Wikileaks Founder Walks Off CNN Interview

Wikileaks, an international organization that publishes leaks of classified information, has been in the news over the past week for its release of nearly 400,000 pages of documents related to the Iraq war.
The organization’s founder, Julian Assange, was being interviewed by CNN’s Atika Shubert last Friday about its latest release of documents. But when Shubert changed topics to ask Assange about the rape charges he’s facing in Sweden, he walked out of the interview.
Mr. Assange tried to position his interview walk off as a principled stand, saying:

“I’m going to walk if you’re going to contaminate us revealing the deaths of 104,000 people with attacks against my person.”

 

Since Mr. Assange walked away in a controlled, calm manner, many viewers may think he adjudicated himself well.
But here’s the problem: by walking away from the interview, Mr. Assange unnecessarily made the story  much, much bigger. The video of his walk-off went viral, increasing the focus on the very topic – his rape charge – that he wanted to avoid.
Years ago, I worked with a public official who walked off because the journalist broke the rules they had agreed to prior to the interview. The journalist had agreed not to ask about a specific topic – an emotional one for the official, who had lost a couple of subordinates in the line of duty – but asked about it anyway.
But when he walked off, the journalist had a terrific clip – one her station showed repeatedly, unfairly making the public official look guilty.
Both Mr. Assange and the public official could have avoided that fate by remaining seated and answering the questions repeatedly. Mr. Assange would have been better served by repeating his message – that he was not going to contaminate the memory of 104,000 lives by speaking about his personal issues – until he exhausted the reporter. It wouldn’t have made him look great, but it would have been a whole lot better than delivering a classic television walk off perfect for scandal-hungry journalists.