CNN Stoops to Tabloid Nonsense in Assange Interview

CNN reporter Atika Shubert sat down for an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange this weekend, and it did not go well. Shubert hounded him on inane topics like interpersonal conflicts at his company and legal troubles in Sweden, until he grew so frustrated that he walked off the set in protest. In so doing, she turned a potentially serious interview into a celebrity spectacle of the sort that CNN was probably hoping for all along.

Here’s how the exchange begins:

Shubert: “Your personality seems to be eclipsing WikiLeaks, and the work of WikiLeaks, and I’m wondering, how do you respond to that?”

Assange: “This is just not a very interesting issue.”

Agreed! Assange may be a difficult guy, he may be a jerk of a boss, he may even be a womanizer. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. He’s just some dude, as far as I’m concerned. He was the means through which these documents were revealed to the press, but he as a person does not matter all that much, or at least, not nearly as much as the documents themselves.

Shubert persists:

“But [there is] this criticism that, you know, the story around you, is eclipsing the work of WikiLeaks….”

Gosh, I wonder why? It’s outlets like CNN, whose producers seem to think so little of its viewers that it turns a story about torture and murder and corruption into a celebrity scandal so it will be easier to digest, that are themselves “eclipsing the work of WikiLeaks.”

After a few questions like this, Assange lays out an ultimatem:

”I’ll have to walk…if you’re going to contaminate this extremely serious interview with questions about my personal life….if you’re going to contaminate us revealing the deaths of 104,000 people, with attacks against my person.”

This is not to say that these topics should be off limits, or that Assange should be immune to scrutiny. But when he threatened to walk off, she should have backed off, for the sake of the chance to ask real questions about the story that really mattered: the war logs themselves. Instead, she pushed him again and again, until he took off his mic and walked off, which, in the tradition of Joy and Whoopi, means that this interview will get attention for that alone.

If you’ve read any real coverage of the Iraq war logs, and the devastating violence they reveal, this interview will make your blood boil:

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Lauren Kirchner is a freelance writer covering digital security for CJR. Find her on Twitter at @lkirchner