More than two-thirds of Americans say WikiLeaks has harmed the public interest by releasing classified U.S diplomatic documents, a sharp negative turn in views of the website's actions – and nearly six in 10 say its founder, Julian Assange, should face criminal charges as a result.
On a day Assange is schedule to appear in a London courtroom on unrelated charges, the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated he’s gone a document dump too far, alienating many Americans who held a more benign view of last summer’s WikiLeaks release of U.S. military field reports from Afghanistan.
Then, a Pew Research Center poll found the public more or less divided, 42 percent to 47 percent, on whether that release served or hurt the public interest. Last week, in a Pew poll on the diplomatic documents, it was 29-53 percent negative. And in this poll it’s even more so, with just 20 percent saying the release served the public interest, while 68 percent call it harmful.
It can’t have helped Assange’s image to be held in England on a Swedish extradition request in which he’s wanted for questioning on allegations of rape and sexual coercion; he’s appearing in that case today. Further, his lawyer was quoted Sunday as saying Swedish authorities had told him a grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, was considering possible criminal charges against Assange stemming from WikiLeaks’ release of classified documents.
In accord with that reported investigation, 59 percent of Americans say that in their view Assange should be charged with a crime for releasing the U.S. diplomatic cables. Far fewer, 29 percent, said it’s not a criminal matter, with the rest undecided.
While there are partisan, ideological and age differences, in every demographic group evaluated in this survey, majorities said the leak harms the public interest, and in most groups majorities said Assange should be charged criminally.
The gaps are greatest on whether he should face charges – barely over half of Democrats and independents say so (51 and 52 percent, respectively), rising to 74 percent of Republicans. And young adults divide on the question – 45 percent say he should be charged, compared with 70 percent among seniors.
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