John King, USA

The latest political news and information on the most important stories affecting you.
December 28th, 2010
06:10 PM ET

Jessica Yellin’s response to last night’s Assange discussion

Last night’s discussion about WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s book deal and his philosophy triggered an online debate and prompted a blog post by one of the guests. Some thoughts:

1) Glenn Greewald suggests that I am among those “leading the crusade against the transparency brought about by WikiLeaks.” This is an unfair accusation.

After Julian Assange accepted a book deal from a corporate publisher, we asked Greenwald on to address that news and answer some larger questions. I thought it would be helpful for viewers to hear a supporter explain Assange’s long-term objectives. Does he intend to disable what he considers a corrupt system? What is the end goal for him? I was interested to have that explained on air by someone who is sympathetic to Assange’s views.

2) In his blog post the author says I "angrily proclaim(ed)" that Assange is a terrorist when, in fact, I did something starkly different: I asked Fran Townsend whether it was fair for Vice President Biden to describe Assange as a "high-tech terrorist." That's no more an endorsement of Biden's view than my subsequent question to Greenwald was an endorsement (or not) of the view that Assange is a journalist. By Greenwald’s own logic, asking a question that challenges a guests’ view makes the journalist "indistinguishable from," "merged into" and "a spokesperson for" their opponent. That won’t get us very far.

3) The author revisits a falsehood I’d like to correct. I stand by a statement I made several years ago that during the war – when I worked elsewhere – I felt there was pressure to present the war in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. I still stand by that statement. I’ve never backed down from that statement.

As a journalist, I enjoy moderating debates and asking questions that help viewers better understand each guest's view. In that light, probing Assange’s actions and endgame is not the same as aligning myself with the establishment. Similarly, engaging Assange’s belief that there should be more transparency in government does not align me with Wikileaks.

I ask questions. I push guests to explain why they believe what they believe. –Jessica Yellin

Filed under: Extra
soundoff (85 Responses)
  1. Robert Steven Rizzolo

    I watched the interview yesterday and you did a fine job. You did just what an accomplished journalist is supposed to do when dealing with highly controversal issues. You "stood you ground" and should feel good about that.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  2. Dennis in the UK

    I am a journalist... and you are certainly not.
    I watched the so-called interview. It was you and the former Homeland Security woman Fran Townsend against Glenn Greewald.
    What I would call a gang-up job.
    CNN has gone down the pan and it's about time Time-Warner pulled the plug on the network.
    By the way your unprofessional behaviour on the programme has gone viral and no-one seems to have anything good to say about your performance.
    Try doing a Google search

    December 28, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  3. Kristen f

    Great post. We the public need journalist to help us understand the issue and ask the right questions that will help us do so. I would love to know what Assange's end goal and main agenda is.


    December 28, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
  4. Jutta Kueppers

    This discussion is laughable.It really doesn't matter if JA is a terrorist or not. Wikileaks not JA alone is able to embarras your country, that's a fact.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  5. rod bedford

    In all fairness to Jessica i thought at the end of the interview she had done well to create a good debate and in this debate she actualy exposed Fran Townsends inaability to face facts while at the same time giving Glenn the oppurtunity to estiblish the facts.All in all good jounalism.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
  6. Robert LaFever

    Keep up the good work Jessica.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  7. Josh

    My only issue with the interview was that it started with the premise that what Julian Assange is doing is illegal.

    Quite simply, it is not. He has broken no law and has been charged with no crime.

    Instead of having a meta discussion about Mr. Assange, why are you not discussing the information in the cables? I believe that US tax dollars being used to buy child prostitutes in Afghanistan is more pressing than Julian's book deal.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:51 pm |
  8. Dicker Chain

    What crime did Julian Assange commit, Jessica?

    Are you prepared to go to jail for your beliefs, Jessica?

    Should you be in jail for your beliefs, Jessica?

    Should political journalists be allowed to earn money, Jessica?

    If you write a book on anything political, will you give the earnings to a charity, Jessica?

    Do you know what the first amendment says, Jessica?

    Does the government define who is "free press" and who isn't, Jessica?

    December 28, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
  9. rod bedford

    I did actually think that the rape question at the end was cheap given that
    Julian Assange has never been charged and you'd have to have been buried under a rock for the last six months not to have known that.

    December 28, 2010 at 6:54 pm |
  10. Bill Wolfe

    I enjoyed that interview and find you very, very, attractive.

    BUT, you called Assange a "revolutionary" who should be willing to go to jail for his belirfs.

    Obviously, then, you also called him a criminal.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  11. Deborah

    I see some of what Yellin is saying (i.e. asking tough questions is not ht same thing as being aligned with the other side), except that I wonder how much homework t.v. journalists do–Assange himself spoke to David Frost recently on Al-Jazeera, where he detailed his goals. There are interviews with Assange where he answers some of the questions that American journalists ask of Greenwald.

