November 1 firestorm

The Guardian offered to host and scheduled a meeting with Assange for 6 p.m. on Monday, November 1. The New York Times decided not to attend. [1] Among other points, the editors wanted to let Assange know about the November 8 publication date and that in their view the existence of Heather Brookes copy released the Guardian from any earlier agreement. Both Der Spiegel and Editor Rusbridger favored continued cooperation with WikiLeaks if possible.

Assange was running late, and at 7 p.m. he showed up with a libel lawyer and two other associates in tow. Assange was seething: somehow he had been tipped that the New York Times had the cables. How did it get them, he demanded? There was more. Burns profile, he fumed, was designed to be a smear The Times should not go out of its way to produce a negative, sleazy hit-piece and place it on the front page. [2] He protested that the Times has defiled the relationship with WikiLeaks. Guardian Deputy Editor Katz notes that it was not unreasonable that he was cross with us. He continues:

He thought that hed given us express instructions on how to use this information, and he felt the New York Times thing was a breach of it. In the strictest terms, it was. The point was that we thought it was more unreasonable that he tried to cut the New York Times out of it when we had made an agreement from the start that they would be part of it.

Listen to Katz distinguish between the Guardian s expectations and Assanges.

It was the first time Rusbridger had spent any time with Assange. The editor assured Assange that he personally had given the Times nothing. Assange threatened to sue. He threatened to stop cooperating with the Guardian . He mentioned that he was already in talks with the Washington Post and McClatchy Newspapers about publishing the cables in the US. My aim was really just to calm him down, because having come this far, it would have been immensely complicated if wed all broken up and hed stormed out, says Rusbridger.

Assange did seem calmer after venting, and for a while they talked about the timing of the cables release. Assange said he preferred to delay everything and would accept another month. He also asked that the publishing group be expanded to include El Pas and Le Monde . This meant even more challenging logisticsplus giving the new players the benefit of all the work done so far. I think we all gulped and thought, Oh God, here we go again. But on the other hand, its probably worth it if this is going to lead to an amicable arrangement, recalls Rusbridger. Assange also wanted Rusbridger to call the Times and, in exchange for the cables, to secure for Assange the right to reply to the Burns piece, also on Page One, and a promise of no more negative stories.

At 10 p.m., the whole group went to dinner. But fireworks broke out again after midnight. Rusbridger called Times Editor Keller to put Assanges demands to him and Keller effectively said no. Assange exploded anew: the consortium was finished. No New York Times and no Guardian . However, Der Spiegel Editor-in-chief Georg Mascolo declared that it, too, would withdraw. Rusbridger pointed out that, in fact, the existing partnership was going to be the best deal possible. Remembers Rusbridger:

I said to Julian, what is your choice? Heather Brooke has got it, and weve lost all control. So you dont have an option, really. You have to work with us. Thats where the logic was: either we were all going to lose it, or we just had to swallow our pride and work together.

Listen to Rusbridger describe his discussion with Assange.

Two days later, Assange agreed to 10 points Rusbridger presented, including a publication schedule that ran starting November 29 (in print; digital release November 28) for two weeks or more. After January 4, the exclusivity contract would expire and WikiLeaks would be free to send cables of regional interest to other newspapers around the world. Assange also decided that WikiLeaks would publish only the redacted cables prepared by the media partners. Leigh, for one, was gratified: I thought Alan [Rusbridger] had done brilliantly in crafting some sort of compromise that everybody could live with I thought it was miraculous that wed come so far. I had always suspected that this whole rickety deal would collapse within a few weeks.

Now the hard work started.

[2] Leigh and Harding, WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assanges War on Secrecy , p. 169.