Executive editors from top newspapers including The Washington Post and The New York Times voiced alarm over the Trump administration charging WikiLeaks founder Julian AssangeJulian Paul AssangeJulian Assange given permission to marry in prison Press freedom advocate: Unclear how recent US kidnapping allegations will impact Assange case US tells UK Assange could serve any sentence in Australia MORE under the Espionage Act, with Post executive editor Marty Baron arguing the decision "undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment."
The pushback comes after the Department of Justice on Thursday announced 17 additional felony charges against Assange, accusing him of conspiring with former Army intelligence office Chelsea ManningChelsea Elizabeth Manning Chelsea Manning tests positive for COVID-19 Julian Assange stripped of Ecuadorian citizenship Biden DOJ to continue to seek Assange extradition MORE to obtain and disclose "national defense information." Press freedom organizations widely panned the agency's move.
“Dating as far back as the Pentagon Papers case and beyond, journalists have been receiving and reporting on information that the government deemed classified. Wrongdoing and abuse of power were exposed," Baron told The Daily Beast.
"With the new indictment of Julian Assange, the government is advancing a legal argument that places such important work in jeopardy and undermines the very purpose of the First Amendment."
Baron also defended "common practices in journalism" such as "constitutionally protected scrutiny of the press" while discussing President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 panel faces double-edged sword with Alex Jones, Roger Stone Trump goes after Woodward, Costa over China Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE referring to the press as "the enemy of the people."
“The administration has gone from denigrating journalists as ‘enemies of the people’ to now criminalizing common practices in journalism that have long served the public interest," Baron argued. "Meantime, government officials continue to engage in a decades-long practice of overclassifying information, often for reasons that have nothing to do with national security and a lot to do with shielding themselves from the constitutionally protected scrutiny of the press.”
New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet shared Baron's sentiment in calling the Assange indictment "deeply troubling."
“Obtaining and publishing information that the government would prefer to keep secret is vital to journalism and democracy," Baquet said in a Thursday statement. "The new indictment is a deeply troubling step toward giving the government greater control over what Americans are allowed to know."
The Justice Department defended its decision to charge Assange under the Espionage Act, stating the information released by WikiLeaks "made our adversaries stronger and more knowledge."
"These alleged actions disclosed our sensitive classified information in a manner that made it available to every terrorist group, hostile foreign intelligence service and opposing military,” said John Demers, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's National Security Division.
“Documents relating to these disclosures were even found in the Osama bin Laden compound. This release made our adversaries stronger and more knowledgeable, and the United States less secure.”