From allies to enemies: how 'The Guardian' fell out with Assange

Ian Burrell examines the bitter fall-out from the WikiLeaks saga

One afternoon last November, the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collected his lawyer and entered the office of Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian newspaper.

He had every reason to be pleased: within days the name of his website would be spewing from every media outlet and his reputation as the world's leading "freedom of information warrior" would be confirmed.

But the visit was not a happy one. Assange had come to threaten the newspaper with legal action if it went ahead with plans to run stories based on the vast quantity of US government material leaked to his website.

The relationship between Assange and the newspaper had by this point descended into one that involved "distrust and anger", becoming so acrimonious that the WikiLeaks founder claimed it had breached an agreement on the publication of the data which he saw as his own.

In a detailed account of the tensions, Vanity Fair magazine reports that Assange argued that "he owned the information and had a financial interest in how and when it was released".

The article claims that Nick Davies, one of the Guardian journalists who forged the relationship with Assange, has not spoken to the Australian for more than five months after a bitter falling out. Assange reportedly angered Davies by involving Channel 4 in the WikiLeaks coverage. The collaborative reporting project, which involved a global network of media organisations, was "marked by serial delays and considerable mistrust on all sides", says Vanity Fair, quoting one senior journalist complaining that "everyone's a cheat".

Assange, a former computer hacker, is under police bail in Britain, facing extradition to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual assault. His WikiLeaks website became internationally famous with its disclosure early last year of official US documents about the conduct of the Iraq War, most notably a video of an Apache helicopter opening fire on a van that included a Reuters photographer and his driver. The incident resulted in the deaths of 12 innocent people and the online video, which was dubbed "Collateral Murder", became a viral sensation.

Then WikiLeaks received a new batch of documents, containing a treasure trove of 400,000 pages of confidential information detailing seven years of US operations in Afghanistan, along with a further cache containing highly sensitive American diplomatic cables. They amounted to what Vanity Fair described as "one of the greatest journalistic scoops of the last 30 years".

Assange chose The New York Times as one of his media partners, along with The Guardian and the German news magazine Der Spiegel. But of his partnership with the British newspaper, Vanity Fair said it "brought together two desperately ambitious organisations that happen to be diametric opposites in their approach to reporting the news". The Guardian's David Leigh told the magazine: "We were starting from: 'Here's a document. How much of it shall we print?' Whereas Julian's ideology was: 'I shall dump everything out and then you have to try and persuade me to cross a few things out.' We were coming at it from opposite poles."

Vanity Fair reports that The Guardian was covering the story while under severe financial pressure, with annual losses of £37.9m.

Assange had his own financial difficulties and, as he slept on the sofas of his supporters, he was struggling to identify a way of paying for the growing cost of his increasingly labour-intensive website.

Things came to a head in November with the angry threat of legal action. Assange had been given a letter by Rusbridger promising not to use material from "batch three" of the documents (the diplomatic cables) without the say so of WikiLeaks. But The Guardian managed to obtain the "batch three" documents through a separate source, after they were passed to a freelance journalist by a disgruntled former colleague of Assange's. WikiLeaks had itself sprung a leak. Regarding itself as free of its arrangement with Assange, The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times and Der Spiegel and prepared to publish without waiting for permission from Assange. When the Australian discovered the plan, he threatened to sue.

Mr Rusbridger managed to placate Assange, but on 18 December, the relationship plummeted again as the paper ran a front page story claiming, "Julian Assange furore deepens as new details emerge of sex crime allegations". The Australian was deeply hurt that the paper – where he had spent long hours in its building and shared meals with its staff – had turned on him. In April the WikiLeaks founder will have his own say on his fraught relationship with The Guardian when he publishes his memoirs. There may be more friction to come.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

DBA

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Data Scientist

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A data analytics are currently looking t...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game