The New York Times pressed Wikileaks to publish classified Pentagon documents to avoid charges of conspiring to commit espionage, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange claimed. The Times was too scared to scoop, in other words.

In a showdown with Keller at a University of California, Berkeley journalism conference, Assange, participating via Skype, accused his media partner turned antagonist of cowardice. From SF Weekly's report:

Unusually for a competitive newspaper, the NYT pressed for Wikileaks to publish the documents before it did, in order to preserve the appearance that the newspaper was keeping Assange at arm's length as a source of information no different than any other. The reason for this, Assange alleged, was that the Times wished to avoid looking like it was involved in a conspiracy to unveil secret information and possibly violate the Espionage Act.

"That's why The New York Times is careful to say this was not a collaboration," Assange said."What the Times is afraid of is that one man's collaboration is another man's conspiracy."

Although the Espionage Act was most recently considered for use against Wikileaks in connection with State Department cables, the SF Weekly account makes it clear Assange was referencing the prior cache of Pentagon documents the group released.

Keller apparently changed the subject when this came up at the conference. But the editor described pretty much the opposite scenario around the Pentagon documents in a Times magazine piece on his paper's collaboration with the thin-skinned couch-surfing serial impregnator to publish secret "war logs" about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Keller's telling, it was Assange who wanted Wikileaks to publish the documents, and the Times that had to be restrained. "Assange provided us the data on the condition that we not write about it before specific dates that WikiLeaks planned on posting," he wrote. "The embargo was the only condition WikiLeaks would try to impose on us."

This may well have been technically true, though highly misleading if, as Assange implies, he would have been happy to allow his "collaborator" the Times go first and was specifically asked by the paper not to do so. In any case, Keller's framing has the virtue of being a nice bit of spin on the situation. Best not to make people think a reputable newspaper would actively avoid breaking news.

[Photos via Getty]