Thoughts on WikiLeaks
December 2, 2010
So, I’ve had a number of reactions floating around in my head relative to the whole WikiLeaks brouhaha. In no particular order:
- Much of what has been revealed was only “news” because the state-of-the art of journalistic practice has degenerated into note-taking at staged press events and repackaging press releases. If the fifth estate was doing its job properly no one would be surprised that the Saudis don’t like Iran, that diplomats don’t trust Putin, that Afghanistan is a kleptocracy, that the Chinese policy towards North Korea is cynical and exploitative, or anything else we’ve “learned” from the leaked cables. In point of fact, today’s crop of “journalists” have abandoned their role of seekers-of-truth to such a great extent that it wouldn’t surprise me at all were we to discover that much of what was in the dump was already in the hands of media institutions who self-censored as part of the grand bargain that includes embedding reporters with combat units and gaining access to government officials for pull-quotes and Sunday morning talking heads commitments.
- Julian Asange may be no angel, but it should be pretty clear that he’s being slammed by US government officials (both elected and career) more as a formal reaction to having their jealously-guarded institutional control of information challenged than because of any toxicity of substance. While their sense of personal affront is completely understandable on a human level, we should evaluate claims that some great damage has been done to US standing in the world in the light of how much our reputation has already been degraded by how quickly we abandoned any pretext to principle in our self-indulgent response to 911. I had a good head of steam to write something suitably blistering when I ran across this response to David Brook’s quisling column yesterday. Ms. Garcia couldn’t have put it any better.
- In the eternal battle between the principles enshrined in the Bill of Rights and the propensity of the powerful to operate in the shadows, it’s better to err on the side of the Bill of Rights, even if there are some unpleasant consequences. As Ben Franklin said, those who would give up an essential liberty to purchase a little temporary security deserve neither. I cringe when I see those bumper stickers that say “Freedom isn’t Free” (usually pasted to the back window of a pick-up truck, just under the gun rack), but at its essence, the sentiment is dead on. Every once in a while, ugly truths need to be aired, if only to keep those particular muscles from atrophying.
- This is not to say that anarchic impulses should be applauded, or that we should ignore maxims about too much of a good thing not being such a good thing at all. But I think that Assange is a lot less anarchic than he’s been portrayed as being in recent days. Apparently he gave White House officials more than ample opportunity to review the documents and extended to them an invitation to make their case as to why any of them would put specific people or programs at risk. The Obama administration turned up their noses at the offer, under the tired old canard that playing ball would unreasonably legitimize WikiLeaks. I don’t know if they were too busy figuring out how to best cave on the $250k break-point for the Bush tax cuts to put time into it, but it’s clear that they could have done a lot more to separate the wheat from the chaff. But they didn’t.
- Lastly, it’s pretty clear that much of the hoopla coming from various world leaders is just the prelude to another round of the interminable shake-down of the US government. Look for bridges to be mended with various financial, military and geopolitical concessions. You can’t blame ’em for trying, particularly when our current President has signaled his willingness to pay any price to avoid unpleasantness. And we should really be all that surprised when he does it — after all, it’s not his pocket that’s being picked….