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Summary:

We may not like its methods or its leader, but WikiLeaks is a publisher — a new kind of publisher, but a publisher nonetheless — and as such it deserves to be protected from government interference, just like any other member of the traditional or mainstream media.

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The past week has seen plenty of ink spilled — virtual and otherwise — about WikiLeaks and its mercurial front-man, Julian Assange, and the pressure they have come under from the U.S. government and companies such as Amazon and PayPal, both of which have blocked WikiLeaks from using their services. Why should we care about any of this? Because more than anything else, WikiLeaks is a publisher — a new kind of publisher, but a publisher nonetheless — and that makes this a freedom of the press issue. Like it or not, WikiLeaks is fundamentally a journalistic entity, and as such it deserves our protection.

Not everyone agrees with this point of view, of course. Some argue that there is nothing journalistic about the organization whatsoever, and that it is simply a lawless group of misfits spreading information around that it doesn’t have the right to distribute, without caring for the effects of its actions. That may be true — but it’s also true that the same description fits more than one allegedly journalistic entity in the traditional media sphere, and they are all protected by the First Amendment and its principles regarding freedom of the press. So why is WikiLeaks not worthy of the same protection?

Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, is the one who put pressure on Amazon to remove support for WikiLeaks (although the company claims it removed the organization’s site from its servers because Wikileaks did not own the rights to the content, not because of political pressure). Senator Lieberman has proposed legislation called the SHIELD law — short for Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination — which would make it a crime to publish information that might harm U.S. agents or informants, or would otherwise be contrary to the national interest.

This might as well be called the WikiLeaks law, since it is clearly targeted at the organization — which did not actually leak the documents (something that is already a crime under the Espionage Act) but is clearly publishing them. But the heavy hand of this law would not just fall on WikiLeaks; it would also potentially cover anyone who has published the cables, such as the New York Times. Just as sources used to leak secret documents to newspapers, which often published them regardless of whether the government disapproved, now those sources can go to WikiLeaks and accomplish the same thing.

So what makes WikiLeaks different from the New York Times? There are the obvious things, of course — the latter publishes a print newspaper, is a member of a variety of self-regulatory bodies involving the media, and is a venerable institution with a long history of journalistic integrity. WikiLeaks, meanwhile, is a shadowy organization with an uncertain history, opaque motivations and publishes only online. That said, why are we so eager to protect one and not the other? WikiLeaks’ stated intention is to bring transparency to the political process and expose wrongdoing. Isn’t that the same thing the Times does? And yet one is being hounded by government agents, forced to remove its documents from Amazon’s servers and blocked from using PayPal, while the other is free to publish whatever it wants. What if the Times were to store some of its content on Amazon’s EC2 servers or use PayPal for transactions — would it be subject to the same treatment? And if not, why is WikiLeaks?

Some would argue that we don’t need entities like WikiLeaks, because traditional publishers like the New York Times are good enough. And it’s true that leakers took their information to newspapers before WikiLeaks came along — but it’s also true that many of them refused to publish it. And in some cases, information that should not have been published actually took the spotlight away from the truth, as in the case of the Times’ reporting leading up to the Iraq War. An independent source of documents like WikiLeaks (which journalism professor Jay Rosen has called the world’s “first stateless news organization”) would have been a very valuable thing to have during that time.

The fact is that freedom of the press, like freedom of speech in general, is a crucial part of the fabric of a free society. Every action that impinges on those freedoms is a loss for society, and a step down a slippery slope — and that applies to everything that falls under the term “press,” regardless of whether we agree with its methods or its leaders. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, online speech is only as strong as the weakest intermediary. Any action that the government or its representatives take against a publisher like WikiLeaks should have to meet a very high bar indeed — and as Dan Gillmor argues, everyone working at the New York Times or any other media outlet should feel a shiver when they see Joe Lieberman attacking WikiLeaks, because it could just as easily be them in the spotlight instead of Julian Assange.

  1. The NYT publishes LIES as fact that got us into the illegal wars we are engaged in. 100 K dead civilians, torture and massive coverups…

    Wikileaks publishes fact as fact and lets YOU decide.

    It should be noted that wikileaks has promised to publish five gigabites of data proving “an ecology of corruption” in a major bank. Now Interpol is looking for Assange and paypal and amazon have cut them off. They’ve been doing this for YEARS. Why now?

    If we were talking about financial crimes first – and not state crimes which for some reason confuse people – we would not be debating this AT ALL.

    Money is what people hold sacred it seems.

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    1. I don’t think that the pre-view has something to do with this. The revelations were so important that the damage is huge. I think that the USA government is afraid of the rest of the documents.

      The counter-measures are plain idiotic. I don’t know if they have made ‘a task force’ of sorts with ‘think tanks’, etc. If they did its completely out of line.

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  2. The real question is why aren’t the leading news agencies and media organizations out there voicing their support for Wikileaks? Do they not understand the slippery road that Lieberman’s proposals and all of the other legislators and gov’t officials calling for Wikileaks blood, is creating for their very profession? Haven’t they directly benefited from a significant increase in revenue and interest to their publications from all the news around the Wikileaks releases.

    It would be nice to see some of these organizations show some “balls” when it really mattered. They’re all very tough when it comes to copyright protection and targeting their helpless customers, but not so big when something important like our democracy is at stake. Perhaps we should change their name from the Third Estate to the Weak Estate ;)

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    1. I completely agree — it would be nice to see some other members of the press, particularly those that have benefited from what WikiLeaks is doing, stand up and defend the organization, or at least question some of what is happening in a more public way.

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      1. It is worth noting that Amazon, PayPal, The New York Times Corporation and other entities involved in hosting and publishing information that may be embarrassing for the US or other governments ALL have stakes in proposed legislation regarding media consolidation, taxation of online purchases, so called net neutrality laws and other regulatory acts that may hamper their business interests. We know from anecdotal reports that the government and its representatives are not above threatening these private entities with legislation if they don’t act as requested. Conversely, lobbyists work both ways. So you can understand why some media organizations which vaunt themselves as models of serious journalism are loathe to take public positions that conflict with longterm corporate strategy.

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    2. my voice my choice Monday, December 6, 2010

      Well said direwolf. This is a first amendment issue which affects not one side of the aisle or the other but the entire chamber. Let’s not confuse “the press” with journalism. This is as big or bigger than the Pentagon Papers. Once we reach the tipping point the “traitors” will become heroes.

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  3. I make no defense of Joe Lieberman, as I think the law he proposes is completely unnecessary.

    As for Amazon, you clearly do not understand the laws governing freedom of the press and speech. Private entities are under no obligation to assist you. As a private company, Amazon can do whatever they wish. In all likelihood, Amazon had no advance knowledge that WikiLeaks was even moving files to their hosting service. Signing up for a hosting account is generally an automated process you perform from a web-form. I would speculate that Amazon began the internal review as to whether they would toss WikiLeaks off their servers the moment it came to their attention that they were even on their servers, and Joe Lieberman’s grandstanding likely had little influence on their decision at all. For his part, Julian Assange only moved files to Amazon in order to do some grandstanding of his own. He stated in an interview published just today in the Guardian, that he only set up the Amazon account in the hopes of being kicked off. So the whole Amazon thing was nothing more than a PR stunt on his part, knowing people like you would eat it right out of his hand.

    All those running to Assange’s defense miss the point of diplomacy. Diplomacy is the alternative to military power. The majority of the State Department’s time is spent trying to solve problems without the use of force. Publishing private correspondence between diplomats sends a chill through diplomatic channels, making them much less likely to speak with candor about complex issues in private, because their presumption of confidentiality has been shattered.

    So the ultimate result from WikiLeaks efforts means a lockdown of diplomatic channels, less dialog, and a greater dependence on force rather than diplomacy to solve world problems.

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    1. Thanks for your response Chris. I think it’s a lot more reasonable than many i’ve read who hold similar opinions.

      However, I’d take issue with the comments about diplomacy. Essentially, while these leaks may be somewhat embarrassing to the US, what has been leaked so far (and that’s all any of us can really comment on) is of little consequence and really is not well characterised as top secret. These documents were leaked by someone with little in the way of unusual credentials and they’re available to two million people.

      If the contention is that the leak of these documents endangers, embarrasses or otherwise limits potential future interactions with the sources and intermediaries discussed in the documents, I think personally that this argument is not a very strong one, as with the huge number of people with access, I think it’s pretty reasonable to suggest any interested foreign party who really wanted to get their hands on them already would have been able to do so.

