Overpromising on leaks the site can't deliver, as well as overhyping the ones it can, has been another hallmark of Assange's work. This year, WikiLeaks released more than 5 million emails from the global intelligence firm Stratfor, touting it as a "private CIA" operating outside the law in cooperation with the U.S. government. In reality, if the emails revealed anything, it's that Stratfor's marketing to its corporate clients has somewhat overstated the glorified intelligence firm's own level of access and expertise. Take, for example, Stratfor Vice President of Intelligence Fred Burton's prediction of a flood of 9/11-type attacks heading America's way after the fall of Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. And emails purporting to prove that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was spying on the Occupy Wall Street movement turned out to be less than meet the eye (though an extended dialogue about the theft of pesto tortellini from the company fridge was at least amusing).
The Syria emails may have shown some Western companies and politicians being a bit too quick to engage with the Assad regime, but the documents had little damaging information that hadn't already been reported in outlets like Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal. Readers were duly underwhelmed, and the story disappeared quickly from headlines.
Even WikiLeaks' crowning achievement -- Cablegate -- may have been embarrassing to the State Department and put some U.S. government sources at risk, but didn't actually reveal much in the way of nefarious doings by U.S. diplomats. If anything, it often revealed them to be a bit more informed about their postings than their public statements might suggest. Yes, cables detailing the personal excesses of the Tunisian ruling family were one of several factors that helped spark protests in that country in early 2011, but WikiLeaks' claims that the Arab Spring was a direct result of its work doesn't pass the laugh test.
WikiLeaks has also repeatedly proved itself fairly unreliable when it comes to handling secret information. In a 2009 email, by accidentally using the CC instead of BCC field, Assange reportedly revealed the names of the organization's first 58 supporters to one another, an action that may have set in motion the chain of events that led to the arrest of accused leaker Bradley Manning. WikiLeaks even failed to keep control of its crown jewels -- the U.S. cables likely obtained from Manning -- allowing them to leak to a Norwegian newspaper that was not part of the original publication agreement in December 2010. According to some reports, Assange had given one Icelandic volunteer access to the full archive. Eventually, WikiLeaks turned its back on its media partners and simply published the entire archive without redacting the names of sources, revealing the identities of dissidents who had confided in U.S. officials.
WikiLeaks' defenders often complain about the organization's hostile treatment in the mainstream media. The Aug. 16 New York Times story on the Ecuador standoff, which manages to find a way to work in past stories of Assange not flushing toilets and abusing cats, will probably bolster their claim. But WikiLeaks has also contributed to its own bad coverage by undermining its relationships with its media partners. WikiLeaks alienated its first publishing partner, the Guardian, by going behind editors' backs to share material with a competing news outlet. In the case of the New York Times, Assange soured on the paper and its editor at the time, Bill Keller, after it published what he saw as an unflattering profile of him; and soon thereafter, Assange began to accuse the paper of collusion with the U.S. government. In July, WikiLeaks published a hoax "Bill Keller" column, an act that doesn't exactly lend credibility to an organization that prides itself on the accuracy of its information.