Is the WikiLeaks release a good thing?

From the “Is That a Good Thing?” desk.

Now that WikiLeaks is a household word, let’s take a moment to ponder what it represents. It is an avowedly stateless news organization. When it released its dump of approximately 80 quadzillion documents relating to the Afghanistan war, it relied on its decentralized structure to protect itself — in effect, forcing any government that would try to censor it to play whack-a-mole. Journalism expert Jay Rosen explains:

“If you go to the WikiLeaks Twitter profile, next to ‘location’ it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. … WikiLeaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, ‘They didn’t even contact us!’

“Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what WikiLeaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But WikiLeaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new.”

The trouble is, a lot of what we ordinarily think of as journalism ethics (let alone the national interest) has no place in “the logic of the Internet.” Is an off-the-record briefing ever appropriate? Should the media ever withhold information about troop movements? Should a news organization ever decline to name a suspect who hasn’t been charged? Under the “logic of the Internet,” those conventions are going to become positively quaint. Not to mention extinct.

I’m not saying that the release of these documents was wrong. It may turn out to be a great benefit. But it would be nice to know that somebody, somewhere, was weighing the pros and cons, and taking responsibility for the judgment calls. Somebody like — oh, I don’t know — journalists.

  • bob

    What’s the national interest? Squelching — or supporting the squelching — of information on how the war in Afghanistan is really going? I would argue that the American people have a right to know, regardless of what the government and colluding journalists think or want.

    Is the national interest met by conspiring with the government not to show the full impact of the war — i.e., dismembered bodies and mutilated survivors? Is that the kind of journalism “ethics” you’re taking about?

  • JennyK

    This discussion is particularly compelling to me, following so closely on the heels of the death of NPR’s Daniel Schorr. I was not around during the days of Watergate and was too young to remember the end of the Cold War, so I can’t easily put this issue in perspective with the experiences of the past. I’d be curious to know how Schorr felt about Wikileaks, given his experience with sharing information with the public despite what higher powers wanted. Is this case different? I don’t know. But, without information, how else can we hold our government accountable?

  • Tyler

    The mainstream media have been shirking their job for years – namely, journalism. Nice to see someone else picking up the reins.

  • Ginny

    I heard Daniel Ellsberg talk a couple of years ago about the leaking of the Pentagon Papers. At the end, he urged that someone privy to secret documents about Iraq/Afghanistan come forward. It would be a patriotic (albeit risky) assignment.

    I don’t know in what way this release potentially harms soldiers. In Iraq and Afghanistan, especially, all of this is already known, so why would this endanger our troops. What is endangering our troops is allowing these practices and policies to go on–especially permitting countless civilian deaths. That’s why there is so much hostility to the United States.

  • Carl Miller

    WHY IS MPR ASKING THIS QUESTION? IS IT A GOOD THING? YES!!!!!!!!!!!!! YOU SHOULD BE EMBRACING THE INFORMATION AND SUPPORTING REAL JOURNALISM. INSTEAD YOU WILL PROBABLY HAVE SOME STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL COME ON AND PROpaGANDIZE. Because when big MSM publications write story after story about “anonymous” sources and “supporters” we barely blink an eye, but when hard factual evidence is placed in front of us, instead of debate, we say “is this good or bad”, simply to manipulate the debate in favor of the federal government and the wars of choice our oligarchy heads have chosen for us. Ridiculous question, way to go MPR, step by step with the beltway establishment. This is why I never listen to your station anymore. Your willingness to submit to the Corporate State is as transparent as it ever has been.

  • Bruce

    Unequivocally ***YES*** it is a good thing.

    We can not have a democracy when there is no informed consent for something so basic as going to war. The Cheney-Bush-Rove machine baldly manipulated information and had us pay the price for decisions this country would never have made had it been informed. We continue to pay for these decisions today at great economic, moral and military cost as well as to the detriment of national security.

    There is virtually no need for secrets and spooks with a proactive foreign policy. All the panic to keep secrets, to spy, to sabotage comes out of the desire for empire and domination over others or the desire to manipulate public opinion. The trick our overlords keep playing on us is to keep the truth for our desire for domination and empire sublimated while contriving national security disinformation to manipulate public opinion. A people uninformed or manipulated cannot sustain democracy.

    In this political climate a Wikileaks disruption is democracy’s best friend.

    CBS’s treatment of this last night might lead a person to believe that it is a propaganda arm of the US government. Good that MPR at least asks the question.

  • Jon Peters

    Could not have said it better myself, Carl. Used to be an avid listener from the early 80’s, but with the run up to the illegal wars, I began to see MPR’s standard of journalism really slip.. I kept listening with an ever more critical sense of the subtle spin and posturing of stories. Just as you indicate….anyone with critical thinking skills can see through the Orwellian deception MPR is involved with… … For News I can count on I now turn to Democracy Now and other online sources. It never ceases to amaze me how the MPR hosts can blather on with no real meat to their discussions. NPR is in the same league. The slant is obvious in the framing of the questions, selection of guests, etc, etc.

  • Bob Collins

    What brought you here today, Jon?