      Putin did well in response to all this when he rather glibly laughed and said something to the effect of “you should see what we say about you behind your back”. Clinton is doing a decent job of looking as though she’s kept some composure as well.

      This doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with everything Wikileaks is doing, but I think the response to its behaviour (As an organisation) and Julian’s (individually in this and other matters) has been very knee jerk and quite disproportionate.

      And I think this is what the majority of persons who generally share my views really take issue. The response of government and private bodies globally has been abhorrent.

      I’m an Australian citizen and our Federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland and our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard have been vocal in their criticism of Assange personally and have impugned that he has violated some of our domestic laws. The cynic in me says this in itself is a kind of ironic proof that diplomacy and posturing games will continue being played because there’s no law he’s violated domestically and for them to speak before being briefed in this regard seems impertinent and would suggest that the focus of their efforts is more to pander to the whims of other parties than it is to seek justice or fairness for a citizen.

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    2. Finally, somebody who gets it! Thank you CG! Julian Assange is not American. He’s not even wanted in his own country of Australia and is currently wanted by INTERPOL. His postings involved illegal transactions which the NY Times would have retracted were they posted on their website. Why is it so easy for people to jump on the 1st Amendment bandwagon without understanding the political implications that affect not only diplomacy but troops on the ground?

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      1. The fact that Assange is not welcome in Australia and wanted by Interpol is irrelevant to this discussion.

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    3. While you’re probably right that Lieberman had limited influence on Amazon and Paypal’s decisions to kick WikiLeaks off their servers/services, it seems to be more of an effect of the general political climate – a climate that Lieberman partakes in. There is a high willingness to call WikiLeaks “mean” things and when politicians do that, people notice it and may often react similarly. In that climate, it’s quite bad to be the target. This is also unique to the US. WikiLeaks does not seem to have a problem with their hosts in Sweden or Switzerland. When a media organization struggles in one country and does not in another, what do you call that problem?

      I think it’s also a little naive to think WikiLeaks will lead to more fighting. Countries don’t simply start using force for no reason, particularly not one like WikiLeaks. Sure, it could lead towards less effective diplomacy, but that’s an effect that may not be lasting since governments will respond to the threat – just like the US responded to 9/11. When change is needed, it happens. States have always adjusted to new realities.

      I think the true effect of WikiLeaks will be efforts like the ones we see to reduce the freedom to publish these stories. There already is some voluntary censorship in the American media and it may increase. WikiLeaks could also, however, make it far more difficult to start a war or to fight a war. Had WikiLeaks been around when the Iraq war plan was being celebrated by the US media, there’s a good chance the war simply could not have happened. That makes WikiLeaks a good thing.

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    4. Thanks for the comment, Chris — I realize that Amazon is a private corporation and therefore has no specific duty or responsibilities involving freedom of speech or freedom of the press. But at the same time, it can choose to support those principles if it wants to, just as Google has done in the past with information hosted on its servers.

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      1. Couldn’t agree more, I think it is very telling that Amazon chose to cave so quickly.

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    5. I’m mixed on this topic, but mostly in favor of publishing the leaks and analyzing them. When certain people in government are guilty of crimes or bad behavior, sure diplomacy can be affected, but if the individual is removed from their position, that can have the cleansing effect needed for relations to improve.

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    6. You miss the point. Most people except from ‘People Magazine’ and especially most politicians don’t give a sh*t about the efforts the USA government did to help a treaty get in line.

      What is ‘good to know’ are the lies exposed on these documents. And as such, it’s a DUTY of the media to expose them. No matter what.

      Truth hurts but ultimately pays back. If there’s nothing to hide, then why act paranoid?

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  4. Sure, they should be treated like a media outlet. Agree. But with that respect and treatment comes a responsibility. There have been plenty of times where media outlets such as the New York Times have refused to publish certain things.

    Publishing hundreds of thousands of classified documents is not journalism. It’s treason against humanity. And that punk soldier that gave them to him should be shot on the basis of treason against his country. I’ll gladly volunteer to do it. I wish I were still in the Army, and fortunate enough to be stationed with him.

    This isn’t the same as “exposing” a story. That’s something real journalists do.

    I consider myself fairly liberal. But liberalism doesn’t mean “hey, let’s be complete asshats and publish classified documents online.” In this case, sans any real journalistic purpose, is wholly irresponsible and unjustified.

    Quite frankly, given the absence of any real journalistic purpose, it borders on electronic terrorism.

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    1. You consider yourself “fairly liberal,” and yet you would gladly shoot someone in your own unit if they released classified documents? That’s an interesting juxtaposition of views. In any case, the Secretary of Defence himself has said the fuss about WikiLeaks is overdone and everyone knows the US diplomatic corps leaks like a sieve already: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/12/02/gates_wikileaks_poohpooh/

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    2. Given the current circumstances of “media censorship” that most media are willing to endorse and play “nice” with whoever stays control, I think that wikileaks and similar ‘services’ are more than just a favor to people: These services are a need.

      Tell how exactly would you know that the USA embassy pressed the Germans not to sue CIA officials via interpol for the El-Khasim case.

      Oh wait, this… Didn’t happen to you, so it’s like it didn’t happen, right?

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      1. how would i have known about that CIA/Germany/El-Khasim case? well try reading the newspaper. This story was all over the German and some other european newspapers years ago (when this was a story). btw also the term for the German chancellor Merkel as teflon chancellor in some of the cables did not come as a surprise in Germany because that was a term introduced in the German media and then used by one of the US embassy guys in a cable. so no news again.

        maybe if we all read the news and care about what is going on around us rather than limiting our news intake on sites that have wiki in their name or on pseudo news sites like fox news, or on blogs that tend to just rehash news then we would have more transparency.

        Transparency is work … you will have to read, your will have to get all the information to understand facts. i honestly don’t believe that the main reason for lack of traspaency in the US today is too little information or too much withheld information but the laziness of the people to care and pay attention. what makes wikileaks stand out is that like a new ipad it is cool and fun to have all this stuff.

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  5. I tried posting another comment and I hope it did go through. I just want to add that it is difficult to read the first amendment in any way that would not make WikiLeaks legal. Had the site been purely an anti-American website, they could be in trouble. Since they’re not, they should be safe.

    Good article!

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    1. Thanks, JT.

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  6. Well.. I see one major difference between NYT and wikileaks – NYT published news and opinions that are the intellectual property of its writers. Wikileaks is publishing stolen material verbatim (minus some names wikileaks say they removed to protect certain individuals). I am surprised that wikileaks is being called a journalistic entity when ANYONE (that includes any 10 yr old) who knows how to publish a document on the internet can do it

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    1. The New York Times and other outlets have published exactly the same stolen documents that WikiLeaks has.

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      1. Pentagon papers anyone? The Wikileaks-type material of its time and the same overturning of official obfuscation.

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    2. To quote Marshall McLuhan, the press by its very nature IS “government by news leak.”

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    3. David, sadly you don’t know what you’re talking about. If you’re saying the opinions and related intellectual property is what makes journalism, well you’re deluded and wasting your brain. In fact, the opinions written can cloud what’s going on.
      We’re dealing with an enormous amount of money and power struggles here. And if it’s underlying base is corrupt, there’s not a simple relaxing way to expose it.
      The word you use for Journalism doesn’t matter here. I doubt any of the people involved are thinking, Geez we need status as real journalists. Nobody cares about that. it’s the scary corrupt dangerous element that people are trying to address, so to discontinue bad behavior. That’s it.

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  7. Mathew,

    Great point and summary of the latest meta-thinking about Wikileaks. I had already listened to the Jay Rosen video – highly recommend it. Very insightful — Jay seems awfully depressed though about the state of official journalism, and perhaps rightfully so.

    I find the coverage on The Guardian in the UK to be the best. And I was saddened to see that today’s home page of the LATimes did not even mention Wikileaks.

    I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on:

    – What’s next? Will all governments be exposed in this way? What about corporations? Will it extend to individuals — or do we already have Facebook and Twitter for that :-)

    – The internet has been around for 15 years commercially. Why didn’t this happen sooner? In retrospect it seems like an obvious development (of course most brilliant ideas are obvious after someone else thought of them!)

    – How will the emergence of wikileak-style entities affect the stampeded to paywalls by many of the traditional media organizations?

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    1. Thanks foe the comment, Cynthia — those are all great questions :-) I am not sure I know the answers, but I think we are only starting to see the real impact the Internet is having on publishing and media.

