Julian Assange in Berkeley
This is from a forum Julian Assange participated in when he was in Berkeley in April of this year. It’s quite illuminating — after his initial somewhat unfortunate effort at humor — sufficiently illuminating, in fact, that I’ve transcribed it and pasted the transcript below.
Moderator: The question has to do with the shift, alleged shift at Wikileaks from simply posting the material, having it crowdsourced, and people interpreting it, to actually interpreting what it means. Is that a change?
Julian Assange: No. That’s part of the right-wing reality distortion field (some laughs in audience). Mother Jones has had some changes in the past few years.
No, there hasn’t been a change, whatsoever. Although of course it was our hope that, initially, that because we had vastly more material than we could possibly go through, if we just put it out there, people would summarize it themselves. That very interestingly didn’t happen. Quite an extraordinary thing.
Our initial idea — which never got implemented — our initial idea was that, look at all those people editing Wikipedia. Look at all the junk that they’re working on. Surely, if you give them a fresh classified document about the human rights atrocities in Falluja, that the rest of the world has not seen before, that, you know, that’s a secret document, surely all those people that are busy working on articles about history and mathematics and so on, and all those bloggers that are busy pontificating about the abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries and other human rights disasters, who are complaining that they can only respond to the NY Times, because they don’t have sources of their own, surely those people will step forward, given fresh source material and do something.
No. It’s all bullshit. It’s ALL bullshit. In fact, people write about things, in general (if it’s not part of their career) because they want to display their values to their peers, who are already in the same group. Actually, they don’t give a fuck about the material. That’s the reality.
So, very early on, we understood from experiences like this, that we would have to at least give summaries of the material we were releasing — at least summaries — to get people to pick it up, to get journalists to pick it up to get them to dig deeper. And if we didn’t have summaries to give a piece context, it would just fall into the gutter and never be seen again.
Moderator: The raw data…
Julian Assange: You cannot do it. It will just fall into the gutter. In cases where I’ve understood the material is more complex, or other people in our group have understood the material is more complex (especially militrary material which has lots of acronyms), you understand, it’s not even enough to do a summary. You have to do an article, or we have to liaise with other journalists to give the material to them, some sort of exclusive basis, or semi-exclusive basis, to get them to extract it into easily understandable human readable form. Otherwise it goes nowhere.
But. Unlike other organizations, we always release the full source material at the same time. The summary is some sort of introduction, or the articles we do are based upon the raw source material. So everything we do is like science. It is checkable, independently checkable, because the information which has informed our conclusion is there. Just like scientific papers which are based on experimental data must make their experimental data available to other scientists and to the public, if they want their papers to be published. It’s our philosophy that raw source material must be made available so that conclusions can be checkable, and that’s what we did with this video.
But, we’re also, we’re an activist organization. The method is transparency, the goal is justice. Part of the method is journalism. But it is our end-goal to achieve justice, and it’s our sources’ goals, usually, to also achieve justice. So, when they give us material, what we promise is not just that we will protect them, but we will try and get maximum impact from the material. Whether that’s working with other journalists, whether that’s summarizing things ourselves, in the case of the video, whether that’s putting context in the initial part of the video, even if we then also provide the full thing.