ON THE DAY of our meeting, Mr. Young wrote a story on Cryptome about WikiLeaks redacting names from some of the classified files it had recently posted.
“This redaction is some reputation-building shit and WikiLeaks is a coward for adopting this mode,” Mr. Young said, his voice rising. “They promised never to do that. And now they are doing that. And why? Because there is money in it and reputation in it, and they want to be part of the players. … [The mainstream media] have used flattery, attention and bribery, all the usual ways that you bring people in the fold because it’s irresistible if you have a narcissistic streak.”
Mr. Young then cited the profile picture of Mr. Assange that adorned the skyline of the WikiLeaks site and his flair in promoting upcoming leaks. “I have separated ‘WikiLeaks’ from ‘Julian,'” he said. “He has now taken off on his own track. WikiLeaks is still out there as a wonderful idea of a large number of people working without being celebrated or known–the wiki–and the leaks are still needed by multiple people but not a singular person running it. He’s on the verge of a career of being Julian Assange. He’s used WikiLeaks to leverage that. So now WikiLeaks is breaking away from him and other wikis are being set up by other people disaffected by his monomania.”
Mr. Young said that in some cases, he has funded these “new wikis.” “We are talking about generic sites,” he said, vaguely refusing to offer further details.
Soon after, I asked him if he was this curious about information as a youth in Texas. “Now, don’t go into this background shit,” he snapped. “C’mon, you don’t need to do that. I’ll just get up and leave.”
We then had a friendly argument about picking up the check and discussed the benefits of living in New York City. A second later, he pivoted, creating a sudden shift in the conversation. “I don’t know if The Observer will publish this if it’s not a screw job, because it won’t be interesting.”
He asked to see my credentials, so I handed him a business card. “I’ve been fucked several times these last six months by people who say they are journalists and they are not,” he said, fingering the card. “It happened this morning. I got punked.”
He was still unconvinced, so I brandished my social security card. “Is this a good thing to carry around,” I said. “You want this, too?”
“I’ll take that, too,” he said, reaching for it. But I snatched it away, thinking the better of it.
“Give me your editor’s name and phone number,” he demanded then.
I hesitated, fumbled some words and looked out the window, exasperated. And that’s when he took my digital recorder.
“Journalists are real shits,” he said. “What did you think was going to happen? You thought I was going to be a pushover?”
He ordered me to email my editor and confirm that the story was for The New York Observer. He even dictated the email: “Please confirm to John Young that I am authorized by The Observer to interview him for The Observer … or he will not give me my recorder back.”
“What do we do now?” I wondered.
“You can fight me for the recorder if you like. These are my worlds. You can’t take them without me setting conditions.”
The standoff lasted 16 minutes. My editor didn’t email, but without explanation Mr. Young eventually returned the recorder.
“This is not how you do this,” he scolded. “You need to find someone I trust and get them to vouch for you to me and not just send me an email. Otherwise, I think you are up to no good.”
“I don’t think you trust anybody.”
“You are completely clueless,” he said, growing angrier. “You did a lousy job. You didn’t do anything that made me want to open up to you. You never gave me any information. It’s just about as bad as you can get.”
“Then why did you meet up with me?”
“Because I wanted to give you a tip not to do it this way anymore. It’s usually not done in such a clumsy way. It’s an insult to approach me in such a clumsy way. It’s just bad. It’s a pretty awful thing that you’ve done. You’ve basically wasted my time and seem to have no problem with that.”
Now, he tied his scarf around his neck, put on his coat and continued his tirade. “It’s all me giving you stuff,” he said. “Even now. It’s all about me talking to you. All these trappings–the notepad, the recorder. Don’t you know how much that is fake? Anyway.”
He then shuffled toward the exit. Meanwhile, I quickly packed my recorder and notepad and–yes, clumsily–dropped some computer discs onto the floor. After recovering them, I looked up and saw that he had turned left and was walking uptown on Broadway. I ran past the host.
“Thank you, sir,” he said. “Please come again.”