    Maybe the problem is that US journalists do not extend their networks far enough a field to find out what it is that they should know. What if you had heard that interview and then asked Greenwald a tough question–I think it becomes less easy then to dismiss the "mainstream" media as driven by celebrity rather than the kind of investigative journalism for which at least some of us long.

    The problem also is that the media has become a vehicle for basic factual errors to be reproduced, largely out of hysteria over Assange and wikileaks. That is, the response of journalists and govt. to the leaks is out of proportion to the actual dangers involved–see Sec. of Def. Gates' comments. So, we hear over and over again impassioned statements about how the NY Times is so "different" than wikileaks, even though both function in far more similar than different ways. Along those lines, I was glad that Yellin permitted Greenwald the time to explain this crucial point.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  12. james leff

    I do think you unfairly balanced the discussion against Assange/Greenwald's position, however, I do appreciate this reply to greenwald's posting. The more actual discussion the better!

    December 28, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  13. Joel Saunders

    If we all believe in democracy then we must all face the fact that none is wrong in this debate, consider this; Equality and freedom have been identified as important characteristics of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to power.

    So if the US is the world power or big daddy why so much secrets, consider if you found out that all of your childwood your parents lie to you, and you found out how would you view them.

    Jessica you did a good job, you allow a healthy conversation.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
  14. B King

    I felt there was actually no need for Fran Townsend. You asked Fran Townsend if it was fair to call Assange a "high-tech terrorist". Why not ask Glen if it is fair to call Assange a "friend of the people", or something similar?

    December 28, 2010 at 7:20 pm |
  15. jm111t

    Your feelings about Julian Assange were obvious in the way you presented your questions which is not the mark of a good moderator.

    However, I appreciate the fact that you allowed G. Greewalld to speak without interrupting him, which seems to become less and less the norm! So you get a good point for that!

    When truth becomes treason, then democracy becomes a lie!

    December 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • Puss

      Your answer shows real ienltlignece.

      January 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  16. Darrel Plant

    Ms. Yellin claims that Julian Assange is "trying to bring down" people like Barack Obama in her first response to Greenwald. In the next sentence she claims that the goal of WikiLeaks is "disrupting and embarrassing the U.S. government." Those aren't exactly journalistically-neutral portrayals of WikiLeaks or Assange. They're more along the lines of "Is Bat Boy Real?" Start off with a biased question and an absurd premise and pretty soon you've got a musical.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  17. Stewart Cha


    Do you think The New York Times Editor is traitor and a criminal for publishing top secret information?

    December 28, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  18. JUDY S.

    Jessica – you did a great job with this interview. Greenwald was angry and defensive from the beginning. He was accusatory with you when you were doing just what he says the media should do.. ask questions! As with most liberals, Greenwald suffers from the 'do as I say .. not as I do' syndrome. The rules only apply to others.. never to the libs. Keep up the good work Jessica!

    December 28, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  19. Patrick

    @Jessica, why is the media in America still focusing on 'anything but the substance' of what Assange has done? he has exposed things that probably deserve deeper investigation and exposure. Why are you, the media, ignoring those things? Also, what has Assange done that is any different to what Bob Woodward or any other investigative journalist? Why are the media focused on things that are so sensational?

    December 28, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  20. eric


    You set up a very enlightening interview. Your initial questions definitely seemed to be loaded with anti Assange insinuation. Whether intentional or not it got Greenwald going on the offensive. He came off like an oracle of truth and justice compared to Fran Townsend's weak bureaucratic apologist for power.

    I appreciate your sticking with this story at all. So many in the media seem to want it to go away, and no wonder. It must be very embarrassing for them to be exposed as vapid careerists protecting the interests of power. Them I said, not you!

    keep up the good work.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  21. LJM

    I don't understand why Ms. Yellin asked if Assange shouldn't expect to be jailed. It was as if Ms. Yellin was unable to accept the objective and documented fact that Mr. Assange hasn't committed a crime.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  22. Jesse Frederik

    Compare the questioning of Fran Townsend:

    "[After showing a video of Joe Biden calling Assange a high-tech terrorist] Is it fair to call him a terrorist?"
    "Is there anything good that can come from what Assange is doing?"

    To the questioning of Glenn Greenwald:

    "Shouldn't he go to jail in defence of his beliefs?"
    "Any qualms about that he is essentially profiting of classified information?" [Bob Woodward anyone?] And do you see any irony in the fact that he's making money of a corporate publisher?'
    "What is his ultimate goal, beyond embarassing and disrupting the US government? What good do his supporters hope will really come from everything he's doing?"
    "Do you think [the rape charges] are part of a smear campaign? And beyond that do you think it hurts his credibility?"

    Is the difference in the questioning not obvious?

    December 28, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  23. Solid Coprolite

    Having watched the interview after reading this piece, I was amused at the dissonance.

    1) While I applaud that you gave Greenwald time to state his views, you:

    * Pushed hard on "shouldn't he be willing to go to jail,"
    * Led uncritically with the Biden "terrorist" line, and
    * Finished off with "rape charges."

