Today Show Advances WikiLeaks Founder's Charge That Pentagon is Smearing Him

On Monday's Today show, NBC's Matt Lauer opened the show suggesting that Julian Assange was was being smeared by the Pentagon as the Today co-anchor teased: "And payback? The founder of WikiLeaks, the Web site that leaked classified war documents, briefly named in a rape case in Sweden. He says he's innocent. Those charges have been dropped and now he suggests it's all part of a Pentagon smear campaign today, Monday, August 23rd, 2010." However the Today show, never offered any evidence, other than Assange's claim, that the Pentagon was behind any of the charges.

NBC's Ann Curry, in introducing a Martin Fletcher story on Assange, posited: "Is the Pentagon targeting the founder of WikiLeaks for posting thousands of war documents online?" And while the the story did did air a clip of retired UK Colonel Richard Kemp blasting Assange for releasing the classified documents, Fletcher never presented any proof that the Pentagon was behind some sort of smear campaign.

The following is the full story as it was aired on the August 23 Today show:

ANN CURRY: Is the Pentagon targeting the founder of WikiLeaks for posting thousands of classified war documents online? That's what he's claiming after being briefly named in a rape case. NBC's Martin Fletcher is in, in London this morning. He joins us now. Martin, good morning.

[On screen headline: "WikiLeaks Under Fire, Founder Accused of Molestation In Sweden"]

MARTIN FLETCHER: Ann, good morning. This weekend Julian Assange was charged with the rape and molestation in two separate cases, in Sweden, where he thought he was safe. The Swedish tabloid Expressen broke the story Saturday that two women had complained to police who issued an arrest warrant. One woman complained she had been attacked in a hotel. But police didn't find Assange, who travels the world with no fixed home or office. He quickly replied, via Twitter saying the charges were "without basis" and "deeply disturbing." Then hours later Sweden dropped the rape charge. The prosecutor said there's no longer reason to believe Assange committed rape.

KARIN ROSANDER, SWEDISH PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE: Molestation, yeah. But that's not enough for, for being arrested. It's not, it's not a serious crime enough.

FLETCHER: Talking to Al Jazeera television, Assange said-

JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS FOUNDER: It is clearly a smear campaign, the only question is who was involved.

FLETCHER: After releasing 75,000 military files on his Web site WikiLeaks, Assange is now getting ready to release another 15,000 within a month. The Pentagon wants to stem the flow of leaks about its Afghanistan campaign. U.S. officials call Assange's papers one of the biggest security breaches in U.S. history.

COL. RICHARD KEMP, UK MILITARY (RETIRED): The Taliban will be poring over every single word of those reports, scrutinizing them even more closely than their own analysts to see what they can find out about the way we operate against them.

FLETCHER: Assange says WikiLeaks is halfway through examining the 15,000 documents to eliminate details that could harm Afghans working with the U.S. military. But then, he says, he will release the papers, come what may. Today Assange's lawyers want to meet with Swedish officials hoping they'll drop the molestation charge too. Assange calls the charges a major distraction from the real issue and says releasing the secret files is his duty. Ann?

CURRY: NBC's Martin Fletcher this morning, Martin thanks.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.