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Julian Assange Never Got Along Well With the Guardian, Report Shows

julian assangeTo all appearances, WikiLeaks' relationship with its select group of media partners has seemed relatively straightforward. Most reports on the partnerships generally followed the same story arc: that founder Julian Assange had handed over his organization's top-secret documents to the New York Times, the Guardian and El Pais, among others, and they, in turn, published them. But, according to Vanity Fair's Sarah Ellison, that's not exactly how it played out.

It all began when the Guardian's Nick Davies came across an article about Private First Class Bradley Manning that briefly mentioned WikiLeaks. Davies decided to reach out to Assange, and, after months of negotiations, the 39-year-old Australian agreed to work with the British paper on the condition that it would release each set of documents on WikiLeaks' terms. Eventually, though, Assange decided to expand his operations, and struck deals with other major newspapers.

According to Ellison, Assange was simply looking to hedge his bets, just in case the U.K. government tried to shut down his organization. "It is unlikely that U.K. courts could block publication," she writes, "but it's even more unlikely that the U.S. government would go after the New York Times, given the strong First Amendment protections and the precedent set by the Pentagon Papers case."

The Guardian wasn't pleased with Assange's decision to invite other media outlets into the partnership, but the paper appeased him. It wasn't long, though, before the Guardian discovered that a freelance British journalist named Heather Brooke had obtained a copy of the entire WikiLeaks database from a former volunteer. The paper brought Brooke on board, thereby guaranteeing ownership of the copy. This also meant that the Guardian was no longer bound to the agreement originally set forth by Assange.

News of the leak infuriated Assange, and, on November 1st, he and his lawyer confronted Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian. In Rusbridger's office, Assange asserted his ownership of the diplomatic cables, and threatened to sue the paper if it went ahead and published them without his consent. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and both parties sat down to hammer out a mutual agreement. Seven days later, the cables were published.

It's clear, then, that Assange's relationship with the Guardian was never as smooth as previously reported -- but is it any less tumultuous today? "If the Guardian has its own set of the diplomatic cables and is no longer bound by Assange's rules, why is the paper still following them?" asks the Atlantic's Nicholas Jackson. "We know there are a quarter of a million documents waiting to get out and WikiLeaks is slowly letting them drip out."

The new agreement between the two parties could explain Rusbridger's reluctance to pull the trigger. Or, could it be that Assange has some dirt on the Guardian? Given his track record, it would be entirely surprising. Ellison doesn't pose this question in her article, but, if tempers flare once again, on either side of the equation, we may learn the answer.

Tags: DiplomaticCables, documents, guardian, journalism, JulianAssange, leak, media, politics, top, web, Wikileaks