Media

Smart Takes on Wikileaks

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I mentioned Jack Shafer's eloquent defense of Wikileaks in today's Morning Links roundup. Here's an excerpt:

International scandals—such as the one precipitated by this week's WikiLeaks cable dump—serve us by illustrating how our governments work. Better than any civics textbook, revisionist history, political speech, bumper sticker, or five-part investigative series, an international scandal unmasks presidents and kings, military commanders and buck privates, cabinet secretaries and diplomats, corporate leaders and bankers, and arms-makers and arms-merchants as the bunglers, liars, and double-dealers they are…

The recent WikiLeaks release, for example, shows the low regard U.S. secretaries of state hold for international treaties that bar spying at the United Nations. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, systematically and serially violated those treaties to gain an incremental upper hand. And they did it in writing! That Clinton now decries Julian Assange's truth-telling an "attack" on America but excuses her cavalier approach to treaty violation tells you all you need to know about U.S. diplomacy…

The idea of WikiLeaks is scarier than anything the organization has leaked or anything Assange has done because it restores our distrust in the institutions that control our lives. It reminds people that at any given time, a criminal dossier worth exposing is squirreled away in a database someplace in the Pentagon or at Foggy Bottom.

Over at the Economist, Will Wilkinson also defends Julian Assange.

If secrecy is necessary for national security and effective diplomacy, it is also inevitable that the prerogative of secrecy will be used to hide the misdeeds of the permanent state and its privileged agents. I suspect that there is no scheme of government oversight that will not eventually come under the indirect control of the generals, spies, and foreign-service officers it is meant to oversee. Organisations such as WikiLeaks, which are philosophically opposed to state secrecy and which operate as much as is possible outside the global nation-state system, may be the best we can hope for in the way of promoting the climate of transparency and accountability necessary for authentically liberal democracy. Some folks ask, "Who elected Julian Assange?" The answer is nobody did, which is, ironically, why WikiLeaks is able to improve the quality of our democracy.

Finally, here's Glenn Greenwald on the backlash, in particular the sad reaction from our watchdog media.

The WikiLeaks disclosure has revealed not only numerous government secrets, but also the driving mentality of major factions in our political and media class.  Simply put, there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S.  Indeed, I don't quite recall any entity producing as much bipartisan contempt across the American political spectrum as WikiLeaks has:  as usual, for authoritarian minds, those who expose secrets are far more hated than those in power who commit heinous acts using secrecy as their principal weapon

It's one thing for the Government to shield its conduct from public disclosure, but it's another thing entirely for the U.S. media to be active participants in that concealment effort.  As The Guardian's Simon Jenkins put it in a superb column that I can't recommend highly enough:  "The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. . . . Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets."  But that's just it:  the media does exactly what Jenkins says is not their job, which—along with envy over WikiLeaks' superior access to confidential information—is what accounts for so much media hostility toward that group.  As the headline of John Kampfner's column in The Independent put it:  "Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority."

Most political journalists rely on their relationships with government officials and come to like them and both identify and empathize with them.  By contrast, WikiLeaks is truly adversarial to those powerful factions in exactly the way that these media figures are not:  hence, the widespread media hatred and contempt for what WikiLeaks does.

NEXT: One of These Things Is Not Like the Others. Or Is It?

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  1. Truth is treason in the empire of lies…

    1. Nice! I just heard that while listening to The Revolution yesterday.

  2. I am glad to see Wikileaks and Julian Assange being defended from so many quarters. Leakers have provided much important data on the frauds that are ClimateGate and the Church of Scientology among other things. Without leakers we would not be witnessing the collapse of the Global Warning fraud or the despicable totalitarian regime of Scientology dictator David Miscavige.

    Wikileaks would not exist without 1. whistle blowers willing to leak information and 2. incredibly sieve-like security procedures.

    Wikileaks performs a useful public service. If it is taken down and Assange executed as some desire the leaking will not end. Other Wikileaks will rise to take its place.

    It’s the Millennium of the Internets. The Game has changed forever.

    1. whistle blowers willing to leak information

      Regarding the diplomatic cables, what exactly is the “whistle” being blown at?

      1. Sometimes it’s just fun to blow on a whistle.

        1. Sometimes its just a dog whistle to blow and then watch with glee as the government hounds run around in circles howling in pain and confusion.

        2. “Sometimes it’s just fun to blow on a whistle.”

          Have at it.

      2. The whistle is being blown at the fact that Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice broke a treaty by ordering her subordinates to spy on U.N. representatives. Not that people care, but it’s good to know.

        1. That’s it? I’m flabbergasted. Thank god for those selfless and courageous “whistle blowers,” blowing the lid off, well, whatever.

        2. Spying on the U.N. breaks international law? Better call my lawyer.

  3. Live with a government forty years. Share its house, its meals? listen to it on every subject? then tie it up, and hold it over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the government.

