“I’ve seen Julian Assange in the last couple of days kind of flouncing around talking about this collaboration like the four of us were working all this together,” says Schmitt. ”But we were not in any kind of partnership or collaboration with him. This was a source relationship. He’s making it sound like this was some sort of journalistic enterprise between WikiLeaks, The New York Times, The Guardian, and Der Spiegel, and that’s not what it was.”
“He was in and out,” says Schmitt. “He’d come and you’d ask him questions about certain types of data, and certain questions—some of them he answered and some of them he didn’t. Where did you get this material? He wouldn’t answer that. Did it come from Bradley Manning? He didn’t answer that. What else may be coming? He’d be very coy about these things.”
John Goetz says he, Eric Schmitt, and Nick Davies shared two dinners outside the building with Assange during the time they were all in London; one time where they joined by other staffers from The Guardian for Chinese food.
“It was just a continuation of the work,” remembers Goetz, adding that the dinners were full of “talk about stuff we had seen, stuff we thought was interesting, the date issue, all of the above… It’s not like we went to dinner and stopped talking about our common project.”
“There’s a really interesting collaboration between the three news organizations. But Julian, he’s a source,” says Davies. “All three media organization interviewed him in order to be able to write a profile of him, explain various things about the material, challenge him on various points. So he was there for that function.”
Goetz and Davies also say they had conversations with Assange encouraging him to be careful about the lethal harm that could come to people identified in the logs if he released certain documents unredacted.
While the frequent information sharing, which continued long after the group split geographically, gave the outlets some idea of what each was working on, no one was let in on specific stories. Nor were drafts or copy shared.
“Sunday night, when it all went online at 10 o’clock in the evening U.K. time, we were sitting there saying ‘What has Eric written? What’s Goetz written?’” says Davies.
The packages provided a detailed, contextualized analysis of the originally unwieldy and confusing database with which that the reporters had originally been provided. Davies says ensuring that the reporting power of these high-profile newsrooms was brought to bear on the logs was exactly, back in Belgium a month ago, what Assange had said he hoped for by providing the outlets an advance look, instead of following WikiLeaks’s usual past practice of simply uploading the once-secret documents to their own site.
“I remember one of the things he said was that there was a problem when you put raw material on a Web site—each individual news organization says ‘Well we’re not going to invest weeks trying to make sense of that, because for all we know, another media organization over the hill is already doing that. And two days before we’re ready to go, they’ll go, and all our effort will be wasted,’” says Davies. “He isn’t just putting it out there for the sake of it. He’s putting it out there because he wants the world to understand whatever the subject of the information is. And our operation has hugely increased that possibility.”