On Monday Julian Assange was driven to the Old Bailey to continue his fight against extradition to the United States, where the Trump administration has launched the most dangerous attack on press freedom in at least a generation by indicting him for publishing US government documents. Amid coverage of the proceedings, Assange’s critics have inevitably commented on his appearance, rumours of his behaviour while isolated in the Ecuadorian embassy, and other salacious details.
These predictable distractions are emblematic of the sorry state of our political and cultural discourse. If Assange is extradited to face charges for practising journalism and exposing government misconduct, the consequences for press freedom and the public’s right to know will be catastrophic. Still, rather than seriously addressing the important principles at stake in Assange’s unprecedented indictment and the 175 years in prison he faces, many would rather focus on inconsequential personality profiles.