Information wants to be free but Assange wants to be paid. That in short, is the story told by Vanity Fair and summarized in the Independent describing the falling out between Julian Assange and the Guardian. The Wikileaks founder had made arrangements to release his archives to his mainstream media partners and found himself either the victim of a leak or double crossed — you decide which. He is engaged in a dispute with the Guardian’s office for the most sordid of all possible reasons: money. As Vanity Fair puts it:
He had become the victim of his own methods: someone at WikiLeaks, where there was no shortage of disgruntled volunteers, had leaked the last big segment of the documents, and they ended up at The Guardian in such a way that the paper was released from its previous agreement with Assange—that The Guardian would publish its stories only when Assange gave his permission. Enraged that he had lost control, Assange unleashed his threat, arguing that he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released.
It was a sad experience for the man who, according to Vanity Fair, saw the “mainstream media as a tool to be used and discarded, and at all times treated with suspicion”. He should have been more suspicious. Assange’s decision to partner with the Guardian, according to the VF, “brought together two desperately ambitious organisations that happen to be diametric opposites in their approach to reporting the news”. In other words, it was a meeting of sharpers and Assange found himself paid in his own coin. The Independent describes their mutual disillusionment.
Vanity Fair reports that The Guardian was covering the story while under severe financial pressure, with annual losses of £37.9m.
Assange had his own financial difficulties and, as he slept on the sofas of his supporters, he was struggling to identify a way of paying for the growing cost of his increasingly labour-intensive website.
Things came to a head in November with the angry threat of legal action. Assange had been given a letter by Rusbridger promising not to use material from “batch three” of the documents (the diplomatic cables) without the say so of WikiLeaks. But The Guardian managed to obtain the “batch three” documents through a separate source, after they were passed to a freelance journalist by a disgruntled former colleague of Assange’s. WikiLeaks had itself sprung a leak. Regarding itself as free of its arrangement with Assange, The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times and Der Spiegel and prepared to publish without waiting for permission from Assange. When the Australian discovered the plan, he threatened to sue.
Translation: the Guardian saw in the leaks a circulation-boosting scoop and Assange saw in it a payday. The trouble was, as it always is, in divvying up the loot. The first rule of money is there’s never enough to go around. And the farther Left you go, the more grasping people become. There is more than a little irony in the spectacle of the Julian Assange threatening to invoke the full force of the law to sue a Left-wing newspaper for publishing the leak of stolen information which he now wants to charge money for in order to advance his ostensibly unselfish cause. Be that as it may, the Independent says that the rift has been papered over, for now, but hints a new rift may not be long in coming.
Mr Rusbridger managed to placate Assange, but on 18 December, the relationship plummeted again as the paper ran a front page story claiming, “Julian Assange furore deepens as new details emerge of sex crime allegations”. The Australian was deeply hurt that the paper – where he had spent long hours in its building and shared meals with its staff – had turned on him. In April the WikiLeaks founder will have his own say on his fraught relationship with The Guardian when he publishes his memoirs.
What someone should do, were it not so cruel, is to send Bradley Manning clippings describing this entire farce. If Manning was indeed the source of Assange’s trove, then maybe he should sue Assange for his share in the book advance and part of the money that the Guardian and the New York Times chiseled him out of, lest he should see himself as what he could be: the guy left in the frame and holding the bag. The lesson here, for the impious, is in the grifter’s version of the Bible: God knows Judas not pay.