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  8. There is an angle that is sometimes overlooked by Americans or those in the West.
    Chris, you say that the majority of the State Department’s time is spent to prevent the use of force.
    I am from a country where nearly 200 civilians were shot dead in broad day light (2005) for protesting a rigged election. The regime (charged with Genocide), is one of the major recipients of aid from the US government. Aside the obvious case of murders in 2005, more than 100k are imprisoned and many have disappeared. The crimes of this regime continue to this day. Why is the U.S. so generous? Because they want to use this country’s army to do their dirty deed by invading a neighboring state. The terrorist regime would have been hard pressed to survive if it wasn’t for the money, training, logistical and intel support it gets from countries like the USA.
    So force is used, you see. Diplomacy in this case is like hiring hit men to do dirty deeds. There is much at stake in the truth. The more the truth comes out, the better. For so many, anything is better than the perpetual misery and poverty with hidden reasons.

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  9. There’s probably going to be some shit about “Well, Assange isn’t American, the First Amendment doesn’t apply to him.” If that’s the case then neither does the Espionage Act or Lieberman’s SHIELD Act.

    The thing is though, our Bill of Rights should be the ideals by which we treat everyone, not just American citizens. If freedom of press applies to Fox or NBC or the New York Times then it also applies to foreign press, and congressmen can’t go around deciding who is press and who isn’t. We don’t need another blacklisting mess where our freedom is a COMPLETE illusion.

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  10. i am sorry but this makes no sense. you provide no clear reason why wikileak should be considered to be a media entity. unless you say that every site on the internet by default is a media entity (which i think is not the case). all of the journalistic efforts were and are done by the nyt, spiegel, guardian … all wikileaks is doing is accept packages of data and send them over to actual journalists and then put them on a web site.

    about the coverage of wikileaks … there is no news in the current material. everyone who reads the newspaper across the last decade knew most if not all of the material. yes not as clearly written out as in the cables and maybe not with as colorful illustations such as batman and robin, but there is very little news in all this … well with the exception of the leak itself. and the guardian seems to be best in exploiting this.

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    1. Everything on the internet is about communication and anything that facilitates communication is media.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_(communication)

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    2. You bring up an excellent point, Carsten: is anyone who publishes information on the Internet a media entity? I don’t know if I want to go that far, but the ability to publish and have that content read by potentially millions of people is what used to distinguish the media from everyone else. How are we supposed to distinguish them now, when anyone can publish anything almost instantly and achieve the same thing? What I am saying is that the goals of WikiLeaks and the NYT are not very different, even though their methods may be.

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      1. NYT is mass media. Wikilinks is mass disintermediation.

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  11. Remember when the “real journalists” used to say that if print media dies, there would be no one left to investigate and uncover truths, and keep the politicians honest?

    I’ve always known that if the Internet does replace print media, something better will come along to take that job from the “real journalists”. I think Wikileaks is showing us the right direction.

    If media transitions completely from offline to online in the next 10 years, I’m sure more sites like Wikileaks or other ways to “uncover the truth” will appear, that are much more effective than today’s reporters.

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  12. Surely no one reads the Constitution anymore. The press is protected so that they can speak out against the government, not so they can release top secret documents. That would be illegal, immoral, and treasonous.

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  13. The White House

    Office of the Press Secretary

    For Immediate Release May 17, 2010
    Remarks by the President at the Signing of the Freedom of the Press Act

    All around the world there are enormously courageous journalists and bloggers who, at great risk to themselves, are trying to shine a light on the critical issues that the people of their country face; who are the frontlines against tyranny and oppression. And obviously the loss of Daniel Pearl was one of those moments that captured the world’s imagination because it reminded us of how valuable a free press is, and it reminded us that there are those who would go to any length in order to silence journalists around the world.

    What this act does is it sends a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press. It has the State Department each year chronicling how press freedom is operating as one component of our human rights assessment, but it also looks at countries that are — governments that are specifically condoning or facilitating this kind of press repression, singles them out and subjects them to the gaze of world opinion in ways that I think are extraordinarily important.

    Oftentimes without this kind of attention, countries and governments feel that they can operate against the press with impunity. And we want to send a message that they can’t.

    So this legislation, in a very modest way, I think puts us clearly on the side of journalistic freedom. I want to thank Adam Schiff in the House and Senator Chris Dodd in the Senate for their leadership. And I particularly want to thank the Pearl family, who have been so outspoken and so courageous in sending a clear message that, despite Daniel’s death, his vision of a well-informed citizenry that is able to make choices and hold governments accountable, that that legacy lives on.

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    1. Thanks for posting that, S. — that makes for inspiring reading, and makes the point even better than I could have that the media deserves protection, in all its forms.

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    2. +1!

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  14. Governments (or more specifically, people) can’t be trusted. If they could, a dictatorship would be a much more efficient form of govt. But of course, people can’t handle power, and the consolation is democracy. But why do people think a two (or three or four) party system automatically solves the issue? Of course, it doesn’t. So, we still need to hold governments to account, which Wikileaks is trying to do the best it can. Is it perfect? Of course not. Because it’s a fraction of the size of any government and spends most of its time defending itself from spineless people and corporations. (And of course, it’s run by people too.)

    If people call NYT journalism, then I’m positive Assange would rather not be tarred with the same brush. I just visited the NYT site and the headline story is about the trials and tribulations of wealthy woman trying to divorce their husbands and not having enough money to proceed through the courts. Oh yeah, an organisation that’s single-handedly trying to bring the US and other corrupt nations to account for their atrocious crimes against humanity wishes to be compared with that. Please.

    In this great democracy we call the US, it seems most people don’t want the leader. If the people don’t want the leader and the leader is still the leader… is that a democracy? And why is Assange one of the leaders for Time’s person of the year? But then that’s a flaky argument if Benancke won 2009 person of the year because “he protected the US so well from collapse”. Funniest thing I’ve read all day. Western nations love to self congratulate for the most blatant F-ups in history. Quite twisted really.

    Assange is a hero in my eyes. Wikileaks is a revolution too. Sure Assange shouldn’t be credited as the sole driver of this revolution, but wow, what a set this guy has. And miles more credibility than the aggregate of US govt depts in my opinion.

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  15. A few points:
    1. Whether Wikileaks is a “press entity” is irrelevant. The government would face serious obstacles legally enjoining the publication of such materials (see the Pentagon Papers) using prior restraint.

    2. That does not mean, however, that Wikileaks (or anyone else) is immune from being prosecuted for illegal possession or dissemination of classified material. All the First Amendment does is protected your (in some ways limited) right to speak, it does not immunize you from all prosecution as a result of that speech. Otherwise fraudulent speech or speech involved in planning a murder–aka conspiracy–would be protected as well.

    3. The government is perfectly within its rights to compel those facilitating Wikileaks’ speech, such as Paypal or Amazon, not to do so. It is certainly within the government’s power to make illegal activities that are themselves legal but are crucial to the pursuit of illegal acts. There is no First Amendment right to online payments or bandwidth.

    4. There is nothing special about diplomatic material. Lots of things are classified for good reasons and should stay that way. Some things are classified that shouldn’t be, but blindly allowing publication of anything obtained from the government is not a good way to solve that problem. Also, this isn’t just an intellectual exercise–there are real ramifications for the security of our country and of others when material is released this way.

    5. Personally, I think Lieberman’s bill is unnecessary; it’s already illegal to access/possess/distribute classified material improperly. As well it should be.

    6. I believe Wikileaks is on the wrong side of this argument. We depend on the government (like it or not) to provide for our collective security, as the framers of the Constitution recognized. The government, necessarily, must keep some elements of its duties secret, even if they arouse the public’s curiosity. Our safety and security would not be improved in a world with no secrets; we must therefore have some mechanism for keeping secrets, including penalties for not doing so.

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    1. So, if you get abducted, tortured and probably raped by a couple of CIA agents because you like an arab, then dumped in a third world country with no food, passports or money and your family is looking for you… It’s okay, isn’t it?

      Or maybe it’s okay, as long is it didn’t happen to you, is it?

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      1. Nice red herring. That has nothing whatsoever to do with what I said, or with Wikileaks.

        If you don’t like what the government does, write your Congressman. Or, if you want to, go ahead and try to steal classified information–but don’t expect not to be punished for it.

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    2. I think you make some good points here, but there are a few issues on which I disagree. Particularly: “The government is perfectly within its rights to compel those facilitating Wikileaks’ speech, such as Paypal or Amazon, not to do so. … There is no First Amendment right to online payments or bandwidth.”

