The Media's Continuing War On Wikileaks

Glenn Greenwald documents the latest in the Media's continuing war on Wikileaks:

Last week, on January 3, The Guardian published a scathing Op-Ed by James Richardson blaming WikiLeaks for endangering the life of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the democratic opposition in Zimbabwe. Richardson [. . .] pointed to a cable published by WikiLeaks in which American diplomats revealed that Tsvangirai, while publicly opposing American sanctions on his country, had privately urged their continuation as a means of weakening the Mugabe regime[. . . .] This accusation against WikiLeaks was repeated far and wide. In The Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick [. . .] wrote under this headline: "Julian Assange's reckless behavior could cost Zimbabwe's leading democrat his life." [. . .] The Atlantic's Chris Albon [. . echoed the same accusation[.]

There was just one small problem with all of this: it was totally false. It wasn't WikiLeaks which chose that cable to be placed into the public domain, nor was it WikiLeaks which first published it. It was The Guardian that did that.

In an update, Greenwald writes:

About all of this, this person asks the key question: "Would [these media outlets] have written the exact same article, substituting Guardian for WL? I doubt it." I doubt it, too -- highly -- and that's the point: the political and media class is obsessed with demonizing WikiLeaks and painting them as fundamentally different than "respectable" media outlets[.]

"Doubting" is too weak. If the story was worth reporting when they thought it was Wikileaks, even more so should the story be published now that these outlets know it was in fact, The Guardian that chose to publish the cable in question.

The fact that these same media outlets will not report on The Guardian "endangering" the Zimbabwe figure's life evidences the real point of the story - not concern for the Zimbabwe figure, but rather an attempt to demonize Wikileaks.

The ultimate irony is this story:

Zimbabwe is to investigate bringing treason charges against the prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, and other individuals over confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by WikiLeaks.

This article was published in the Guardian, the actual media outlet that "revealed" the cables in question.

Speaking for me only

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    Not for nuthin'... (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:51:33 AM EST
    didn't Mr. Tsvangirai endanger himself?  If you don't want people looking to kill you, don't say one thing to your people and the opposite to the US Govt. like some kinda double agent.

    Now I don't know the guy, but assuming he had the best of intentions for his nation, he still had to know and understand the risk he was taking by lying to his followers/people or the US about his stance on sanctions.

    Call me naive about geopolitics, but wouldn't honesty be a better policy all around? Don't some of our problems stem from everybody trying to con everybody else in the geopolitics racket, and there being a severe shortage of honest brokering?

    Got a few typos here (none / 0) (#1)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 10:49:36 AM EST
    I'm sensing some frustration maybe?  We have traveled far beyond any old worn out principles in a couple of areas in our society.

    Thanks (none / 0) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:05:54 AM EST
    I think I caught them all.

    The Guardian (none / 0) (#3)
    by jbindc on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:10:27 AM EST
    Has an update:

    Glenn Greenwald argues on Salon.com that our amendments to the Richardson piece are inadequate, and that we ought also to correct a news story about moves against Tsvangirai prompted by the cable releases. I'd say that, taken in its entirety,  the Richardson piece now pretty fairly reflects the process described above, but if anyone disagrees they are free to refer the matter to the Guardian's independent readers' editor.

    It's important to remember a bit of context: during the whole period "WikiLeaks" became shorthand used by virtually all journalists the world over for the entire project. This was partly - or even mainly - to give them credit for being the main source (or intermediary) for the material. So, day after day, news organisations such as the BBC and other newspapers reported that "WikiLeaks today revealed that ..."

    It was often equally true that it was the Guardian, or El País, or the New York Times, which had "done the revealing", not to mention much of the time-consuming work of finding, editing and redacting the material. But it was a piece of widely understood journalistic shorthand. The material was routinely referred to as a "WikiLeaks revelation", including in the Guardian - ironically, perhaps, because we did not want to look as though we were stealing WikiLeaks's thunder or glory.

    The vast majority of Guardian stories would use the same formula: "In documents released today by WikiLeaks it was revealed that xxx ..." That gave WikiLeaks the credit it both deserved and sought - and was preferable to the alternative: "In documents released today by WikiLeaks, the New York Times, the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel."

    The news piece to which Greenwald objects referred to "confidential talks with US diplomats revealed by WikiLeaks". But that was in keeping with the way the Guardian - and other media - covered all disclosures in the cables. We used a similar formula in stories about China, Bangladesh, Russia, the Middle East and South America. It did not reflect any attempt to lay exclusive responsibility at the door of WikiLeaks, any more than it was an attempt to shirk our own. Both the news report and Richardson's piece now include a link to this post.

    They expect people to buy this? (5.00 / 3) (#9)
    by Anne on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:30:08 AM EST
    Well, come to think of it, they probably do, and perhaps some of their less informed readers will do just that.

    But, let's keep in mind what kind of articles were written about this particular leak, shall we?  

