Black and white man's face with flag over his mouth

In April, Julian Assange, the controversial founder and publisher of WikiLeaks, was arrested in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for what appears to be trumped up charges regarding classified information that Wikileaks published in 2010. While there’s been no shortage of big news in recent months, as often tends to be the case in our hyper-partisan, 24-hour news cycle, the most important aspects of the Assange story have been misrepresented by the mainstream media and partisan hacks on both sides.

First and foremost, everyone needs to realize that while Assange is certainly a tendentious figure who provokes a variety of feelings, the charges brought against him by the U.S. in this particular instance are because Chelsea Manning supposedly asked Assange for help cracking a government password back in 2010. While Assange originally agreed to help Manning with the hack, he subsequently failed at doing so, making the charge even more frivolous, so much so that the Obama administration actually decided not to prosecute Assange for the same thing. So, the fact that these charges are being brought forward now has several journalists scratching their heads.

However, the intelligence community has had Assange in their crosshairs for a while and it’s only been emboldened by Mike Pompeo’s promotion to Secretary of State and John Bolton’s newfound influence over the Trump administration. It’s also no coincidence that Ecuador’s new president, Lenin Moreno, didn’t take kindly to WikiLeaks after they published documents that were damaging to him and the country recently got a cool $4 billion from the International Monetary Fund. With these coinciding events, the writing was on the wall for Assange’s asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy, whether or not it was with feces. The U.K. police took the opportunity to finally drag Assange out, looking like a prisoner who had been kept in a castle’s dungeon for far too long.

Which brings us to the next aspect of Assange’s arrest -- while WikiLeaks was once deemed as brave by many for publishing classified information about U.S. military crimes and other intelligence entities, they’ve since been demoted a peg or two in the court of public opinion. The first part of this is because Assange was potentially facing rape charges in Sweden a few years ago, charges that he said he’d face in person as long as the Swedish government guaranteed they wouldn’t extradite him to the U.S. Sweden never made the promise, so Assange never went to Sweden, and instead sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy. While the charges were eventually dropped, the public perception of Assange as a rapist never really went away, and rightfully grew in relevance as the modern #MeToo era took hold. And while none of this is a defense of Assange’s alleged actions in Sweden, it’s important to remember that this is not what he’s being charged with now.

However, even the charges against Assange in Sweden were overshadowed by another big political decision he made in 2016. The publishing of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s top staffers during the election definitely fuels most of the hatred Assange receives from the Left. Several prominent voices on the Democratic side, while once hailing Assange as a hero during the Iraq War leaks, now blame him for his role (willing or not) in terms of what those publications did to help elect Donald Trump president. Again, while this may have been a political misjudgment on Assange’s part, this is not what he is being charged with right now (although his extradition could lead to more charges on this and other matters.)

And this is the strangest aspect about Assange – just because you don’t like someone for their political or personal faults, it doesn’t mean they’re not entitled to their rights and proper legal proceedings. As of now, Assange is still only being charged with the aforementioned conspiracy of hacking government computers with Manning in 2010 and that’s it.

This all culminates with the ultimate danger about the charges against Assange – the perils they pose to the freedom of the press. While some on the left are using the convenient excuses mentioned above as a way to throw Assange under the bus, others realize the unintended constitutional consequences this may have. From Noam Chomsky, to Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, to Aaron Mate at The Nation, to Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! to The Committee to Protect Journalists and many others, there are still rational minds who are opposed to what the U.S. intelligence community is attempting to do. The assault on Assange is an assault against the press, and while Assange should certainly face his potential crimes in other countries, the current charges against him are unwarranted, unprecedented and unconstitutional. To think otherwise ignores the facts on hand.