      If we apply that logic to the Pentagon Papers case, do you think the government in that situation would have the right to compel the NYT’s ink and newsprint suppliers to stop all shipments to the newspaper? Wouldn’t that effectively be another form of prior restraint?

      There might not be a First Amendment right guaranteeing paper and ink (or bandwidth), but if you cut off the supply with the specific intent of limiting the flow of information, you might very well be infringing free speech.

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      1. Yes, the Constitution permits the government to prosecute suppliers of ink or newsprint, provided it can prove they knew that the supplies were going to be used for an illegal purpose. Analogously, if you knowingly assist a producer of child pornography with video editing, you can be prosecuted.

        The First Amendment is not an absolute. There are certainly cases in which it is conceivable that the government might be able to enjoin speech directly (imagine the headline “Allies Plan Landing at Normandy on Tuesday” in June 1944).

        But even if the government cannot prevent the publication of classified information in the first instance, it can certainly prosecute those who facilitate it. This happens every day in fraud cases, insider trading cases, etc. The First Amendment simply does not immunize Wikileaks or its suppliers from prosecution, even if it chills their speech. Unless you believe that laws against disclosure of classified information are themselves unconstitutional, it’s hard to see how government actions to limit that speech (which is prima facie illegal) could themselves be unconstitutional.

        The right to free speech is just that–it’s not the right to be heard. If Wikileaks wants to stand in Times Square and read the cables one and a time, they can do so. But the Constitution simply does not prevent the government from prosecuting them or the TV networks that film it for so doing.

        If it weren’t, it’s hard to see how any form of classified information could exist, as by definition it restricts the ability of those with legal access to it to share it more widely.

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  16. Isn’t journalism more than bare publishing? I doubt we’d call it journalism if newspapers simply regurgitated raw data, if newspapers simply consisted of transcripts of court proceedings or speeches, etc. Or are we calling that journalism now?

    Some kind of writing product is the better part of the process of journalism, it seems to me. Or else anybody who publishes any sort of data is a journalist. If WikiLeaks were acting as more than a middleman between leakers and actual journalistic institutions, perhaps they could be protected as a journalistic institution itself. But they’re not doing anything remotely related to the historical definition of journalism: reporting and explaining the facts.

    If WikiLeaks were a journalistic institution, what need do they have of the Guardian, Der Spiegel and The New York Times?

    Journalism has changed much over the years, but surely we’re still operating under that definition?

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Matt — I agree that good journalism consists of doing more than just publishing content without analysis or commentary, and yet that is what many mainstream media outlets already do. How are we to distinguish between the ones that are “real” journalism and the ones that are not, and therefore the ones that are worthy of protection and the ones that are not?

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      1. “yet that is what many mainstream media outlets already do.”

        I see outlets that publish raw data, but I’m not aware of many that just do that. Can you point me to those that do? Most that I'm aware of publish raw data as supplements to classic reporting, analysis and commentary. I think those things are the differentiating factors between WikiLeaks and institutions such as the New York Times, the Guardian and others.

        It seems to me the line of thought you are espousing is dangerously close to saying that if the leakers themselves were to have simply published their material somewhere themselves, they'd be protected as journalists. If that's all the Pfc. Bradley Mannings of the world need for protection from the law, they'd better brush up on their WordPress publishing knowledge!

        But that's not how it is. Or at least I hope not. WikiLeaks acting as a middleman isn't much closer to journalism than that, if it is at all.

        I'd want to see WikiLeaks providing analysis and some other type of publishing rather than having the Guardian et al. do their writing dirty work, for lack of a better term. Julian Assange's comments to the media do not constitute journalism, or else they wouldn't need media outlets to partner with, as I suggested in my earlier comment.

        Are there not precedents for media protection coverage in case law? If not, this is an opportunity to set some. There is a danger of denying protection to institutions that should have it, but there is also the danger of opening the definition of journalism too wide.

        Openness is great in principle, but unfettered openness can be dangerous, especially when openness is forced by an organization with an agenda. The diplomatic fallout from the latest leaks has been lighter than it could have been, but who's to say the next release won't cause greater damage?

        Part of the benefit of traditional journalistic institutions is that they by and large have some measure of discernment. They may not always meet the highest standard, but neither are they all about revealing all without any consideration of whether or not revelation is good in a given case.

        Openness for openness sake is not enough. If WikiLeaks were about exposing crimes committed by the US, that would be one thing. And they certainly are in part about that. But this latest leak seems in many ways to be more about making it more difficult for the US to relate to other countries in the world and I fail to see how that benefits anyone.

        Media outlets are reporting the contents of the cables, but in doing so, they are exercising restraint. I suspect that if the Times had been given the cables by whoever gave them to WikiLeaks, they wouldn't be publishing every last one of them.

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    2. This is not a discussion of journalism, but freedom of the press. Journalism is not “the press.” The general definition of the press is a publication that provides information or opinion to its readers. The distinction is important.

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      1. Great point, Justin. Thanks for that.

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  17. You tackle here on question for which I and I guess many do not have answers. What is a “publishing entity” and what is not today. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky book touches this problem.

    Twenty years ago it was easy. There were large media entities that relayed on scarcity and access to printing press. Journalists were receiving education, had code of honor and self regulation with things like Pulitzer Prize. So journalism was a profession with relatively small circle of people. And so this circle was considered a press and laws and principles like “freedom of press” were targeted at them.

    Today things are different. Internet and cheap computers liberalized things and it become a lot harder to determine who is “press” and who is not. Scarcity gave way to abundance if not even “noise”. Everyone can set up a blog and stat doing the same tradition a press was doing without education, regulation or anything. So in a way everyone can put himself in position today to look like a journalist and definitely carry out same service for the society. But because of that it becomes a lot harder to target “press” related laws and principles as you do not have a small group of professionals to target anymore, you have potentially everyone…

    So “press” related laws probably need a revaluation as disruptive technologies have blurred the borders of what press and journalism are and what they are not.

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    1. Thanks for the comment — I completely agree. As I mentioned above, the ability to publish is now in everyone’s hands, not just a small group of traditional media players. How does that change how we look at the media and freedom of the press and so on? These are all fascinating questions.

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  18. NYT was “a venerable institution with a long history of journalistic integrity” but only until 9/11 after which all the dissenters were fired. See the press releases from the white house’s “office of strategic information” masquerading as front page news in the first 6 months after the attacks for more details.

    Wikileaks is absolutely essential. All the rest is PR for newspaper owners, governments and corporations.

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  19. Very interesting and carefully considered points raised in this post, thanks for posting. A great read for midday Sunday.

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    1. Thanks, Rebecca.

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  20. WikiLeaks become like an existing newspapers!
    They started to censor cables without any clear editorial policy.

    Take a look on cablegate-diff from http://www.PrivetBank.com.ua/cablegate/index.html

    As a side note – CableGate is similar to Melnichenko tapes-gate in Ukraine.
    In 2000 security guard from Ukraine President office has released recording of president Kuchma talks with others politicans in President office (similar to White House in USA).

    But there are issue with those tapes as they started to be used for blackmail I politics as in 10 years not all of them become public.

    I see similar problem with Wikileaks – those people who has limited access to unedited cables ( like NYT) will use them for own benefits in election or private talks with politicians.

    I request Wikileaks to start publishing ALL cables unedited to general public in transparent way. This is the only way to avoid blackmail issue that affect Ukraine politic

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  21. What is also worth remembering is that, in 2005, Judith Miller, of the NYT spend a long time in jail on contempt of court charges for refusing to divulge her source in the Plame affair. I think whistleblowers are more realistic now and fear that the vast majority of journalists are not willing to undergo that hardship for a source. So it has been the government and the judiciary, as well as corporate interests, that have so emasculated the press that entities like Wikileaks become a viable alternative.

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  22. Great analytical article. Been following the issue over last couple of weeks.

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  23. This is a good article.

    You’re being much kinder to the New York Times than (I think) it deserves. The NYT may be old and venerable, but over the past decade it has almost totally shed its role as government watchdog and taken on the role of government lapdog, faithfully repeating the State Department’s talking points. (As evidence, see its headline coverage of the Iraq War logs relative to the other newspapers: http://goo.gl/J0aw. See also the terrible smear piece it published on Assange around the same time.)

