The history of Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange is a tortured one, to be sure. Once the darling of the left for exposing important misdeeds by the American government, the site then became a tool for the right in the last Presidential election with the publishing of emails stolen in a hack of the DNC. From there, some have accused Wikileaks of being an arm of Moscow's intelligence efforts, while the America government has made noise about prosecuting the site and Assange under the Espionage Act. Still others support the site for its efforts in exposing the secrets governments wish to keep hidden from the citizens to whom they are beholden.
Through it all, Assange and Wikileaks have remained firm in their mission to expose information and secrets that were previously kept from the public. Except, it seems, when that information has to do with Wikileaks itself. According to the makers of a documentary about Wikileaks entitled Risk, on the topic of Wikileaks, Wikileaks is chiefly interested not in open journalism and unvarnished truth, but rather on its own image. And apparently the site is willing to wield legal threats and lawyers in a way that is almost absurdly hypocritical.
We are the producers of Risk , a documentary film about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. We unequivocally defend WikiLeaks’ journalistic right to publish true and newsworthy information...We were disturbed, however, to learn that Julian Assange and WikiLeaks sent cease and desist letters to our distributors demanding they stop the release of Risk: “We therefore demand that you immediately cease the use and distribution of all images of the Named Participants and that you desist from this or any other infringement of the rights of the Named Participants in the future.”
From there, the filmmakers go into what lengths they went to work directly with Wikileaks and Assange on the film starting back in 2011. Assange himself provided content to be used in the film and even signed a licensing agreement to use Wikileaks footage for it. Some people involved with Wikileaks requested not to be in the film and the filmmakers complied. People from the site and their lawyers have been shown screenings of the film before every regional release, including as recently as April of this year. There is no claim made thus far that any of the content of the film is false.
So, what is the weighty harm over which Wikileaks is firing off C&Ds? Its image and the image of Assange.
Since 2016, Assange and his lawyers have repeatedly demanded that we remove scenes from the film in which Assange speaks about the two women who made sexual assault allegations against him in 2010 and Sweden’s investigation which has since been discontinued. WikiLeaks’ comments have consistently been about image management, including: demands to remove scenes from the film where Assange discusses sexual assault allegations against him; requests to remove images of alcohol bottles in the embassy because Ecuador is a Catholic country and it looks bad; requests to include mentions of WikiLeaks in the 2016 U.S. presidential debates; and, requests to add more scenes with attorney Amal Clooney because she makes WikiLeaks look good.
The opinion that Assange is an egomaniac has been floating around for some time. With actions like these, there seems to be some evidence of that. But that charge aside, what should be abundantly clear is that the ideals of the site appear to have fallen by the wayside when it comes to a simple documentary that has refused to cinematically stroke Wikileaks to the degree it wishes. That's not a good look for a site that survives on people's belief that it is committed to open and honest information.
In fact, this looks to be the sort of thing that the Wikileaks from years gone by would have dug into and exposed.