    1. Don’t give up your day job.

    2. Nice. A little Xiang Yu wisdom on the subject. Or Shepard Book, depending on how you look at it.

      1. Ai ya, hwai leh!

  4. Did Greenwald miss the JournOList scandal? Expecting the DC press corps to do anything but suck administration cock would be insane.

    1. Stop quoting that dhimmi sockpuppet shitbag! He deserves to be executed right along with every one of those JournoLista shitbags.

      1. Dhimmi? This isn’t free republic.

        1. This dude really hates the journolist participants for some reason. I think that he may be Weigel’s ex-boyfriend, and feels betrayed.

      2. The wells got more poison than water in ’em these days.

    2. Expecting the DC press corps to do anything but suck administration cock would be insane.

      They aren’t journalists, they’re stenographers. I don’t know why newspaper editors bother with them; they could just as easily print the government press releases verbatim.

      1. Often, they do.

    1. Quote of the day:

      Government Cock Will Not Suck Itself. That’s What A Free And Independent Media Is For.

      Nice.

  5. greenwalds a sockpuppet dickhead, really, what “heinous acts” did these cables expose? that shillary had concerns over a pill popper running argentina

    1. It doesn’t matter. Most real misdeeds are better hidden than what wikileaks exposes, but what it is showing is what government’s mentality is at any point in time and the reaction to that revelation is what truly shows us where our republic is…and right now, its not a happy looking place based on the comments I’ve seen in response.

  6. I found Ross Douthat’s response to Wilkinson on point. As noted yesterday (and noted by Wilkinson himself, who pointed to the post), Assange isn’t a “philosophically opposed to state secrecy” kind of guy, he’s a heighten-the-contradictions kind of guy.

    Hopefully the government will pursue the smart take of Secretary Gates, who rightly shrugs leaks off as something inevitable and even a positive fact of our democracy, despite the dire warnings from our own and from other countries for 235 years.

  7. It’s hard for me to read this as anything but sarcasm but since Greenwald is incapable of it I must admit that he is a total moron.

    Simply put, there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S.

    OMG! So much insularity and American provincialism. If I didn’t know better I would have assumed that Greenwald hadn’t even had a passport. There are entire continents outside the US with more government abuses abetted by compliant media.

    1. +1

      I sometimes find Greenwald has some pretty good points on things and other times I find he is to Islamic terrorists as Timothy Treadwell is to grizzly bears.

  8. The first block quote is an interesting take that I hadn’t considered.

    Really, the competing views of governance and diplomacy are those of benevolently minded civil servants doing a hard job in a good/evil world, or the view of all governments as malevolent conspirators seeking to enslave humanity.

    These leaks, not to mention the responses to said leaks, show the banal, and petty nature of the world’s movers and shakers.

    1. How are these “competing views” contradictory, though?

      Both can be true.

  9. Simply put, there are few countries in the world with citizenries and especially media outlets more devoted to serving, protecting and venerating government authorities than the U.S.

    The wall-to-wall royal wedding coverage I saw in Scotland last week suggests otherwise. Or the Belgian response to King Leopold documentaries. There are few countries in the world more devoted to the US government than the US, though.

    1. The royal family is not really part of the government for practical purposes. Compare the US media’s behavior whenever anything involving the Kennedys happens.

  10. If Assange had simply made the case that leaks are important as a check on government malfeasance and that it is the responsibility in a free society to reveal government crimes and misdeeds, he’d be much less of a problem. Libertarians, especially, should be sensitive here to the law of unintended consequences. By waging an all out war on government secrets and attaching it to some half-baked worldview about the state, Assange is setting back the cause of government openness and transparency. It is possible to be equally dismissive of Assange and his detractors.

    1. If Assange had simply made the case that leaks are important as a check on government malfeasance …, he’d be much less of a problem solution.

      FTFY

      1. So Assange has most likely managed to provoke a major backlash against WikiLeaks, to inspire the government to more centrally control information and to more enthusiastically seek out and punish leakers, to dissuade members of the State department from communicating their views in a frank manner, and to make it less likely that foreign sources will want to share information with us. A few more successes like this under his belt, and Assange will be ready for an appointment as the next Drug Czar.

        1. A few more successes like this under his belt, and Assange will be ready for an appointment as the next Drug Czar.

          Well, no. The Drug Czar is about increasing the power of state deliberately. You’re arguing that people shouldn’t push against the government because the government will push back harder.

          1. If Assange was publishing leaks for the purpose of revealing government crimes and misdeeds, I would applaud him. And I largely supported the Afghanistan and Iraq document leaks. Leaking because of some conspiracy mongering worldview that will likely have the result of pushing the government away from openness, transparency, and decentralization, I am less fond of.

            1. will likely have the result of pushing the government away from openness, transparency, and decentralization

              Yup. Bunker Mentality.

              1. Funny. Exactly my thought of Assange.

            2. I think it’s important to reveal that our last two Secretaries of State (at least) broke treaties by spying on U.N. delegates. I think we need to know when these things happen.