    That doesn't feel much like moderating.

    2) You're mis-quoting Greenwald, who says that you're not the one "angrily proclaiming." If you'd linked to the Greenwald blog, that might have been easier for me to confirm, by the way.

    3) Finally, I'm unclear on your position now regarding the AC360° piece: You initially said that "they [news executives] would edit my pieces." You then said "senior corporate leadership never asked me to take out a line." How does Greenwald "revisits a falsehood" here?

    December 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  24. GM

    I have observed Ms. Townsend passing off right-wing authoritarian propaganda as political punditry for years now. It was refreshing to witness someone call her on her BS for once.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
  25. adrian lamo

    I believe Glenn was outstanding. Yellin was a proactively against Greenwald but at least she did give him time to explain – so in this case and this case only it was balanced

    December 28, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  26. PolO Avilés

    What's that of finding Assange endgame?
    Since when to defend or use a right we have to explain what we will do with it?

    December 28, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  27. joshua

    I think it's odd that CNN would hire a Bush era employee with a financial stake in defense/security industry dealings. Those who are invited on as debatees inherently skew debate. Is there no one else CNN can bring on as a "contributor"?

    I do have to say that I think Ms. Yellin's questions were phrased in ways that required GG defend Wikileaks/Assange's innocence rather than having Townsend make a fact-based case against Wikileaks/Assange.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  28. MickVV

    I thought you did a fair job letting your guests speak. But it seemed apparent the side you were on. You were a team with Fran Townsend, endorsing the position, being particularly adversarial toward Assange but not the U.S., letting falsehoods stand in some places, or, more to the point, endorsing a position at odds with your responsibilities as a journalist.

    Look, in all honesty, someone like me sitting at home looks to you and your colleagues to be our advocates against a government that seeks secrecy over transparency, especially in a time when multiple wars are ongoing the economic disparities are worsening.

    Your colleague and fellow CNN employee, Ms. Townsend, certainly doesn't have my interest at heart in the least. But you should.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  29. ans

    Jessica, your response above is measured but really... Your questions were one-sided and that's why Greenwald argues that you're part of the establishment. From the start, claiming in your question that Assange is "profiting" from his book deal. That's not a neutral statement, that's a judgment. Saying "shouldn't he expect to go to jail for his beliefs?" as if he shouldn't protest his innocence or simply jailing him is a legitimate response by Western governments. Again this isn't neutral – you're pushing the idea that what he's done with Wikileaks is illegal despite there having been no charges or indictment. Would you say that about a political dissident in China or Myanmar? Saying that Assange's goal is to "embarrass the US government." Nowhere has he said this. And if you'd quoted more of the blog entry, instead of cherry-picking a single line, viewers would have seen that Assange sees government and corporate conspiracies as material to injustice around the world and designed Wikileaks to reduce their ability to function.

    Meanwhile, when Townsend lied about Assange having indiscriminately dumped the leaked cables, you didn't "push" her to explain it at all. Greenwald had to point out that it's a falsehood.

    Fail. It wasn't fair, balanced journalism – it was as if you and Townsend were sharing a script.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:53 pm |
  30. Jan Rifkinson

    I wonder why a journalist feels the need to
    Justify an interview style, questions, etc.

    December 28, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  31. bmull

    I thought overall the interview was fair. At the beginning the moderator seemed a little snarky. What's ironic about Assange using a corporate publisher? He needs the money. Corporations have money. Thus he's using a corporate publisher. The moderator tended to ask questions in an adversarial fashion which could have led Greenwald to believe she was taking the other side, especially if hadn't been listening closely to that end of the conversation. The former homeland security official was reciting talking points and clearly had not considered the arguments that Greenwald made. That's the take-home I hope viewers got from this.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  32. nathaniel b

    i don't think it was a terrible job of moderation, but nor did it feel particularly even-handed. more than the questions themselves was jessica's tone, which was alternately accusatory and mocking of greenwald's arguments. not the best journalism i have seen for sure.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  33. Doug Hauser

    Jessica, thank you for having Greenwald on your show, as he is a brilliant intellect and thorough blogger in documenting his positions.

    However, you say, "I ask questions. I push guests to explain why they believe what they believe." Yet, you never once asked Townsend to defend her BLATANT falsehood about Wikileaks "dumping" of documents, her BLATANT falsehood about Wikileaks not redacting or attempting to redact information that may put people in danger, and her BLATANT falsehood where she repeatedly asserted what Assange has done are "crimes."

    It is not simply your job to "moderate" these debates. Your job as a journalist is also to ensure that ACCURATE information is exchanged in the discussion, that falsehoods are corrected, and that your audience is educated by FACTS, not merely "exposed" to 2 differing sides.

    In light of these measures, your performance was an epic fail. But don't feel too bad; no one else at CNN does any of those things either.