    This is another of the major reasons why we need Wikileaks: the establishment media long ago ceased to do their job properly. They’re no longer critical, they’re craven.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Patrick. Jay Rosen has made pretty much the same argument — that a majority of the press has failed in its watchdog role and WikiLeaks is increasingly taking on that role.

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  24. Assange should search all his material for “Clinton” and publish the results right now. Then the witch hunt from the hunting witch would stop..

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  25. I didn’t go to journalism school, so I have no special insight into what is and is not a “media entity”. However, the whole stink and reaction by governments (particularly the US) and companies is beyond hypocritical. Woodward and
    Bernstein? The Pentagon Papers? All that was perfectly legitimate while the CIA has Interpol chasing this guy on (almost certainly bogus) rape charges?

    More and more the human race just depresses me. We are both unwilling and incapable of living in democracies. It requires too much thought and the responsibility is too terrifying.

    Amazon just took a dive in my book. I never expected decent behavior from eBay/paypal. Putting all your eggs in someone else’s cloud is frankly stupid behavior (that’s a warning for readers, not a criticism of WikiLeaks).

    That said, I hope activist groups step up to fill in the gap and tell the intimidators to go take a flying dive through a rolling donut. The people have a right to know what shameful shenanigans their governments have been up to in their name and the furtherance of war. Even if it scares the poor little ninnies so much they’d rather cower and cover their ears until the government makes the bad media go away.

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  26. Like it or not, this article is, in my most benign language, just pure unadulterated bullshit.
    The only reason why you can’t equate any mainstream media and WikiLeaks is because, mainstream media “holistically” decides what to publish or what not to (depending on who is buttering their bread). On the other hand, Wikileaks is just laying it out in the public domain, trusting the intelligent public to make their own judgement.
    So, tell me, who’s buttering your bread?
    I may try and sustain Wikileaks, but I will hardly lose sleep if the mainstream media, including your’s close shop and drift into obscurity!

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  27. Hmm reading some posts made me wonder how different is USA in this case from China. I mean China can mark information about various opposing the government people as threat to stability of government and country and marking various documents around that as national secrets.

    I may be uneducated in that question though like what you can and can not mark as national secrets.

    Still I guess you see where I am going. How different is national secrets censorship from censorship and control China uses? Isn’t USA going in that direction if not with humans right related censorship then with commercial/economic/diplomatic censorship?

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  28. Monica Oliveira Sunday, December 5, 2010

    I think it is hard to go out in defense of Wikileaks, it is a tabloid – if we consider it as news media – that made a bad choice and is suffering the consequences. Journalism lives on leaks (famous example being Watergate), so using leaks is nothing new or illegal. The press should be vocal about Lieberman’s proposal because it could limit the press ways to reveal illegal acts and help stop them. Nothing good came from the Wikileaks leaks (I did not read them all) because they were not facts, but mere opinions of diplomats that caused embarassment to the American government.

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  29. Let’s focus on the facts of this case.

    Fact: Wikileaks has the right to publish anything it chooses.

    Fact: The NYT has the right to publish anything it chooses.

    Fact: Wikileaks does not publish sensitive government information about Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Uzbekistan, and Sudan.

    Fact: The NYT publishes reports and sensitive government information about Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Uzbekistan, and Sudan.

    Fact: Wikileaks has a political agenda.

    Fact: The NYT has a political agenda.

    Fact: Jullian Assange hides from the authorities and victims of his leaks.

    Fact: The editor of the NYT does not hide from the authorities and the victims of his leaks.

    As much as we would like to say the two are the same, there is something fundamentally different. I think my disagreement with Wikileaks is that it takes no responsibility for the harm it inflicts.

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    1. I agree the two are different, but I’m not sure I would describe the difference as fundamental. And I’m not sure what you mean by Assange hiding from the victims of his leaks — where are these victims, and how is he hiding from them?

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  30. Now Wikileaks have a new .org domain registered from India. http://wleaks.org known as wleaks. Let us raise our voice for survival of truth and humanity.

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  31. Wikileaks is facing hostility from the main media because it destabilized the relationships within the field of media and between the field of media and the center of powers in society (e.g government). Specifically the cozy relationships (deals) some powerful media organizations have developed with the governments and other powers that give them access in exchange of a pro-power biased reporting. Wikileaks indirectly exposed these deals between powerful media organizations and governments where truth is being traded against access. It made those long cultivated deals worthless.

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  32. Mainstream media in the US has lost it’s way. No longer the Fourth Estate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Estate) they are now just part of the bi-partisan propoganda machine chasing political and financial goals with no remit to discover the truth.

    While WikiLeaks may not be the right answer to this problem someone has to take up the role of shining a light on the politicians for forget they work for us, and businesses who think of their customers as assets who exist soley to be harvested.

    20 years ago the press in America and Europe were not afraid to call Bullshit on a corrupt politician or anyone else failing their duty of care to the public but now… they check the impact on their political allies, the sensitivities of their advertisers and sweep the story under the carpet

    If you don’t like what WikiLeaks is doing … is it because you’re starting to realise you don’t like what the Government is doing (both parties are equally to blame here)… maybe it’s time for someone else to take on the mantle of the Fourth Estate and make it harder to do business in the shadows…

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  33. was with you up until this point:

    “The fact is that freedom of the press, like freedom of speech in general, is a crucial part of the fabric of a free society. Every action that impinges on those freedoms is a loss for society, and a step down a slippery slope — and that applies to everything that falls under the term “press,” regardless of whether we agree with its methods or its leaders.”

    simply too broad a generalization to the point of being sans any meaning at all. it’s the rote explanation trotted out each time one of these issues comes to the fore and entirely uninteresting. what you argue is simply untrue. if wikileaks disappears from the internet, it would neither constitute a societal loss, nor would it mark a first step down some odd “slippery slope.” personally, i have no trouble with wikileaks publishing leaked memos. but if assange & co. disappears from the earth, others will replace him. the cat is out of the bag and we’re now in the process of dealing with that reality.

    yours & other mawkish hand-wringing about the supposed loss of our freedoms is absurd

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  34. one more thought after reading all kinds of comments here.

    “WikiLeaks is a publisher — a new kind of publisher, but a publisher nonetheless — and that makes this a freedom of the press issue.”

    one could also argue that wikileaks is no different from limewire or the old school napster. a place where stolen material can be spread. and many court cases have shown that freedom of speech does not apply to limewire nor napster.

    the key problem with wikileaks is that unlike a NYT report which uses one leak to tell a story about illegal or unethical behavior in the government or outside wikileaks uploads dumps of data. this is like me stealing all of your email Mathew and throwing it out on some web server and having people to go through it. most of it is likely irrelevant but then there might be bits in there that could be juicy and make for a fun story. wikileaks is not about specific wrongdoings but fishing exercises. the government employes thousands upon thousands of people there is no chance all of them will behave absolutely correctly so there will be something juicy in there. big deal.
    and we are already seeing that the public has wasted a whole week now on the non-story of wikileaks while the government is trying to sign the START treaty and decide upon the extension or non-extension of the bush tax cuts … both stories that are actual news stories, but instead we are all wasting our time sifting through thousands of pages of diplomatic drivel.

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    1. Thanks, Carsten — but you still haven’t shown why the NYT deserves protection and WikiLeaks doesn’t. Because the NYT only publishes one or two stolen cables instead of all of them? Not very persuasive, I’m afraid.

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      1. the nyt reports on a story, does background research, does analysis … what wikileaks does in the best of worlds publish an unread press-release at face value. the only problem here is that these documents were stolen, and wikileaks was/is fully aware that they were stolen and also knew who they belong to. (kind of reminds me of the lost/stolen iphone).

        quick question, what would you want me to do if someone hands me a USB stick with all your personal documents and emails you store on your computer? i know they stole it. i have two options i can give it back to you or i can just throw it on a web server and tell some news outlets about it. the newsoutlets will treat the story in itself as news and then look at the info. maybe they will even find that you didn’t pay all of your taxes back in 2005, maybe they find nothing. … what is the difference?

        wikileaks did not go into this knowing there was wrong doing. whenever the press in the past published leaked documents it started out with a story. someone approach the Washington Post telling them they had info about illegal behavior. and then produced the papers which proved that. again, as i said before wikileaks trades into data dumps not stories.

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      2. Matthew, freedom of speech, and thus freedom of the press, is not absolute. The prevailing precedent is that speech should be limited when it is likely to incite “imminent lawless action” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandenburg_v._Ohio) and there is an established process for judicial review of the government’s attempted exercise of prior restraint upon a publisher (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Times_Co._v._United_States).

