Partnering with Assange was unpleasant. But work like his is crucial.

Ex-Guardian editor says laws protecting free speech shouldn’t depend on the likability of those in the firing line.

Julian Assange is seen in 2011, before he sought asylum in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. (Lefteris Pitarakis/AP)
Alan Rusbridger is a former editor in chief of the Guardian. He is principal of Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford and chairs the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

April 12 at 7:04 PM

Of all of Julian Assange’s undoubted talents, maybe his greatest gift is the ability to make enemies. He trusts, likes and respects almost no one. He falls out with his friends and disgusts his opponents. Now that he has been dragged kicking and shouting from the Ecuadoran Embassy in London — where he was, by all accounts, the house guest from hell — he may find few allies in the world outside.

Many conservatives despise him for supposedly imperiling national security. Liberals will never forgive him for what he did to Hillary Clinton. Numerous journalists — perhaps the majority — scoff at his effrontery to identify as one of them. Women can never forget the never-settled claims of sexual coercion in Sweden.

He is an information anarchist — dumping vast oceans of material into cyberspace with barely a thought for the consequences. He’s often portrayed as a useful idiot to Russian President Vladimir Putin and an enabler to President Trump. He jumped bail in Britain, costing his too-trusting supporters a small fortune in surrendered sureties. He is rude, aggressive, pompous, self-regarding, unreasonable and even — as multiple sources say — smelly.

There is, in short, much not to love about Julian Assange. He and I collaborated on the release of military and diplomatic documents relating to the Iraq War when I was editing the Guardian in 2010 and 2011. We spectacularly fell out. Another party to the publication was the New York Times under its executive editor then, Bill Keller. They fell out. He hired the journalist and author Andrew O’Hagan as a ghost writer. Spoiler alert: They fell out.

Part of the problem was a deeply ingrained mistrust of mainstream media. Who decreed that they got to be the gatekeepers of information? He veered between contempt for us and a grudging acceptance that we were a necessary evil. Within the space of an hour he could go from shouting tantrums to coolheaded strategic planning. We were not alone in finding him an impossible partner.


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