    That's what you get from a corporate-owned, for-profit media.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
  34. Krystyna

    Fran Townsend said, "Even the NYTimes would come to gov't with sensitive documents for redaction, to not do so would be irresponsible". She implies WikiLeaks would not do this.

    A reminder to both Townsend and Jessica Yellin:

    Julian Assange DID vet docs with the US Gov't, but the US Gov't refused to help redact, then claimed Julian Assange never asked! (Fran made the same false claim, and Jessica allowed her to make it by never correcting her).

    Here is the ORIGINAL LETTER from Julian Assange's attorney, Nov 26, 2010, formally asking US Gov't for help in redaction:

    And in response, Harold Koh (US Gov't) wrote back, "In your letter, you want information regarding individuals who may be at risk..." (READ 1st sentnce, 2nd page).

    Further, the FBI took the Manning/Lamo chat logs on May 21 & knew 6 MONTHS in ADVANCE exactly which 250k Embassy cables WL had. There was plenty of time to "warn" other gov'ts what was coming, it did not have to be done at the last minute in a scaremonger fashion.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
  35. Elizabeth Ferrari

    Actually, you push guests to verify what you believe or are pushing for your own reasons.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
  36. Thierry Guerrant

    Have Greenwald on more often. He makes for interesting viewing – very thought provoking and informative.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  37. Andy Baio

    Seems like linking to Glenn Greenwald's post would be appropriate, no?

    December 28, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  38. mark hastings

    I thought it was a good debate and G.G. seemed to have all the facts and his point was made cystal clear. JA is doing good for all of us to expose any wrong doing by our goverment. A citizenery that is informed can change our goverment for the better. Good Job!

    December 28, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  39. Tin Man

    Jessica did appear to be more on Fran's side (from the angle of her questions) but gave Glenn a fair hearing and allowed him the time to eloquently dispel the nonsense being spouted by the former Homeland Security adviser. Glad to see her respond also... I hope that she will now stick to those journalistic ideals.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  40. Larry

    Not JUST gov't employees profit from writing books when there's a story to tell.

    But Jessica Yellin slipped in some fast talk, "Certainly Julian Assange doesn't want to follow in the model of the very people he derides & is trying to bring down, so there's a contradiction there". Then she immediately asked a separate question.

    So what is her view? What is her endorsement? That Julian Assange has bad motives. Her assumption says Julian is trying to "bring down people". His goal is "open governments", and to expose secrecy that allows gov'ts to hide corruption, etc. Gov'ts won't be brought down if they didn't do anything to BE brought down.

    Here is a link to the recent NYTimes article. It talks about how Bob Woodward got rich using classified information in Obama's Wars (2nd sentence).

    December 28, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
  41. Mark C

    I'm glad Greenwald called out Townshend when she repeated the big lie that government officials and their allies in the establishment media are repeating ad nauseum about Wikileaks indiscriminately releasing all 250,000 cables when in fact to date all they have released are the cables that their journalistic partners at the NYT, etc. have themselves released.

    Anybody can go to and see that they have only released 1947 documents out of over 250,000 as of 12/28.

    Jessica Yellin would have more credibility in my eyes if she challenged that big lie herself but of course establishment media types never do and that particular big lie is just repeated again and again.

    And maybe it's me but don't I detect a note of hopefulness with Yellin with regards to Assange going to jail for exposing government lies and corruption even though he hasn't even been charged, let alone convicted of any crimes? I especially love the background images of the Assange "wanted posters" when discussing nonexistent crimes committed by a journalistic organization releasing secret documents.

    But I do give Yellin credit for at least letting Greenwald on the air in the first place, even if she incessantly, and wrongly, framed Wikileak's actions as criminal.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  42. Jen

    Your first point is muddy.

    Assange's real or perceived end game is irrelevant to the debate and speaks of a fairly sly attempt to discredit him, IMO.

    You can only judge a person by what he does, not by your own purely speculative notion of his motives. It was a loaded question.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  43. jonvaljon


    What you are failing to differentiate, is that "corporate" does not equal "corrupt corporate." You seemed to have trouble getting off that point during your "interview." Assange has issues with corruption, big monopolies, etc. Not the idea of corporations. You bogged down the conversation significantly by not doing a little research before, asking questions you could have answered yourself before hand, just as well as Glenn if not better.

    What is the end goal for him?

    Check this read out, saw it in the New Yorker, it was kinda interesting.

    "I asked Fran Townsend whether it was fair for Vice President Biden to describe Assange as a "high-tech terrorist."

    That is a baited question for starters. Also, if Assange meets that definition, you do as well. A little research on whistle blowing and supreme court decisions made in the past helps to understand this issue a little... See the recent NPR corrections that have been ordered by their management as well, CNN could learn a little. Please be a good journalist and call people out when they say blatant lies if you are going to moderate on a national news show.. you owe it to your viewers to not let libel go uncorrected.