    The Guardian published articles that pre-emptively blamed Wikileaks for whatever consequences might ensue from revealing the information in the cables - the attribution to Wikileaks wasn't "shorthand," it was a deliberate misdirection and manipulation undertaken so as to be able to avoid any blowback if, in fact, something bad happened as a result of what the Guardian decided to reveal - having been delegated that decision-making authority by Wikileaks.

    Anyone who has been following this story via sources that do not continue to perpetuate the distortion of the facts would have instantly recognized the Guardian's "update" for the total BS it is.


    Such as the unbiased Glenn? (2.00 / 1) (#11)
    by jbindc on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:46:21 AM EST
    Is there something biased about (5.00 / 3) (#13)
    by Anne on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 12:24:26 PM EST
    wanting a news organization to report the facts?  The major one in this instance being that it wasn't Wikileaks that published the cable until the Guardian did?

    That's biased?

    Or other facts like Wikileaks not "dumping" and making public over 250K documents?

    Can you please explain to me why you have still not educated yourself on this whole issue?  Not that there is any excuse, but I would love to know why it doesn't seem to matter that you get more information before continuing to demonize Glenn, Wikileaks and Assange.

    At this point, I don't think you have a shred of credibility on the subject of Wikileaks or Julian Assange.


    Shrug (none / 0) (#14)
    by jbindc on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 02:45:22 PM EST
    You are entitled to your belief about me, no matter how mistaken it is. I read more than just Glenn on the subject, but you aren't going to give up your "I heart Julian" poster, so I won't try to convince you that there's a lot more than him being a noble freedom fighter against tyranny. It isn't that simple.

    But since Glenn writes an opinion piece for an online magazine with a very distinctive bias, then yes, I stand by my comment.  


    The issues here are fact-based. (none / 0) (#15)
    by observed on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 03:01:50 PM EST
    Well (none / 0) (#16)
    by jbindc on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 03:04:49 PM EST
    Since Glenn is accusing the Guardian of one thing and the Guradian says the facts are something else, then there's a problem.  Of course, that also sets aside what Julian himself says are his own set of facts.

    Which set would you like?


    You seem to have some issue with (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by observed on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 06:37:21 AM EST
    GG insisting that the Guardian report the fact they they, not Assange, published the information first. If you think that's a distinction without a difference, fine, but you seem eager that the rest of the public be kept in a state of ignorance about the actual facts.

    Well, see, if you only you had (5.00 / 0) (#20)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 07:21:34 AM EST
    read what Glenn wrote, checked out all the links, you would know that all of this started when the Guardian published the cable, and articles about it, which made clear that all was not as it had been represented in the public arena.  That revelation prompted a scathing op-ed - also published in the Guardian - in which the author stated that Wikileaks would be to blame for anything bad that happened as a result of having irresponsibly published the cable - a "fact" that was picked up and repeated in news outlets all over the world.

    Except, as Glenn points out:

    There was just one small problem with all of this:  it was totally false.  It wasn't WikiLeaks which chose that cable to be placed into the public domain, nor was it WikiLeaks which first published it.  It was The Guardian that did that.  In early December, that newspaper -- not WikiLeaks -- selected and then published the cable in question.

    And rather than disputing that, the Guardian admitted to it:

    This fact led The Guardian -- more than a full week after they published Richardson's accusatory column -- to sheepishly add this obscured though extremely embarrassing "clarification" at the end of his column: *

    This article was amended on 11 January 2011 to clarify the fact that the 2009 cable referred to in this article was placed in the public domain by the Guardian, and not as originally implied by WikiLeaks. The photo caption was also amended to reflect this fact.

    And the latest "update" from the Guardian still does not dispute that it was responsible for first publishing the cable - it just wants to present a rather disingenuous explanation that "everyone" knew that "Wikileaks" is shorthand for a group that consists of Wikileaks and all of its media partners.  The only problem with that is that that's just not what "everyone" knew.

    Glenn called the Guardian on their error - and the Guardian admitted to it, even if it did so much more quietly than it should have, and even if the corrections it made were not done across the board, and even if it had to justify its mistakes with a sort of "the dog ate my homework" kind of excuse.

    You read what the Guardian wrote because, I suspect, you saw it as a sort of takedown of Glenn Greenwald, but you didn't bother to go read Glenn, which would have put the Guardian in a much different light.

    I don't know, maybe you get away with that sort of argumentation among people who aren't informed, but I don't think that works here, which makes me wonder why you keep doing it.


    You didn't answer my question: (none / 0) (#17)
    by Anne on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 03:25:06 PM EST
    what is biased about wanting a news organization to report the facts?  

    Were Glenn and other "opinion" writers biased to want mainstream outlets to report the truth in the run-up to the Iraq war?  Or on issues of torture and waterboarding?  On matters of illegal surveillance?  Or are these things somehow different?

