Unlike NBC, ABC Conducts Hard-Hitting Expose of Egomaniacal 'Dictator' Julian Assange

While NBC on Tuesday focused on the "funny" and "intelligent" side of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Nightline's Brian Ross conducted a tough, hard-hitting investigation into the questionable finances of the man attacked by colleagues as a "dictator."

Ross used the December 14 ABC program to raise questions about "what's happened to the group's money" and to highlight former colleagues who say Assange "has turned the website into a cult of personality."

While many of the individuals Ross talked to were just as committed to Assange's leftist cause of leaking military documents, they did raise serious accusations about the organization's finances. [MP3 audio here.]

Ross explained, "But former WikiLeaks members say the person being lost in all of this is Bradley Manning, accused of providing secret U.S. documents to WikiLeaks. Assange's critics want to know what happened to the some $50,000 that WikiLeaks pledged to give to Private Manning's defense fund?"

A defense fund for Manning never received the funds, according to Ross.

In contrast, Peter Alexander on the December 14 Today only talked to those who fawned over Assange, such as Jonas Bjorck of Sweden: "When you're just chatting to him he's funny, intelligent, you know, and, and loose and, and not at all like this kind of rigid media persona that, that, when you're interviewing him."

A transcript of the December 14 segment, which aired at 11:50am EST, follows:


BILL WEIR: Ever since WikiLeaks released a video in March of a air strike on two Reuters employees in Baghdad, the site has steadily gained in both fame and infamy, which according to startling new accusations is exactly what founder Julian Assange always wanted. Brian Ross is here with the details. Brian?

BRIAN ROSS: Bill, whenever he gets out of that British prison, Assange will have to deal with what has been a mutiny in the WikiLeaks ranked. Several of his one-time colleagues are now coming forward tonight, here on Nightline, to raise questions about what's happened to the group's money and to criticize the way they say Assange has turned the website into a cult of personality.

DANIEL DOMSCHEIT-BERG: Yes, my name is Daniel Schmitt. This is Julian Assange.

ROSS: They were close colleagues just one year ago. But now, Daniel Schmitt, whose real name is Daniel Domscheit-Berg, has split from WikiLeaks, setting up a rival site called Open Leaks, after raising questions about Julian Assange's handling of his money and new-found celebrity status. Domscheit-Berg talked with me from Berlin, via a computer hook-up.

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: He certainly is different today from the way that I met him.

JULIAN ASSANGE: When we were putting this together, Daniel and I-

ROSS: He began working with Assange in 2007 when the young Australian was little known outside the world of hackers. But the release of previously secret Pentagon tapes and State Department cables put WikiLeaks on the map. And, in short order, Assange became the public face of the website, seen in a new Swedish documentary, primping for his television appearances with a new hair style almost every week. At one point, a fan calls him an angel.

MAN: A pure angel.


MAN: Yes.

ASSANGE: An angel?

ROSS: Assange is now a candidate for Time person of the year and well known enough to be a subject of a Saturday Night Live skit.

"JULIAN ASSANGE": Hello again. It's me, Julian Assange. I've taken over your airwaves from inside a British prison.

ROSS: Behind the scenes, former colleagues say the real Assange was little different and began to act like a dictator with his colleagues.

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: It's either his way or the highway.

ROSS: Ironically, he says Assange became enraged over leaks about him that he thought were coming from inside WikiLeaks. "Was this you," Assange wrote in an online chat to Domscheit-Berg. "I didn't speak to Newsweek or other media," he responded. "I am investigating a serious security breach," Assange replied, "Are you refusing to answer?"

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: He's not the best person to deal with criticism, I would say.

ROSS: The exchange ended with Domscheit-Berg writing, "You behave like some kind of emperor or slave trader." Assange: "You are suspended for one month, effective immediately."

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: For being disloyal to the organization and, as he called it, insubordinate.

ROSS: Others who have split with Assange say his ego has gone out of control, including Herbert Snorrason of Iceland, who was part of the group's security team.

HERBERT SNORRASON: His specific words were, I am the heart and soul of this organization. If you have a problem with me, you can piss off.

ROSS: The most serious issues, say former security associates of Assange, is the secrecy surrounding the group's money, where it comes from and where it goes.

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: I'd like to know myself what has been happening behind the curtains.

ROSS: Another of WikiLeaks early founders say Assange's goal from the beginning was to make a lot of money and seek personal fame.

JOHN YOUNG (Founder, Cryptome.org): He loves to provoke people. He loves to make dramatic statements.

ROSS: John Young says he was the first person to actually register the WikiLeaks name. He has his own website that publishes government secrets from around the world. Young says Assange had always hoped to be put behind bars as a way to further establish his fame, like a marketing tool.

YOUNG: He loves to be thrown in jail. He'll love to have a show trial.

ROSS: But former WikiLeaks members say the person being lost in all of this is Bradley Manning, accused of providing secret U.S. documents to WikiLeaks. Assange's critics want to know what happened to the some $50,000 that WikiLeaks pledged to give to Private Manning's defense fund?

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: I can only say, we pressured for that money to be transferred for quite awhile.

ROSS: And did he ever tell you why the money had not been transferred when you pressed him on that?

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: No, he did not comment on that. He said it was all taken care of.

ROSS: What does that say to you?

DOMSCHEIT-BERG: Well, to me, it said that it is time to leave this organization because it's note heading in a healthy direction.

ROSS: As of this weekend, the Private Manning Defense Fund said it had yet to receive anything from WikiLeaks. And a WikiLeaks spokesperson acknowledged there had been a delay.

BIRGITTA JONSDOTTIR (Member of Parliament, Iceland): It's irresponsible, in a sense, for WikiLeaks to call for people to donate money for the Bradley Manning defense and not deliver.

ROSS: Birgitta Jonsdottir is a member of the parliament in Iceland who has worked to establish a safe haven for journalists in this country and was one of the early backers of WikiLeaks. After working closely with Assange, she told me from Reykjavik that she has become deeply disillusioned.

JONSDOTTIR: Very many people have forgotten the fact that Bradley Manning has been sitting in jail for 200 days and his defense fund is struggling to get together the money to pay the lawyers.

ROSS: At the same time, WikiLeaks is raising money for Assange's defense fund. He's facing charges of rape in Sweden, a case that he says is meant to silence him and WikiLeaks. But some of Assange's former colleagues say the rape case has nothing to do with WikiLeaks and that Assange should have resigned.

JONSDOTTIR: I don't think that is justifiable, and that's why I did suggest that he would step aside.

ROSS: Instead, she and the others have quit WikiLeaks and are working to set up their own rival website to be called Open Leaks. A spokesperson for WikiLeaks said tonight, the former members are people with an agenda and their description of Julian Assange is one the spokesperson said he did not recognize. Bill?

- Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here to follow him on Twitter.