    "The author revisits a falsehood I’d like to correct. I stand by a statement I made several years ago that during the war – when I worked elsewhere – I felt there was pressure to present the war in a way that was consistent with the patriotic fever in the nation and the president’s high approval ratings. I still stand by that statement. I’ve never backed down from that statement."

    Have you not felt similar pressure by your current employer about the current wiki-mania? How else do you explain the way the interview was conducted?

    December 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  44. law student

    your weak "gotcha!" attempt at trying to infer assange is a hypocrite for taking a book deal is so logically amateur it is to laugh. its akin to saying a woman who works to expose and prosecute rapists is a hypocrite for dating a man.

    but im sure this logical fallacy flies over the head of most of your viewers. i love seeing greenwald on MSM because the qualitative difference btw analysis and comprehension of the issues is remarkably stark.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  45. David Sketchley

    Ms Yellin

    You can't have your cake and eat it.

    You claim you were only "asking a question that challenges a guests’ view". Funny how those 'challenging questions were never directed at your other guest. In fact, instead of letting her make the points, it was you. Fran Townsend hardly got a word in.

    That's highly hypocritical. And it's no surprise you can't see it. You wouldn't be sitting where you are if you did...

    December 28, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  46. Mako Okone

    I thought the interview was fair as Ms. Yellin allowed both Glenn and the other panelist ample opportunity to make their points. However, it was clear that Ms. Yellin had bought in hook, line, and sinker the idea that JA was a criminal and a high tech terrorist and seemed surprised when confronted with Greenwald's views and facts. Hey: she was fair. I'll take it any day of the week.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:35 pm |
  47. Donald Johnson

    You were fair to Glenn and he said so. You gave him plenty of time to make his points. Good for you. But you came across as anti-wikileaks. I didn't see you say anything that challenged Townsend's position–all of your aggressive skepticism was aimed at wikileaks and none was reserved either for the government or any of his critics in the mainstream press. The tone of your questioning clearly indicated where your sympathies lay, and if you meant to seem neutral you failed badly.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:41 pm |
  48. corpsebride

    Glenn was absolutely great, loved him last night.
    I am amazed how he managed to befuddle dullard Townsend.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  49. Paul Raines

    I watched the interview, read Glen Greenwald's post and read Ms. Yellin's response. My impression during the interview was that Ms. Yellin spent the majority of the interview with hostile questioning of Mr. Greenwald and his support for Mr. Assange. Mr. Greenwald gave factual responses and presented himself very well. Ms Yellin then turned to Fran Townsend who then also began attacking Mr Assange and Mr. Greenwald's defense of him. Again, Mr Greenwald defended Mr. Assange in a professional and fact-based manner. He also correctly pointed out a falsehood that Ms. Townsend was making on the program. At no point did Ms Yellin challenge any of the claims made by Ms. Townsend or ask her hostile questions like she did Mr. Greenwald. Overall, Mr. Greenwald clearly won the day by coming across professionally and presenting the facts in defense of Mr. Assange. As a result, I find his blog to be much more compelling than Ms. Yellin's defense.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  50. yanotkach

    Jessica was clearly on the side that feels what Assange did was wrong and illegal. But if she reversed roles and backed Greenwald and Assange it would be contrary to what her viewers believe. It makes sense for her to side with the anti-Assange factions.

    Townsend was and is an embarrassingly incompetent politician who would be wise to stay off TV. WOW! It's hard to believe someone would be so illogical and uninformed!

    December 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  51. Colin G.

    What Jessica did in hosting that debate was nothing close to what could accurately be called moderating. The editorial comments she made throughout the discussion seemed to demonstrate to me exactly which arguments she wished her viewers to lend credibility to.

    "Well, certainly he doesn't want to follow in the model of the very people he derides and is trying to bring down – so, there's a contradiction there..."

    This wasn't a question she was posing to Glenn Greenwald or Fran Townsend – this was pure editorializing on her part to guide the viewers in assigning weight to the guests arguments.

    Also – Jessica's assertion that CNN (presumably) would draw a distinction between publishing information that "comes to you" and publishing information that is "ostensibly stolen" is what I find laughable. Any classified information that "comes to" a journalist via a leak does so via illegal means – regardless of whether or not is was over cocktails at a DC lounge in small talk or over the internet from an intelligence analysts workstation.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  52. Daniela

    Still think you did a very lousy job. Have to say Greenwald was much better informed than the pair of you. Get the facts right if you are interviewing someone with Greenwald's calibre.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  53. teo

    The reason for the pushback is simple: the Bush administration official got a pass. You grilled Greenwald, largely using the Bush administration's (and Obama administration's) arguments against transparency.

    I haven't followed Wiki Leaks as much as I should but I do think the criminal, here, worked for the administration. The leaker, not the messenger, is the criminal. And you can point to Assange as someone who, like Judy Miller, willfully published leaked information seemingly against the policy of the government (though Miller got a much easier ride).