              1. My point exactly. If WikiLeaks released documents confined to spying at the UN and among diplomats, then there’d be a much different discussion going on in the media today. He likes to refer to WikiLeaks as pure free press, but one of the functions of media is to filter information. Had Assange ignored most of the fun tabloid trash and avoided going on some kind of war on secrecy, there might be real debate now about the government engaging in that kind of behavior. Instead, the story has gotten lost in a general morass, where Wikileaks itself has become the story.

            3. Why exactly will leaking secrets push the government away from openness? It wasn’t openness that gave Wikileaks access to this information, it was idiocy. You don’t have to leak open information, it’s pre-leaked.

              1. Becaus Assange’s tactics have made the debate about leaking. Because he dumped hundreds of thousands of random documents, mostly with little to no policy ramifications, for the sole purpose of leaking in a crusade for “transparency” he has made the story about leaking. The government, in its typically reflexive knee jerk approach, will clamp down at data sharing and other means to reduce the possibility of more leaks. And an increasingly hostile hunt for leakers could easily dissuade future possible leakers. And because Assange has allowed his crusade to be perceived as nothing more than an attack on the US government itself, as opposed to any specific wrongdoing, beyond secrecy, he has tarnished the legitimacy of leaking. I’m pro-leaking. Which is why I believe Assange is such a detriment.

                1. Becaus Assange’s tactics have made the debate about leaking…The government, in its typically reflexive knee jerk approach, will clamp down at data sharing and other means to reduce the possibility of more leaks.

                  We’ve heard this umpteen thousand times, and the leaks still happen with the same regularity. It didn’t work for the Soviets, it doesn’t work for North Korea, it doesn’t work for China, and it won’t work for the U.S.
                  Assange isn’t the first leaker, his approach isn’t any different other than the fact that he’s not a legacy news operation.

                  The debate is ALWAYS about leaking, at least amongst the bloodthirsty military types. Or have you conveniently forgotten the Plame scandal, Watergate, etc.?

                  We live in a time where legacy media are actively campaigning for governemnt subsidies and you have the harebrained idea that Assange is the problem. John F, you couldn’t suck government cock any harder if you tried.

                  1. First, I was speaking as Assange as part of a very narrow problem, and since he was the topic of this thread, I thought it was appropriate to confine my remarks to him and not take up subsidies for legacy media (which I would oppose along with all other subsidies).

                    Now let me say again. I support leaking. I want people to leak. I want the government to be less able to commit crimes and misdeeds without the information getting out there, and I think something like WikiLeaks is a good idea.

                    Plame is a bit of a horse of a different color, so let’s set that aside for now. Take Watergate and Iran-Contra, those leaks were all about something, and while talk of leaking and specific leakers may have been part of the story, leaking was not the main attraction in those scandals. Leaking for the sake of leaking is, I think, counterproductive.

  11. Michael Yon just posted an email from Secretary Gates about Wikileaks:

    http://www.michaelyon-online.c…..-gates.htm

  12. A lot of people are gonna look stupid if Julian Assange is convicted of rape.

    Who elected this guy as Shedder of Light, again?

    1. One would assume that Wikileaks is a robust enough organization to appoint a new spokesman if their current one gets busted.

    2. A lot of people are gonna look stupid if Julian Assange is convicted of rape.

      As we all know, the judicial system is never in error or manipulated to a dishonorable conclusion.

      Whether or not he is innocent or guilty of the accusations in Sweden does not address the veracity, or lack, of the cables released on Wikileaks.

      1. No doubt. I still think Glenn Greenwald, libertarians, and others have really jumped the gun on their outspoken support of the document leak.

        1. Nope, I’d support it if it were leaked by Osama Bin Ladin himself (is that dick still alive?). I’d be skeptical, but supportive if true. However, I’d still want the bastard dead. So there Tony, chew on that.

          1. Why? Furthermore, why do you hate your country? I mean I understand if you live in a repressive place (you don’t), but otherwise what’s the point?

            My objection is that no good can come with it. It was an unpragmatic move. Let Julian Assange be considered a journalist, fine (though he does seem to want to do real harm–not the job of a journalist). But the country could be hurt by this, not least because it might make government even more paranoid and secretive.

            I think Jon Stewart’s assessment last night was pretty good.

            1. Yeah, Lost_In_Translation, why do you hate your country?

            2. Yeah! Right or wrong, my government!

        2. Look at it this way. Julian Assange isn’t hurting Obama, he’s helping. Barack promised us the most transparent administration in American history. Julian Assange is just helping him keep his word; whether he likes it or not.

    3. “A lot of people are gonna look stupid if Julian Assange is convicted of rape.”

      Let’s say he’s convicted of eating his grandmother. Will that change one word of the documents?

      1. OMG, he is a highlander?

      2. Nope. The content of the documents makes him look fanatical and dangerous all on its own.

    4. They won’t look as stupid as people who thinks it will change the facts he’s revealed.

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