Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity

116 Comments

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.

116 Comments

Brian Drake

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.

Mathew Ingram

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?

Monica Oliveira

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.

wonderwhy-er

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?

cr

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!

Vanessa Williams

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.

Roberto

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

Patrick

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.

Mathew Ingram

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.

Remittance Girl

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.

Privet Bank, Ukraine

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

pete

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.

wonderwhy-er

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.

Mathew Ingram

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.

Matt Saler

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?

Mathew Ingram

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?

Matt Saler

“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.

Justin

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.

Commenter

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.

Panagiotis Atmatzidis

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?

Commenter

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.

Rob H.

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.

Commenter

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.

Todd S

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.

S

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.

Mathew Ingram

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.

feare

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.

Lucian

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.

Carsten

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.

Mathew Ingram

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.

ZeDingo

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.

Norbit

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.

Cynthia Typaldos

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?

Mathew Ingram

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.

david

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

Yacko

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

amigosito

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

ms

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.

JT

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!

Scott

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.

Panagiotis Atmatzidis

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?

Carsten

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.

Chris Grayson

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.

Pat

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.

Michael

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?

JT

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.

Mathew Ingram

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.

amigosito

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

ms

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.

Panagiotis Atmatzidis

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?

direwolff

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 ;)

Mathew Ingram

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.

DakTari

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.

my voice my choice

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.

Liz McLellan

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.

Panagiotis Atmatzidis

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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