    But there's been little discussion about how the administration allowed 250,000 documents to be leaked in the first place. If it cared so much about the material, why did they allow a 23-year-old kid access to all of these documents?

    December 28, 2010 at 8:53 pm |
  54. Akonitum

    Naw. You pushed the right-wing mob's meme completely ignoring Greenwalds point that news outlets routinely publish top secret information thanks to leaks - and you continue to do so.

    December 28, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  55. BaronBarks

    Sorry Jessica,

    But please stop with the Larry King moderator act.

    The "two sides to every story" attitude that CNN likes to espouse ignores the facts that in between those two sides is the TRUTH.

    Why are you not interested in reporting the truth? What makes you think that "good journalism" is creating a debate?

    If Frank Townsend had said that the sky was polka-dotted, would you then ask Glenn Greenwald what his response to that was?

    December 28, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  56. Tyler

    I have watched the segment online several times today, and it's pretty clear which side you were on, Jessica. Greenwald was completely spot-on in his defense of Julian Assange and his criticism of what you call "journalism". CNN, Fox, MSNBC, you are all just shells of your former selves. It really is pathetic to witness the absolute complicity that you journalists-in-name-only spew your complete lack of facts. There is no such thing as "news" anymore. You've been replaced my bloggers who actually do RESEARCH. How disgusting is that? I would be ashamed of myself if I were you or your little Bush crony Fran Townshend. Fascism = the marriage of the corporate agenda and government. Welcome to it, America. There's nobody to blame but us for letting it get this far.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
  57. masha

    yellin's tone towards assange was one of condemnation and judgment. cnn is going the way of fox. more money in that kind of "journalism" , i guess.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • Ramirotapi

      Am i the only one whom is fidning the comment column collapsed? specially the save comment button is screwed up and in addition previewing option is not operating. is it my internet browser problem or something with this webpage?

      February 22, 2012 at 9:29 am |
  58. masha

    what i want for yellin to do is try, if she can, to differentiate what bob woodward does and what wikileaks does. and if she cannot, why can she not ask the same questions of woodward?

    December 28, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
  59. mediabite

    You did repeatedly ask whether Assange should be prepared to go to jail, implying overtly that he has committed a crime.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  60. Mohamed Abdullahi

    On balance Jessica did a good job. She gave Greewald ample time to quash some outrageous claims. Some of her questions were out of place.The accusations made by Greewald though are quite true about many media personalities who are shamelessly jaundiced in their "reporting". Do they think that the public are fools !

    December 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  61. Bill Wolfe

    In my prior comment, I neglected to say that it was totally wrong and unprofessional for you to call Assange a revolutionary and a criminal.

    I thought that was obvious.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  62. masha

    yellin is like a fox news anchor. she asks "gimme" questions of persons she agrees with and asks hardline questions with those she disagrees with.

    is it fair to call assange a high tech terrorist?–really that's a question? of course she's going to say yes.

    do you think assange is profiting from the leaks?–that's a fair enough question to counter a known position. but she should have done the same for townsend. she should have asked townsend about the difference with woodward and freedom of speech rights.

    one clearly knows what side yellin was with.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  63. HH

    CNN has been relentnessly accusatory towards Assange, so for Ms. Yellin to claim a neutral posture is disingenuous. Her questions consistently suggested the guilt of Assange for unstated "crimes." But as Greenwald repeatedly pointed out, there have been no legal charges brought against Assange for leaking documents.

    Ms. Yellin was simply told to take a hostile stance toward Assange and Wikileaks by her managers, the same sort of people who told her to sell the Iraq War. Same program, different channel.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
  64. RockinRobbie

    There was a definite slant against Greenwald's position and not anywhere near the same pressure put on Fran Townsend. From what I gather from reading the comments here, the majority who viewed the segment came away with the same opinion. Honestly, I think you were briefed with a one-sided report or reports that sets out the premise that Wikileaks is harmful to USA and Assange is therefore a terrorist. It certainly did not come across that you were well versed on the other side's POV.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  65. Jim Gigliotti

    In fairness to Jessica Yellin, she deserves credit for inviting Glenn Greenwald as a guest to present the case for Julian Assange. That said, after viewing the interview several times the thing that I find remarkable is her apparent confusion over the role of journalists and the legality of what they do. Most of her questions were presented in a way that seemed to suggest that she assumed or accepted that Assange's actions were criminal and that he acted differently than other journalists. Despite Greenwald's explanations that refuted this error, she nonetheless seemed unwilling or unable to understand or accept that revealing government lies and wrongdoing is what journalists are supposed to do. As for Fran Townsend...hello?

    December 28, 2010 at 9:38 pm |
  66. ex-journalist

    Ms. Yellin,
    Could you kindly explain why the substance of the cables is NEVER a topic of discussion? Is it because US journalists are unwilling to do their homework? Is it because the goal is to keep the American public in the dark about our government's actions?

    Or is it because the American people are incapable of paying attention to serious issues therefore producers are concerned with maintaining ratings that hard content would result in people changing channels?

