Julian Assange is a paranoid, misguided, smelly bag lady -- not an open government hero. And New York Times executive editor Bill Keller? Well, he is a cynical dissembler interested more in covering his own ass than telling the truth.
A couple hundred journalists, including yours truly, assembled over the weekend at U.C. Berkeley, awaiting a prize fight -- and we got one.
If, like me, you've been following with fascination the feud between Keller and Wikileaks founder Assange, this Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium offered up a fight of Rumble in the Jungle proportions between the two.
They went at it live for the first time since the battle became public on Jan. 26 in a 8,000-word New York Times Magazine
story by Keller, "Dealing with Assange and the WikiLeaks
Secrets." That phrasing seemed weird; wasn't Assange Keller's benefactor? The Times had just
collaborated with Assange to produce a series of devastating news reports on truth-shading in international diplomacy, based on 391,832 secret Pentagon documents.
article itself was weirder, describing Assange as smelly, dirty,
bombastic, a believer in unproven conspiracies, nervous, and prone
to skipping along the sidewalk even in the presence of serious newsmen.
Notwithstanding the trivializing profile, the gaunt, white-haired
Australian hacker, who was connected to the conference via Skype, managed to hold his own against Keller, who sat on a panel titled
"The War on Wikileaks."
Moderator Jack Shafer, the erudite former SF Weekly
editor who now writes on media for Slate, started things rolling with a "WTF"
question about Keller's bag-lady depiction. But Keller dismissed the notion that there was anything unusual in his characterization. He said he made Assange seem like an unhinged loser merely to make the piece more readable.
"We weren't writing an academic report -- it was a story," Keller said. "That was information the reporter brought to me, and it was used as color."
Assange, glowing from a video-screen projection above the darkened UC lecture hall like an eerily articulate Oz, saw things differently.