Why American journalists have failed to support WikiLeaks
"You might expect the American media to respond assertively [in defence of press freedom]," it says. "But the pushback has been piecemeal and somewhat muted."
Though some journalistic bodies - such as the Committee to Protect Journalists - have called on the US government not to prosecute Assange, other organisations have refused to comment on ther whole business.
The Society of Professional Journalists did issue "a statement on ethical journalism" that is "tortured" and "somewhat inscrutable", which says their members could not reach a consensus on the probity of WikiLeaks's actions.
By contrast, the New York Times, which received earlier WikiLeaks document dumps, has not run an editorial on the subject and did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.
"There's a lot of hair-splitting going on about whether WikiLeaks is journalism or Assange is a journalist," says Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. "To me that is not a relevant question. WikiLeaks is a publisher; Assange is a publisher."
Nineteen professors — a little more than half the faculty — at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism did sign a letter to the Obama administration arguing against prosecution.
It said: "While we hold varying opinions of WikiLeaks' methods and decisions, we all believe that in publishing diplomatic cables WikiLeaks is engaging in journalistic activity protected by the First Amendment."
The letter was the first, and so far the only, one from an American journalism-school faculty on the subject.
So why are American journalists hesitant to speak up for Assange? The Newsweek article offers three reasons.
1. A refusal to engage in advocacy. American journalists, unlike many of their foreign counterparts, have a strong commitment to objectivity and nonpartisanship. At many mainstream media organisations, signing petitions is verboten, and many journalists impose such rules on themselves.
2. Opposition to Assange's purpose. That same notion of objectivity shared by journalists makes many of them suspicious of WikiLeaks's journalistic bona fides. Assange has an advocacy mission: to disrupt the functioning of governments. Many mainstream journalists might see associating with Assange as inappropriately endorsing an advocacy mission.
3. Opposition to Assange's methods. Some journalists, while perhaps believing Assange should not be prosecuted, are so disgusted with his approach that they are reluctant to speak up for him in public.
For example, Sam Freedman, a journalism professor at Columbia University, did not sign the letter circulated by his colleagues, explaining that it "did not adequately criticise the recklessness — the disregard for the consequences of human lives — of a massive dump of confidential info."