    Why is the celebrity of Mr. Assange the focus rather than the content of the cables? When Woodward publishes is the story him or the content of his story?

    So therefore the producer's goal is to shift the story to one of celebrity where everyone can have a fact-free opinion?

    December 28, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  67. John K.

    I found this interview to be:
    – Biased with leading questions.
    – Ms. Yellin seems to be uneducated and/or misinformed regarding the topic she was conducting an interview on.
    – Interview was vastly one sided with softball questions asked of Townsend. Fallacies stated by Townsend were not corrected by Ms. Yellin.

    In all, I expect better, of both Ms. Yellin and CNN. You have a wide audience and people look to you for fair and balanced coverage of controversial topics.

    Please do better next time as your reputation as a credible journalist and source of news is in jeopardy– we may simply stop watching and listening if we can't trust the message you're delivering.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
  68. Bruce Brown

    What's unique about Greenwald is not that he is sympathetic to Assange but that he is totally devoted to facts and logic. His bias, if you can call it that, is that he is aware of the tendancy of governments to overstep their authority when it comes to pursuing 'national interests'.

    Also most people realize that TV news trys to provide news that the audience likes, or news that they at least approve of. The business model bottom-line is ratings, right? That said, I think Yellin does a good job within that framework.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  69. jr

    Jessica, what bothered me most about this segment was that you did not respond in any way to your CNN colleague Fran Townsend's false assertions.

    Your apparent comfort with her oft-repeated, long-disproven lies made me very uncomfortable. That a major-media journalist would let falsehoods go unchallenged is one very strong reason why we need an organization like Wikileaks.

    In light of all the comments here, I hope you rise to the challenge of doing better journalism. You are clearly an intelligent person and deserve credit for inviting a guest like Mr. Greenwald on your show.

    December 28, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  70. steve

    Jessica, you are a first-rate journalist. You asked hard questions (like why is JA profiting if he is such an altruist - good question), and you let your guests answer. GG did as good a job under the circumstances defending a man who has done grave damage to international security. But you handled the issues smartly and fairly.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
  71. JJ

    I've only seen this one segment of Yellin's, so I don't know whether it's fair to say she's among those "leading the crusade" against WikiLeaks, but I do agree that Yellin betrays a bias against Assange in this segment.

    1) She starts off by mocking Assange's statement to the London Times that he doesn't want to write the book but he has to (in order to pay his legal costs). It's unclear why Yellin considers this claim incredulous. Does she have evidence that he was shopping for a book deal before his legal troubles? Does she have evidence that PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, and others have not in fact been successful at cutting off donations to WikiLeaks?

    2) She asks Greenwald if he sees any irony in the fact that Assange is making money off a corporate publisher, and when Greenwald doesn't confirm that position, she interjects her own conclusion, saying, "Well certainly he doesn't want to follow in the model of the very people he derides and is trying to bring down, so there's a contradiction there." This is a dubious interpretation of Assange's actions, one that the guest did not draw or confirm, yet Yellin took it upon herself to interject before moving on to another question without getting the guest's response. Contrast this behavior with how she describes her conduct as moderator: "I ask questions. I push guests to explain why they believe what they believe."

    3) The video of the segment belies any claim that Yellin "pushed" Fran Townsend to "explain why" she believes what she does. Yellin did not pose a single followup question to Townsend. She asked Townsend two questions–is it fair to call Assange a terrorist, and can any good come from what WikiLeaks is doing–she let Townsend give the answers that Yellin presumably expected (she calls her segment a debate so she presumably chose people with opposing views) and after Townsend's remarks she turned to Greenwald and pose different questions, thus steering the debate away from any challenge to Townsend.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  72. TBond


    I watched the interview as long as I could bare it . . . your bias against Assange and Wikileaks was obvious, Greenwald nailed it when he wrote that as an establishment media rep, you represent the government. I found no journalistic integrity in that interview, merely a puppet for the government.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:11 pm |
  73. Birthmark

    I watched the interview. As usual, the "journalist" had already reached her conclusions before the interview started. One conclusion was that there is something hypocritical about a guy writing a book. That irrational claim of hypocrisy is both illogical and laughable. Apparently, you feel Assange should go to jail –for any ol' charge, related or not to his actions. Ridiculous.

    Another conclusion that Assange is a terrorist is equally ludicrous. Words have meanings, as any journalist knows –or should know. No reality-based definition of "terrorism" can include the actions of Assange.

    "I just repeated the claim, so I'm not responsible" is not a defense. The manner in which you repeated the claim merely was making the accusation by proxy.

    I miss the days when CNN was a credible news source.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:14 pm |
  74. Myra Harper

    Every time I've seen Greenwald, whether it be on Dylan Ratigan, on Maddow, and now with Yellin, he comes out firing with both barrels using FACTS and EVIDENCE-BASED INFORMATION.

