There is a very clear message to wannabe whistleblowers from The Guardian’s coverage of the British court decision earlier today to greenlight the extradition to a US federal court of Julian Assange.
The message is this: if you have a scandal to reveal, or dirty secrets the government would rather not see aired in public, do not give the story to The Guardian, if you expect Britain’s premier liberal organ to stand by you, through thick and thin.
The court decision made the front page of The Guardian’s internet edition early in the day but by 10:30 a.m. New York time, the story had been dropped and relegated to the ’UK News’ section. As exercises in hand washing go, this was up there with the worst.
Few outlets made as much hay out of the Wikileaks revelations as The Guardian, but few distanced themselves from their source with such speed and lack of grace when the US and UK governments turned up the heat. Assange, whose mental and physical health is failing by some accounts, now faces the grisly prospect of decades of jail time – if he lives that long.
The British and US governments will no doubt be delighted with this outcome, the prison cell awaiting Assange being a terrible warning to others tempted to tell hidden truths. But if I was running the CIA, FBI, MI5 or MI6 it would be the speed and scale of the media’s desertion of Assange that would bring the broadest grin.