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Julian Assange Refuses to Submit to Erin Burnett’s Planned Hit Job

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The interview was anticipated. CNN host Erin Burnett was to have WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, author of the new book, Cypherpunks, come on her show. Another pundit, Brooke Baldwin, promoted it on CNN just after 3:30 pm EST and said, “You have quite the big interview scoop, so we’ll talk about that in a minute,” just before getting to a segment on Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Burnett set out to do a hit job on Assange. From the beginning, Assange tried to discuss what he found to be important and not trivial or plain disingenuous and ignorant. As the clip shows, he got into how companies are working in countries to engage in widespread surveillance showing documents. Burnett reacted, “I’m curious though about this — A lot of people share this fear about being under surveillance, right? Some people might say you go way too far on it, but people do share your fear. But you are someone trying to champion and like I said benefiting by the Internet by putting out information governments don’t want people to have.”

“Some people might say” is Burnett saying what she thinks. She thinks Assange’s fear of the surveillance state goes to far. She does not want to talk about this issue and, though Assange began the interview ready to talk on this topic, Burnett is prepared to steer this to Ecuador (but not before casting his agenda as something that is nefarious and shady).

She asks him about whether he has a lung infection since he’s had to stay there and if this is true. Assange says he is not important and has been in an “extraordinary situation” for over two years. But, “what is important is this development that is affecting all of us.” Burnett cuts him off:

BURNETT: Can you answer the question whether your sick or do you not want to talk about it?

ASSANGE: I don’t think it’s important.

BURNETT: Let me ask you this…

ASSANGE: … We are in an extremely serious situation…

BURNETT: .. I know. Let me ask you this though about Ecuador because look, as you say you’ve been in there in this extraordinary situation for five months. They’ve provided you asylum. They’ve been trying to get you out of the country that you’re in right now to avoid facing charges in Sweden or the US. But when you talk about this governments clamping down on people’s right to speak, Ecuador’s an unlikely champion of your call for free speech. And I wanted to lay this out for you because just this month Human Rights Ecuador reports President of Ecuador, President Correa…

ASSANGE: Serious, Serious…

BURNETT: Let me finish…Let me finish for my viewers then you can go ahead and rip it apart…

Assange won’t have it and says he’s not here to talk about it. He is not about to let Burnett do this “exclusive” interview with him and try to educate him on air as if she knows more than he does about the issues related to press freedom in Ecuador, which he no doubt has had the time to study intensively in his time in the Ecuador embassy.

Burnett then responds to Assange’s remark that what she is seizing upon is a very little thing. She says it’s not a “little thing.” Suppressing journalists is not “a little thing for someone who says is their job is to put out information that governments try to suppress.”  And Assange quickly replies that it is a very big problem:

ASSANGE: …It’s a very big problem, the suppression of freedom of speech all over the world, an extremely big problem—And so is the collapse in the rule of law. And you should be well aware that Al Jazeera journalist spent six years in Guantanamo Bay, that there are cases all across the US, that the Pentagon is now taking a position where it is saying arbitrarily, completely invented, that the act of receiving information by any journalist, anywhere in the world, that the Pentagon says is classified and publishing some portion from it or quotes from it is espionage…


ASSANGE: …Saying that is something that applies to journalists and applies to people in government…

BURNETT: …I understand your point…

ASSANGE: … [still talking]

BURNETT: … But the Committee to Protect Journalists says about Ecuador. Let me ask you the question—”In less than five years, President Correa has turned Ecuador into one of the hemisphere’s most restrictive nations for the press.”…

ASSANGE: …As we agreed to this program the issue is the surveillance state….

BURNETT: How do you justify?…

ASSANGE: …We are in a situation…

BURNETT: I didn’t agree to talk about the surveillance state.

Assange then motions and says he can bring on his PAs. And continues saying we have a serious situation here. Whatever is happening in these small countries is not of concern. We must concentrate on what is happening in whole of the world. Burnett then interjects, “Okay, but Ecuador is the country that is preventing you from being arrested the minute you walk outside the door.”

Burnett then makes it clear her focus on Ecuador is because it is preventing Assange from being arrested. Assange still does not play along. He eventually holds up his book and says:

ASSANGE: The topic of this book is what is happening to all of us and the threats that all of us face. You know in the 1930s, certain people saw what was going on. And they saw the general trends. I’m telling you there is a general trend. I am an expert and I’ve lived through it. Other experts have also lived through different facets of this—an American, a German and a French man, all experts on different parts of what is happening legislatively and what is happening in terms of the technology. Now we have all been intercepted permanently. This is a state change. This is not matter of simply a change to any individual. This is a sea change in politics and we are going to have to do something about it. If we don’t do something about it, we run the risk of losing the democracy we have treasured for so long.

Assange won in the end. He was able to get in a good comment on Bradley Manning’s case.

Erin Burnett did not get the segment she wanted except if you go to CNN Video where they are featuring a part of the segment that makes it seem like all Assange was asked to do was come on and talk Ecuador and refused to cooperate with Burnett.

Assange was clearly told he could come on and they would talk about the book. She opened with a question about his thoughts on the Internet. Then, she gradually moved the discussion into one about Ecuador because all she wanted to do was make the point that in her mind she sees Julian Assange, who she thinks is probably a criminal, seeking asylum in a country where the government has no respect for press freedom and he is being used or manipulated for their purposes.

If Burnett had her way, the interview would have been some looney segment about Ecuador exploiting him for their ends to get away with violating freedom of the press. And she would have touted it as “aggressive journalism,” when it is not aggressive at all to set someone up who is the target of one of the most powerful governments of the world and has been granted what someone would consider a refugee status to push for safe transport to Ecuador.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."