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

Just A. Voice

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.

Tjc59

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.

Bikasha Panda

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.

Carsten

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.

Kevin Reynen

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.

dan horn

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

Peter Lövgren

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.

Rob

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.

Ron Salem

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.

John Moore

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.

repar

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!!)

Tjc59

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?

Carsten

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.

johnsloans

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

ms

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.

radioman

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.

Carsten

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?

L

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.

Anon

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’.

Antonin

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.

Neil Kitson

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?

John Moore

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.

repar

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.

Doug

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?

Mathew Ingram

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.

jonathanhstrauss

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).

Doug

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.

Nick

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.

Mathew Ingram

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?

Nick

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.

You can't handle the truth

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.

Kenny

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.

John

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.

repar

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.

jon

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?

jonathanhstrauss

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.

Lucian Armasu

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”.

Carsten

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.

Mathew Ingram

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.

Carsten

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.

jonathanhstrauss

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.

del norvin

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

Offbeatmammal

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…

soul

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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