        All of that said, the main difference between WikiLeaks and the NYT in my mind is accountability and a reputation for responsible disclosure. Specifically that Assange/WikiLeaks as recently as this August have shown wanton disregard for the unnecessary potential harm that might come from disclosing the full text of the Afghan war documents without redacting details like the names of Afghan informants, which are immaterial to the point of the disclosures and only serve to endanger those individuals (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/human-rights-groups-ask-wikileaks-to-censor-files-2049098.html).

        Protected speech is not an absolute right in this country. And it is very unfortunate that an organization, like WikiLeaks, that had the potential to establish itself as an independent source of truth has lost its moral authority through the self-serving and reckless actions of its egomaniacal leader. The NYT (and the other news organizations that were given the cables) have a proven track record of editorial discretion in weighing the value of disclosure against the potential harm to individuals and national interests they may cause, which I believe clearly sets them apart from the way WikiLeaks has handled these matters in the past.

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  35. Well said, Mathew.

    As a tech startup guy, Amazon’s behavior here makes me question AWS’s suitability for web apps. My last startup did online meeting software. Suppose somebody used our site to host meetings of groups the US government didn’t like. Would Amazon shut us down?

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    1. Thanks, Jon — great question.

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    2. If you actually read the statement from AWS: http://aws.amazon.com/message/65348/, you will see that they emphatically deny Sen. Lieberman’s (self-serving) claims that AWS took action at the behest of the US government.

      So, the answer to your question is that AWS would shut your service down if they found it to violate the terms of service to which you agreed when signing up, including the specific language they feel WikiLeaks violated:
      “you represent and warrant that you own or otherwise control all of the rights to the content… that use of the content you supply does not violate this policy and will not cause injury to any person or entity.”

      Personally (and as the CEO of a startup that relies heavily on AWS), I think this is a fair restriction for a private company to impose on its customers and I agree that it was clearly violated by WikiLeaks.

      Private enterprise being unduly influenced by government intimidation is wrong. But I do not believe that is what happened in this case.

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    3. Lucian Armasu Sunday, December 5, 2010

      I think that is a question we all have to ask with cloud computing in general. While cloud computing brings huge benefits and I support a future of cloud computing, it does also centralize all our data in the hands of a few companies, which is a risky bet into the future, unless we make sure now that what Amazon did now will never happen again.

      We have to make sure that if a handful of companies are going to have our data, we will be protected against “calls from senators”.

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  36. All organizations have biases. Wikileaks is no different in that regard from any of the print media, from the Wall Street Journal (and I defy anyone to say that the WSJ doesn’t have definite biases!), to the NY Times, WA Post, etc. “Journalism” is not some sacrosanct ideal that only the blessed few get to practice. Yes, the print medias of yore may subscribe to some journalistic standards, but do they do so because they believe in these standards or do they do so because they want to set themselves apart from the rest of the crowded media field? In today’s journalism we have told that it should be unbiased and both sides of an issue should get equal airing, etc. Well, not always. There are ideas in the world that deserve to be questioned and repudiated. And, bias (or viewpoint) is not necessarily a bad thing as long as the readers understand that there is a bias and can come to their own conclusions after reading a story.

    Wikileaks is stirring up a storm because somebody (the U.S. government) got caught with their pants down. And the pressures being put upon Wikileaks from the likes of Joe Lieberman (who I didn’t think had any political clout left) is both dangerous and a red flag to every organization that uses the Internet. Amazon and PayPal should hide their corporate heads in shame (and should be boycotted for the holiday season just to bring them to a sense of who actually pays their bills!). Who controls the Internet? Us or them? If it’s them, we’re in trouble. And, what are we going to do about it.

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  37. The US government is pretty obviously scared because up to this point it could control all the media in the world either by itself or allied governments and make no mistake the US based media is under a lot of direct or indirect government control. But now a stateless organization arises with ways into the government secrets which cant be controled, well not subtly anyway. The fear over other important bean spills has them all forgeting subtle media control and thus inventing such obvious lies as stalking Mr. Assange as a raper. Its a new war they re fighting and they dont really know how to react best. Good luck on keeping it up wikileaks.

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  38. Does anyone else see the irony in Lieberman’s plot to rein in WikiLeaks being called the “SHIELD Law”? That thing is the furthest thing from a shield law that anyone could reasonably concoct.

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  39. You can't handle the truth Sunday, December 5, 2010

    If people don’t agree with what Wikileaks is doing, then they should be in full sympathetic agreement with the Chinese government suppressing information on democracy, Falun Gong, Tibetan independence, etc. They should not be outraged if the facts about Tiananmen Square were fully suppressed. They should be totally complicit with the Chinese government filtering search results and internet traffic. After all, the whole rationale is that the Chinese government is merely fostering harmony, strengthening law and order and keeping control. Precisely the arguments of the US government now that the shoe is on the other foot.

    “Oh but this is not the same,” you say. How is it not the same? Give one example of physical harm that has come to someone from the Wikileaks revelations. Embarrassment doesn’t count. If it did, then the Chinese government would have just as much reason for what they are doing. It would be hypocritical to apply different standards to other governments than your own, so don’t be surprised when called on it.

    Funny how some Americans like to talk about democracy (noun: power derived from the people) but prefer to be in the dark about how their government really works.

    One other point: cablegate has already been described by Robert Gates as insignificant. So all this uproar is just about embarrassment and saving face. Are people really that concerned saving politician’s faces that they will crucify organizations like Wikileaks, which may in the future uncover important information, eg. insights into what unknown nefarious deeds the banks are up to, so that we can prevent another global meltdown?

    At the end of the day, even if the governments succeed in shutting down Wikileaks, the paradigm has been set, and I’m reasonably confident other organizations will rise up to fill the need. They just have to.

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  40. This article seems to ignore one important bit. Distributing classified information is not only illegal, but potentially endangers peoples lives. This is not am issue of freedom of speech.

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    1. Are you saying that the government never makes things classified because it might be embarrassed or because it did something wrong, and that we should always take the government’s word on that, Nick?

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      1. No, I’m saying that this person is breaking the law; that is why the government is suddenly so concerned.

        It can certainly be argued that if you don’t agree with a law it is your duty as an American to challenge it, but that doesn’t mean that you are somehow exempt from the consequences.

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  41. To expand on your logic, it would be just as fine to publish all top-secret documents as well, correct? And removing any information like names of people who could be in danger would also be an affront to freedom of speech, correct?

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    1. As far as I am aware, the documents that WikiLeaks has published on its site — just like the ones the New York Times has printed and published on its site — have had the names of potential agents or sensitive individuals removed.

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      1. The NYT has not published any raw cables to my knowledge, just stories based on information from cables as well as primary research. However, the Guardian has published a database of certain raw cables with some redactions.

        My understanding is that the full dump of cables that WikiLeaks is attempting to make available to everyone for download do not have the same level of editorial filtering, which is consistent with the reckless way WikiLeaks handled the release of the Afghan war logs this summer (see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/human-rights-groups-ask-wikileaks-to-censor-files-2049098.html).

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      2. Interestingly, you never answered whether it would be ok to publish all top-secret, and ultra top-secret documents as well. I’m assuming that you think it’s ok then.

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  42. Elizabeth Ferrari Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Push back. Sign declaration: I read Wikileaks

    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/i-read-wikileaks/

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  43. Greetings from Canada! Robert Novak, an American, blew the cover of a real CIA agent, Valerie Plame, who ran a real CIA front company, and had real agents trying to uncover real enemies trying to steal American nuclear secrets. That was fine with the American press and Congress, was it? Robert Novak is a loyal American but Julian Assange is a treacherous Australian?

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    1. At the time, Plame was NOT operating covertly, and did not have agents. A more accurate comparison is the New York Times’ release of NSA secrets – information which has cost many lives. It is most certainly NOT all right that they did so, and only political considerations prevented them from being prosecuted for espionage.

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      1. Valerie Plame was a covert agent running a covert operation. Dick Cheney and Robert Novak should have been prosecuted for outing her. Cheney was POed because her husband Joe Wilson wrote the article refuting Bush’s bogus claim about yellow cake from Niger going to Iraq–which, of course, always brings up the question of where was our great press on the issue of WMDs and Iraqi intentions. Novak was Cheney’s shill and outed Plame. And, our American press just let it slide. Just like they let a lot of things slide because it is expedient to do so and the people who really control the presses tell them to do so.

        We need more Julian Assanges.

