On Sunday morning, Meet the Press host Chuck Todd (7/31/16) had on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to discuss his recent leaking of 20,000 emails from within the Democratic National Committee showing an institutional preference in favor of Hillary Clinton. Todd asked Assange a total of eight questions, all of which were about alleged foreign hacking of the DNC, never asking about the substance of the leaks.
Here are the questions in order:
- “Are you concerned that if foreign government uses your entity that you have now seen WikiLeaks get weaponized?”
- “The easiest way to clear this up, Mr. Assange, would you be able to say categorically that a foreign government did not hand you this material?”
- “But it is helpful to know if a foreign government is involved, isn’t that crucial information to civilians?”
- “Mr. Assange, you say you can’t go around speculating. Do you not know [if Russia leaked the documents to you]?”
- “Let me ask you this. Do you, without revealing your source on this, do you accept information and leaked documents from foreign governments?”
- “But isn’t the right of the public to know the motive also, to know the motive of the maker?”
- “Does that not trouble you at all, if a foreign government is trying to meddle in the affairs of another foreign government?”
- “That doesn’t bother you [foreign governments meddling in US elections]? That is not part of the WikiLeaks credo?”
The DNC leaks were also discussed on the show in interviews with Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook and Trump advisor Paul Manafort; these exchanges also included zero questions about the substance of the leaks, focusing entirely on the security questions and possible Russian involvement in the leaks.
Certainly, the issue of Russian government potentially hacking a major American political party is more than newsworthy, and Todd is fair in asking Assange to respond to the accusations. But just as clearly, this issue doesn’t merit omitting altogether the actual contents of the leaks–namely the DNC undermining one candidate in favor of another.
As Assange pointed out to Todd, even the US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, America’s top spy, thought the media was getting ahead of itself with what he called “hyperventilation” over Russia’s potential hacking of the DNC. As Politico (7/28/16) reported Thursday:
“I don’t think we’re quite ready yet to make a call on attribution,” Clapper said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “There are just a few usual suspects out there.” Additionally, he said, “We don’t know enough to ascribe motivation regardless of who it might have been.”
The reasons for the administration’s reluctance to assign blame are a combination of two factors, Clapper said: uncertainty about whether the Russians are the culprits, and the lack of a decision yet on whether the US should “name and shame” them if indeed they committed the cyberattack.
Todd would show no such prudence, asserting Russia’s guilt at the top of the interview and putting it in the context of a new Cold War:
There really is nothing new about the US and Russia spying on each other. Decades of Cold War-era movies and books couldn’t have existed without the idea of US-Soviet espionage. Look at The Americans. But what appears to be Russia’s attempt to expose Democratic Party emails and sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign does seem entirely new.
Obviously, the media shouldn’t decide the validity of claims based on the say-so of the government, but the fact that the press is getting ahead of an administration more than eager to claim attribution in the past is notable.
Although it was clear Assange wouldn’t answer Todd’s question about WikiLeaks’ source—”We don’t give any material away as to who our sources are,” he repeatedly pointed out—Todd persisted again and again. Which would have been fine if he had followed up with the questions about the DNC leak itself and what other leaks Assange might have in store—but instead it was 100 percent Russia, 100 percent Cold War plot, 100 percent anything other than the substance of the leaks themselves.
Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst for FAIR.org. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamJohnsonNYC.