There’s too much freedom, a few constitutional amendments need tossing out and the government needs greater powers — this would seem to sum up the views of the majority of Americans… if the latest polling is reliable.
The American public is highly critical of the recent release of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables on the WikiLeaks Web site and would support the arrest of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by U.S. authorities, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds.
Most of those polled – 68 percent – say the WikiLeaks’ exposure of government documents about the State Department and U.S. diplomacy harms the public interest. Nearly as many – 59 percent – say the U.S. government should arrest Assange and charge him with a crime for releasing the diplomatic cables.
Assange was scheduled to appear in a London courtroom Tuesday to formally contest an extradition order on sexual assault charges in Sweden. U.S. federal authorities are reportedly investigating whether Assange could be charged with violating the Espionage Act by releasing the documents, but his potential extradition to Sweden could significantly complicate any U.S. attempt to quickly try him.
A generational gap was evident among those polled, with younger Americans raised in the Internet age expressing distinct views on the matter. Nearly a third of those ages 18 to 29 say the release of the U.S. diplomatic cables serves the public interest, double the proportion of those older than 50 saying so. When it comes to Assange, these younger adults are evenly split: Forty-five percent say he should be arrested by the United States; 46 percent say it is not a criminal matter. By contrast, those age 30 and older say he should be arrested by a whopping 37-point margin.
As always, the polling information is frustrating as much because of what it doesn’t show as by what it reveals. The answers to these follow-up questions might have helped clarify who was dumber — the pollsters or those being polled:
1. If you believe the release of the cables damaged the public interest, can you list the top five most damaging revelations?
2. If you believe the release of the cables damaged the public interest, can you explain whether you see any distinction between the interests of the American people and the interests of the US government?
3. If you would like to see Julian Assange arrested, can you explain what crime you think he committed?
4. If you think he committed a crime, do you believe that the same charges should be brought against the editors of the New York Times and other newspapers that published the cables?
5. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Can you explain your understanding of these freedoms and do you believe that the US Constitution can be set aside whenever the government says that national security is at stake?