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  44. WikiLeaks is not a presse organisation for the following reasons:

    -WikiLeaks does not publishes anything, it puts online documents that were given.
    -WikiLeaks, since the Afghan logs could be considered as a sort of a Press agency but it would be a really authoritarian and elective one: you have to be a reknown old paper newspaper to have access to the documents.
    -WikiLeaks in the case of the cable gate does not publishes anything but releases documents once they have been censored by other newspaper.
    – WikiLeaks does not falls under freedom of expression’s law because it has absolutelz no expression of any sort. It would be different if WikiLeaks or instance maid editorial or opinions.
    -Assange, when asked if he is or not a journalist avoids the question and does not answer:
    “I coauthored my first nonfiction book by the time I was 25. I have been involved in nonfiction documentaries, newspapers, TV and internet since that time. However, it is not necessary to debate whether I am a journalist, or how our people mysteriously are alleged to cease to be journalists when they start writing for our organisaiton. Although I still write, research and investigate my role is primarily that of a publisher and editor-in-chief who organises and directs other journalists”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/blog/2010/dec/03/julian-assange-wikileaks

    Things are quite simple: If WikiLeaks is a news organisation, then it has to be responsible for the documents it had released. It weakens diplomacy (there is no right or wrong but it is a responsability), it does not contains any breaking news value justifying to release them now, it is not done with any analysis or editorial that would explain the choice to release these documents, WikiLeaks has not read any of them but just gave it to other newspapers.
    In other words, if it is a media organisation, the failures and disregard to the most basic deontology have to be heavily critisised

    If WikiLeaks is a whistleblower website not responsible for the leaks that people send to it, just putting on the web confidential documents obtained by other people, then it has non of the aforementioned responsibilities, he can’t be held responsible for weakening diplomacy or endangering people life or treason by revealing state’s secrets… but in that case, WikiLeaks is not a media organisation.

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  45. Great post! I applaud Matthew and Gigaom to be one of the FEW blogs with balls to open up about this issue.

    Till date NO ONE has pointed out the damage this has had on lives (from experts or Govt- NONE). Can any poster explain any stance from those in Govt or media who claim otherwise? The US State Dept has advanced notification of these ‘cables’ before they went public and many instances of names/personnel names were hidden.

    I am ashamed of Amazon, Paypal and US State Dept of behaving like Chinese or Russian based ‘group think’.

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  46. I’ve read this posting and the comments with intense interest. I ran a community newspaper for eight years, and so I’ve had to come to terms with some of the “freedom of the press” issues.

    One of the major issues that I haven’t read anything about here is the understanding that that old-style journalism (online, TV and print media) has always been paid for by advertisers and readers. Whenever we used to talk about the responsibility the media has, we weren’t just talking about “journalistic ethics” — we were also talking about the dependence that media outlets have had on their advertisers and readers/consumers. We knew those financial relationships exerted a great deal of external pressure, and I think it’s safe to say that we hoped that pressure would help moderate the news process.

    Then the money started to go away, particularly for newspapers, which have always been on the front lines. And that’s when the whole model started to fall apart, thanks to its dependence on private money.

    Now that old-style journalism is circling the drain, many media outlets are shifting to a “soft” format geared entirely toward consumption (“Buy this! Do this! Eat This!”) in an attempt to cater to readers and advertisers. I think we could make similar arguments that the resulting vacuum has also been responsible for the rise of “infotainment” outlets like Fox News.

    You can see why someone like Mr. Assange might be inspired to take on a great deal of personal risk to create a site like Wikileaks, given what’s going on.

    I know from my experience as a publisher that corruption and malfeasance are alive and well even in small city and rural county governments. Unfortunately, we rarely risked publishing news that we believed might jeopardize the financial relationships we depended on to stay in business. There were many times I wished I could’ve afforded the personal risk to do what I knew was the right thing for the community.

    We may not know whether or not Wikileaks will be a good thing or not yet—but one thing we DO know is that our old model was tragically flawed.

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  47. The government has been lying to Americans for decades and the news media has gone along since a few years after Watergate. WikiLeaks and publishers like them are the only place to get the truth.

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    1. how do you know it is the truth? all you see is one document … well or a couple of thousands of not directly connected ones. what truth do you see?

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  48. Wikileaks is a terrorist organization not a “publisher” I suppose we should give taggers the same free speech protection!!!

    Stealing government secret info an posting it on the web is NOT a news organization! You have smoked too much of that medical marijuana

    Go ahead and support that guy,, what is his “defense fund” for? The only thing he is charged with is SEXUAL ASSAULT.. all of these people thinking they are protecting free speech when they are really defending a RAPIST

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    1. You’re a fool or a troll. Why spread lies? Investigate the issues or bury your head in the sand. Your current state of mind isn’t doing anyone a service. You need a nice dose of the real story behind the story you’ve been fed.

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  49. Although the method of procurement was criminal, the pfc had a duty to keep secure what he saw and his access would have been dependent of this. It doesn’t make the information any less valid. What was said was said.

    Mr Assange chose to be the messenger, one that shows us the true thoughts and activities of the people involved. Do we shoot the messenger for the image we see in the mirror?

    If these cables had been from another country, say Iran. Would the same effort be put into keeping them hidden?

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    1. yes, Iran would try everything in their power to keep the secrets secret.

      you don’t see Iran trying to keep them secret. it is the US and its allies that do.

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  50. Yes, Wikileaks is media. Likewise Pravda, Radio Moscow, Goebbels’ various operations, every blog on earth, whatever publications the KKK and neo-Nazi groups put out, and a number of Al Qaeda outletes. Hopefully by now, in this age of dangerous stateless groups, adults recognize that a non-government agency, such as Al Qaeda or Wikileaks, is as capable of waging warfare as is a government.

    Too many argue that information should be free, or that the (sacred) press should be able to print secrets, no matter how critical to our national security (which is why I detest the New York Times).

    Likewise people including the author of this piece (see comments) argue that because the government abuses classification, it’s okay to publish anything they classify.

    That is pure sophistry. A duly constituted democratic government not only needs to keep secrets in order to operate, but has a duty and the moral right to do so. That it will use this power improperly is to be assumed, but is no excuse for stealing those secrets and releasing them. Assange did so with stated intent to damage the US – i.e. to wage information warfare against our war effort.

    Wikileaks is waging information warfare against the US, during a war in which our people are dying;

    Assange is an illegal enemy combatant, and should be treated as such. Wikileaks is an enemy organization, aiding terrorists with these leaks, and will be treated as such.

    Oh, and btw, the First Amendment does not apply to an overseas non-American organization.

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    1. American men and women are dying in two war zones because George Bush wanted to strike back at the man, Saddam Hussein, that tried to assassinate his Daddy Bush in Kuwait. The press was a cheerleader for the rush to war against a country, Iraq, that had two no-fly zones and sanctions (which didn’t really affect the trade in oil since Jordan allowed Iraqi tankers access), a dictator who had no place to go–and Saddam hated, HATED, al-Qaeda and considered the organization a threat.

      Duly-elected democratic governments can be just as corrupt as any other governments.

      Citizens should be aware of what their countries do and how they do it. Diplomacy isn’t a veil to hide behind. Wikileaks has shown us that the U.S. indeed has no clothes when it comes to certain diplomatic issues. Perhaps we will pay closer attention to what our government does in our name.

      I’m not sure if one can ascribe morality to a government. One hopes that government employees, since they represent all of us to the world, behave in a manner that is consistent with our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

      The First Amendment certainly does apply to all organizations be they American or foreign. Certainly it does when foreign companies and foreigners are on our soil. (I know that we have looked the other way when it comes to China but you know how that goes, where money is involved our corporations and our government will look the other way as long it doesn’t affect the bottom line!!)

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  51. This law will make sure that government atrocities are never be revealed or exposed to the public. In the past few years many documents and videos have exposed many crimes. Instead of holding people accountable and explaining to the American people what happened, the governments response is to “silence” anyone who exposes it. Maybe then such laws should be implemented in corporations against “whistle blowers”, maybe laws in that area could be justified in that “they protect destruction of corporations and therefore the American economy”.
    These kind of laws are turning the US into NAZI Germany.

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  52. Here here. Well said. Will someone with a bit of time on their hands please start a worldwide viral movement to support Wikileaks and Assange. The principle is clear – freedom of speech (unless its hate speech) should be protected at all costs. Just because we don’t like this particular speech content doesn’t mean it can’t be your life preserving right to speech tomorrow. Where the F*&K is the left on this – lets get moving.