    Greenwald comes closer to speaking truth to power than probably anybody we will see on the MSM. But taking on you and Townsend in this debate was probably child's play to him. The obvious half-truths and lies and leading questions you were throwing at him were obvious to anybody who has followed the Assange/Wikileaks story even only halfheartedly.

    Do have Greenwald on your show again, but jeez do some research next time. This episode was just embarrassing.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:17 pm |
  75. Jesus Christ

    This is not really "moderating." The whole thing is framed in a pretty heavily slanted manner.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
  76. Carlyle Moulton


    Your questions were legitimate but what bothers me is the tone in which you asked them. This carried a strong implication that you already knew what the answers should be and they were not what you got from Greenwald. In other words you did not appear to be impartial even in the shallow A said B said journalistic convention of American commentators.

    In this video conference it was clearly 2 against 1 with Glen Greenwald in the minority.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
    • Kumis

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      February 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  77. Mark Loomis

    Ms. Yellin was attempting to imitate the clowns at Fox News who, as Jon Stewart has so ably illustrated, present lies as an innocent question..."I'm not saying your mother's a prostitute, I'm just sayin' there are some who say she sleeps with people for money." Yellin asks Townsend if Assange is a terrorist. Then in this post she claims it's not HER position...she's just asking the question. Jessica, turn off the TiVo of your own broadcasts, and tune into the Daily Show once in a while, to see how foolish this behavior comes across to sentient beings.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  78. anonymous coward

    I feel that Jessica was fair, in the sense that the view she represented is the viewpoint that most people in America hold – 70% of americans polled believe that wikileaks is bad. It was not, however, a balanced interview in the slightest. Thankfully Glenn Greenwald was able to successfully defend Assange and wikileaks and show Mrs. Townsend as someone who had nothing more than unfactual talking points.

    In general that is a situation which the shrill response of the network news media has generated, especially fox and somewhat CNN et al, so I believe that Mrs. Yellin should not get a free pass on this. Please consider what agenda your news reporting is furthering, and please think seriously that many people form their opinions of the world based on YOUR OWN presentation of the facts. Your presumption that wikileaks' actions are criminal flies in the face of every facet of investigative reporting.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  79. Karen

    Fran Townsend (Frances Fragos Townsend) works for former U.S. Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and George Mitchell (Board members) at the BiPartison Policy Center. They focus on health care, energy, national and homeland security, transportation, science, and economic policy.

    She holds the top position as the Chairwoman of the Board at INSA, Intelligence and National Security Alliance in Arlington, Virginia. Advocacy, research and analysis, national security, and intelligence education, a D.C. lobby shop catering to security and former intelligence personnel. And wasn’t disclosed on the John King program!

    Fran has the ultimate conflict of interests working as a ‘journalist’ with CNN. She is the Senior Vice President of Worldwide Government, Legal and Business Affairs at MacAndrews and Forbes Holdings, Inc.

    Also, Fran is a Director and chairs the compensation committees of 2 private company Boards! She serves on numerous government advisory and nonprofit boards. Fran chairs the Board of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. Fran is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission.

    Fran is involved with defense contracting companies and lobbying firms! Lockheed Martin. L-3 Communications. GeniusRocket.

    Fran recently urged Obama’s Administration to transform “how it defends against cyber attacks,” claiming they “lack the organizational ability and authorization to prevent and respond to cyber security threats”. Whom would she like to do the work to fix it?? Guess. She wants Obama’s team to let the NSA pit bulls off the leash! She said that “the real capability in this government is in the National Security Agency”.

    Anyone think this can be a conflict of interest between Fran and CNN, and the guests CNN has on their shows?

    December 29, 2010 at 1:11 am |
  80. Richard

    The choice of topic–Assange, not the cables–precludes any doubt as to the bias of CNN. As can be seen in the interview and comments it was clear to all objective viewers that Jessica's questions and language, from the very start, was the loaded rhetoric of the establishment. It was also clear that Greenwald offered facts and Townsend repeated lies. But given I give Yellin immense credit for inviting Greenwald and allowing him to speak. Did the American people hear him? No crime. Now, if you believe in democracy and love your country, ask the same of your government.

    December 29, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  81. Richard

    JJ's summary is closer to the one I'd like to have written were I not using a small mobile tap screen, which interfered with the little I did manage to say. That was not impartial moderating byany stretch; Yellin's views were obvious from the opening remark, further interjected throughout, and ultimately she changed the subject in an attempt to make sure the establishment media's unsubstantiated insinuations against Assange's moral character were the final word. Yet she deserves praise for providing Greenwald such an opportunity to speak.

    December 29, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  82. TC

    I'm pretty critical of Greenwald and I clicked on the video without any sides or predlictions. I was shocked at how much you seemed to side with the government without taking the time to inform yourself of the basic issues. I really did get the sense that you are treating Assange differently than you'd treat Woodward, basically because the government wants that way.

    December 29, 2010 at 6:22 pm |