NPR is under no obligation to protect the Wikileaks source and it is silly to condemn them for actually digging into a big story.

    Assange is expected to protect his sources. Other reporting agencies are expected to figure out who he is trying to protect.

  • Ricky Thompson

    David Greene just lowered NPR’s credibility and it’s sad to see this happen. If he wanted to ask him once about his sources, fine, but he kept at it and just was like the rest of the reporters who want to make a name for themselves. Is Greene the only reporter in the country who has never heard Assange tell Wikileaks policy about sources? What a clown. NPR should fire him.

    Southernfink made the point clear to us all. Perhaps Greene should fire away at Obama for the drones in Yemen and elsewhere that are killing children and don’t forget to press Obama when he is slick. That’s if Greene has nuts.

  • mattlove1

    I really disagree. Every time I listen to neoliberal propaganda radio, I hear enough bias and falsehoods and omissions that it would take a book to refute them all. It’s exhausting the way the swill pours out of the radio. Greene with his stammering, simpering style is one of the most loathsome of a truly contemptible lot.

  • mattlove1

    We should fire NPR. The propaganda network has irrevocably jumped the shark. Stations should return to autonomous local control where there is at least a chance of getting diverse, factual programming.