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  53. Peter Lövgren Monday, December 6, 2010

    Clearly, freedom of speech does not mean that a private company has to provide a platform for anyone to spread their views. However, it’s funny to see the policies of a company like Amazon. Just a couple of weeks ago they refused to remove a book “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure” from their shelves by arguing freedom of speech.

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  54. Should WikiLeaks have the same First Amendment protections as mainstream journalists?…

    Mathew Ingram of GigaOm posited that WikiLeaks is in fact a media entity and that it should be treated as such.   ‘Some would argue that we don’t need entities like WikiLeaks, because traditional publishers like the New York Times are good enough. And…

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  55. well the (D) had a chance to take care of their own problem Mr. Joe, I’m glad he didn’t run in Ohio. he no friend of the USA. P/S if joe forgot it called the Conititution. freedon of press

    dan horn

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  56. Which is worse? The fact that Senators Ensign, Lieberman, and Brown don’t know the Shield Laws refer to the law protecting journalists from revealing the names of anonymous sources in 31 states or that they are intentionally misusing the term Shield to confuse people.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shield_laws

    It wasn’t the person that leaked the Abu Ghraib images that incited violence and put US troops at risk… it was the actions of the troops in the photos that were the real problem. I don’t think all the governments business should be conducted with 100% transparency, but there are very few cases a government agent (someone who works for and ultimately reports to American citizens) should be doing something they worry the public might learn about. The chance of an action becoming public changes the way people act… normally for better. Conduct yourself ethically and a leak will have little impact.

    Leaking top secret information should remain a crime and whistle blowers should only be protected when leaking information about a crime. Regardless of Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, Scooter Libby, or Dick Chenney’s actions, it should never be a crime to published leaked information.

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  57. Wikileaks should be given protection. It publishes the facts. May be good or bad sometimes. It is part of democracy. The governments of affected countries, instead of putting heat on Wekileaks should be after their bureaucrats for leaking it. It is the failure on the government side.

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    1. wikileaks publishes facts??? no it publishes documents that were written by government people. 1+1=2 that is a fact. but some guy in an embassy writing a cable doesn’t mean that it is a fact. it is an opinion. and the cables are not even connected, or cross checked so they are single pieces that could be taken out of context.

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  58. [...] on your perspective, Assange and Wikileaks probably represent one of two things. As GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram wrote this weekend, “Some argue that there is nothing journalistic about the organization [...]

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  59. After watching the interviews with both Rick Stengel, managing editor of Time magazine; and Admiral Dennis Blair, retired on Charlie Rose. I have to say that I have changed my position on Wikileaks as far as the leaking of the cables goes.

    Mr. Stengel made a point of saying that Mr Assange ‘Primary Intent’ in leaking the cables was to help bring down central governments, mostly the US. Where as, the primary intent of news organizations is to inform. As we saw with the pentagon papers, this did bring down the presidency of Nixon, but the Primary Intent wasn’t aimed at the whole government. Just the officials abusing their powers entrusted to them by the people.

    I think ‘primary Intent’ is the deciding factor. So no, Wikileaks isn’t a news organization in this case because the primary goal is Anarchy. Although the system of government in the US isn’t perfect, I shudder at what might replace it if we don’t show some responsibility in it’s participation.

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  60. [...] arguments can go either way concerning WikiLeak’s legal status as a media entity and its protections under the common law established by New York Times Co. v. United States, there [...]

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  61. [...] be with Mr. Assange. His actions and his words will be put up against the prosperity and neglect of the culture he helped to cultivate. And then judgement towards that worth will be [...]

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  62. [...] believe Wikileaks should face some sort of justice, you are basing this on a precedent under which every other legitimate investigative media outlet in the world would be guilty as well, which would be an “extremely dangerous” [...]

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  63. Mathew,
    thank you for your thoughtful article.

    I’ve read through the list of excellent comments as well.
    Living in Europe, I’d like to add some international perspectives.

    1) The lack of securing sensitive data by the US gov in approppriate manners raises concerns for non-US citizens about the ability to protect other data assets aggregated and held in custody (like passenger flight data, or financial transactions in SWIFT). We understand the need and ambition of the global fight against terrorism, but from a security architecture perspective a single point of potential failure is not a good thing. The value of data aggregation is unquestionable, but so is the magnitude of damage in case failure happens. It will be interesting to see what the long term consequences and learnings are.

    2) It is suprising to see the repetitive application of the statement – Nothing new in the cables – especially here in the US. Reading the US media coverage I would concur with this statement, based on the selection of cables released here in US. Reading articles about the released cables in France, Spain and Germany renders a different picture.

    3) Of course there should be a level of dialogue between diplomats and stakeholders in other countries, but the same principles of trust should be applied here as well. Some of the cables contain information, which has been provided by sources not authorized to disclose it to the US embassies by their local authorities. The release of the cables triggered discussions abroad about the governance model in national governments as well. Just flip the case: Imagine, embassy cables from country X are released, and “information sources” within US government are frequently quoted. How would the US government act, if it is evident that sensitive & internal information, not meant to be shared, are shared by US officials? (i.e. the case of the german FDP source)

    4) Even more surprising is the very tempered coverage in US media, vs. the coverage in UK(Guardian) and Germany (Spiegel). The coverage in the NYT seem to be now down levelled vs. the first days, to still “cover” the cables, but “limit” further information access by applying unsuspicious looking mechanisms like “paid content” for cable articles. Looks like a careful balance between ” free press” and “compliancy” positions to avoid undue corporate risk for the publishers.

    5) Where is the hard hitting US press, the international audience expects? We appreciated the societal value it created in the past. Addressing important questions: How could it happen? What are the immediate steps the government is taking? Who in the US government is on point? What kind of precautions will be taken to avoid a similar leak by any of the million(s) people having access to sensitive, secret information? What are the options for appropriate government information security architectures in the age of the internet?

    6) The release of the cables is embarrassing for the US state department, no doubt. The damage to the US gov might be low, as the released cables demonstrate the high level of professionalism in US embassies. The “game changer” will potentially be abroad. The interaction of government with its constituencies need to be build on trust. The content of the cables either reinforce the trust of citizen in their leaders (when seemingly private information is in line with their public position) or not (if there is a significant gap between private statements and public positions).From this perspective the coverage of the cables are much more valuable for the citizens abroad.

    Thank you for reading,
    Just A.

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  64. [...] the heart of the matter in a debate over whether or not WikiLeaks is a legitimate news organization. Matthew Ingram at Gigaom, along with Dan Gillmor from Salon, has argued that WikiLeaks is a media entity and deserving of [...]

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  65. [...] GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram and Salon’s Dan Gillmor made similar points about the parallel between WikiLeaks’ [...]

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  66. [...] — has been dis-aggregated or atomized; in other words, split into its component parts, parts that include what WikiLeaks does. In some cases, these may be things that we didn’t even realize were separate parts of the [...]

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  67. Sorry to disapoint you guy’s but Wikileaks is looking more and more like a CIA disinformation front every day!

    http://wakeupcallfortruthseekers.wordpress.com/2010/12/24/wikileaks%E2%80%99-assange%E2%80%99s-lawyer-has-connections-to-rothschilds/

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  68. [...] All of this makes it even more important that Twitter has forced the government’s attempts out into the light. One would hope that Facebook and Google — the latter of whom has talked a lot in the past about its commitment to freedom of speech, and has also taken action in China to protest that government’s digital surveillance of its citizens — would also come clean about any court orders they have received, especially when the DoJ appears determined to make a case that could easily entrap virtually anyone, up to and including reporters for the New York Times. [...]

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  69. [...] reluctantly — coming around to the view that we have been arguing for some time: namely, that WikiLeaks is effectively a media entity, and that what it does qualifies as journalism (the faculty of Columbia’s School of [...]

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  70. [...] That said, however, the Secretary of State also went out of her way to defend the U.S. government’s approach to WikiLeaks, which has involved not only imprisoning the man who allegedly leaked thousands of diplomatic cables (former Army officer Bradley Manning), but also going after WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange by any means available. The U.S. Department of Justice has been working on a legal case involving the Espionage Act, despite the fact that publishing classified documents is not actually a crime under U.S. law, Plus, if the DOJ is successful, the same charges would apply to the New York Times and other media outlets who have also published the cables. [...]

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  71. “WikiLeaks is fundamentally a journalistic entity, and as such it deserves our protection.” http://t.co/2We5OJuR

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