|WikiLeaks moved its website address to the Swiss domain http://wikileaks.ch [Reuters]|
Leaked US state department cables have revealed a hidden world of backstage international diplomacy and have exposed brutally frank comments by various world leaders – from Germany to the Gulf.
But whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has been threatened by an increasing barrage of political, legal, and technical attacks on its infrastructure.
Some media have critiqued the site’s methods of leaking classified material, and a recent statement by Reporters Without Borders said, “This is the first time we have seen an attempt at the international community level to censor a website dedicated to the principle of transparency”.
Many journalists have defended the controversial organisation and its right to provide confidential diplomatic correspondence to the public.
It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of a free press to see Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gibbs turn into HR Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean.
We can only pray that we won’t soon be hit with secret White House tapes of Obama drinking scotch and slurring his words while calling Assange bad names …
It is a fact of the current media landscape that the chilling effect of threatened legal action routinely stops reporters and editors from pursuing stories that might serve the public interest – and anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying.
Every honest reporter and editor in America knows that the fact that most news organisations are broke, combined with the increasing threat of aggressive legal action by deep-pocketed entities, private and public, has made it much harder for good reporters to do their jobs, and ripped a hole in the delicate fabric that holds our democracy together.
The basic question is not whether we think Julian Assange is a terrorist or a hero. The basic question certainly is not whether we think exposing the chatter of the diplomatic corps helps or hinders their efforts, and whether this is a good or bad thing. To continue to focus on these questions is to miss the forest for the texture of the bark on a single elm.
If we take the inevitability of future large leaks for granted, then I think the debate must eventually centre on the things that will determine the supply of leakers and leaks.
Some of us wish to encourage in individuals the sense of justice which would embolden them to challenge the institutions that control our fate by bringing their secrets to light.
One wonders if Lieberman feels that he, or any Senator, can call in the company running The New Yorker‘s printing presses when we are preparing a story that includes leaked classified material, and tell them to stop it. The circumstances are different, but not so different as to be really reassuring.
There are worse things one can do than cut off a server; for example, cut off a head. That seems to be where other WikiLeaks critics are headed.
Sarah Palin said that Assange should be hunted down like Osama bin Laden; Newt Gingrich said that he should be treated as an enemy combatant; and Bill Kristol wants the Obama administration to think about kidnapping or killing Assange “and his collaborators”.
What is of lasting significance is that politicians and captains of industry and even the courts have lost the power to control the way information is drip-fed in their self-interest. That was the way it was done in the old world. Journalists grasped at snippets and morsels to assist the insider in some undeclared agenda. This new world represents as big a change for journalism as it does for the rest of the established order …
What precisely is so damaging if citizens know some of the truth? If they know that there was a secret arrangement between US and British officials to subvert the plan to ban cluster bombs. If they know that the British government restricted the investigation of the Chilcott inquiry into the Iraq war to minimise embarrassment for the US. To know that China might be willing to accept the reunification of North and South Korea. To know if the governor of the Bank of England had doubts about the economic credentials of Prime Minister David Cameron. To know that their governments undermine international treaties.
We love to tout the liberating powers of technology and the information age, and yet the knee-jerk reaction from many of our news arbiters has been to heap scorn on the entity that is, at the present moment, doing the most to ensure that citizens actually have the tools – information – to realise the potential of the information age for human freedom.
WikiLeaks, whatever its flaws might be, is filling a dangerous vacuum in our information environment, one created by the dereliction of duty by those entities whose constitutional prerogatives were designed to ensure that they would challenge, not protect, government secrecy and abuse. For that, WikiLeaks deserves our thanks.
There is a very simple reason WikiLeaks has sent a furious storm of outrage across the globe and it has very little to do with diplomatic impropriety. It is this: The public is uninformed because of inadequate journalism.
Consumers of information have little more to digest than Kim Kardashian’s latest paramour or the size of Mark Zuckerberg’s jet. Very few publishers or broadcasters post reporters to foreign datelines and give them time to develop relationships that lead to information …
Good government, if such a thing exists, is the product of transparency. Americans have very little idea of the back-stories that lead to the events they see on the nightly news or read about on the net. How did such messes end up being such messes?
If journalism were functioning at appropriate levels, there would have been stories that reported some of the information contained in the cables now published around the globe.