    The thing is  - and I've made this point so many times I shouldn't have to keep doing it - that Glenn has not been defending Assange, the person; Glenn himself has made this point on a regular basis.  What he has been advocating for is some adherence to fairly important principles in connection with how Assange and Wikileaks have been treated - and misrepresented.  First Amendment issues.  Double standards with respect to how Assange and Wikileaks are being treated v. how mainstream outlets - who have published and are publishing "secret" information they are receiving directly from government sources are being treated.  Failure on the part of some of those involved - the Wired brouhaha - to be forthcoming in backing up the assertions they've made.

    I don't know why, but somehow, this strikes me more as good journalism, as opposed to opinion, but we don't see much good journalism these days, and I guess it's easier to dismiss what Glenn has been writing if you can classify it all as opinion.

    I would sure be curious to know what you think is the "more" there is to Assange - which I am assuming you believe to be quite negative, since you have not had one positive thing to say about him, ever.  Which kind of drives home the point that you keep wanting this to be about him, and not about the larger issues.

    But, just as I haven't gotten answers from you before, other than the rather tiresome and juvenile "oh, you loooove Assange" retorts, I don't expect to get any this time, either.


    accusations of bias (5.00 / 0) (#18)
    by Whispers on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 12:49:38 AM EST
    It's really easy to go around making accusations of bias.  But when you do so without any sound explanation of why, the accusation sounds simply petulant and/or part of a defense mechanism which allows you to quickly dismiss a whole class of arguments that you disagree with.

    Why, pray tell, is Glenn Greenwald biased?  Why is he not merely a person who has different opinions than what you have?  In what way has his bias manifested itself?  Is there pertinent data that he's ignoring?  That's usually a sign of bias.  I'm not seeing anything.

    Let's face it: you're using an accusation of bias as a way to clap your hands over your ears and go "Na na na na na na na!"  

    Bias is the most overused accusation on the Internet.  Put up or shut up.


    Anyone who writes a blog (none / 0) (#21)
    by jbindc on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 10:48:37 AM EST
    inherently has a bias - they have an opinion that they want to share with people and positions they want to advocate for.  I'm not sure why that isn't patently obvious, but maybe that's a higher plane of thinking.

    I like reading Glenn.  I just think the fact that some around here take his words on this matter as absolute gospel without looking at some of the nuances about all that's going on with this story (as I seem to be constantly accused of repetitively, and in a most tiresome manner).

    The fact that Julian Assange uses his information, not as a journalist, mind you, but as someone who uses it as blackmail to get what he wants - that tells me all I need to know about how self-serving he is and what an egomaniac he is.  This was never about a higher purpose with him, depsite his acting - it's about him!

    And for those who want to engage in actual discussion about this subject, instead of just accepting the "Julian is a hero" meme, here's an essay that is a good start:

    ...As WikiLeaks itself boasts, this is "the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain."

    The scale is unprecedented. So, too, is the intent--or, more precisely, the lack thereof. Raffi Khatchadourian on the New Yorker website speculates that the aim of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange "is not to reveal a single act of abuse..., but rather to open up the inner workings of a closed and complex system, to call the world in to help judge its morality." This may indeed be Assange's vision, but he doesn't seem capable of articulating it himself. The WikiLeaks website contends that it's out to expose "contradictions between the US's public persona and what it says behind closed doors" (as if a charge of hypocrisy were an adequate reason for exposing official secrets) and informs us that "every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington--the country's first President--could not tell a lie."

    Among the cables released so far are revelations that have prompted headlines around the world, but there are also dispatches on Bavarian election results and Argentine maritime law. If the aim is to strike a blow against American imperial designs--as Assange has suggested in some of his statements--I don't see how these particular cables support it. Assange has claimed to Time magazine that he wants to "make the world more civil" by making secretive organizations like the US State Department and Department of Defense accountable for their actions; he also told Time that, as an alternative, he wants to force them "to lock down internally and to balkanize," protecting themselves by becoming more opaque and thereby more "closed, conspiratorial and inefficient." This is, to say the least, a patently contradictory agenda; I'm not sure how we're supposed to make sense of it. In practical terms it seems to boil down to a policy of disclosure for disclosure's sake. This is what the technology allows, and Assange has merely followed its lead. I don't see coherently articulated morality, or immorality, at work here at all; what I see is an amoral, technocratic void.

    As Alan Cowell has written in The New York Times, the careers of some foreign officials--and not necessarily high-level ones--have already been destroyed or threatened by these revelations. In at least one case the person's name had been redacted, but his identity was clear enough from the context. One is justified in asking: Will deaths occur as these and other statements are published? We do not know, and we may not hear about them if they do. But damage of various kinds is sure to result. (For his part, Assange seems remarkably unable to discuss these very real dangers; in the Time interview he claims that "this sort of nonsense about lives being put into jeopardy" is simply an excuse.) Can WikiLeaks at least tell us why this was necessary?

    I'm sure my links will be pooh-poohed because they aren't (breathlessly said) from Glenn. Hope you give him some love.

    As much as people don't like to think of it, there really are bigger implications than just how poor Julian is being "persecuted".


    Is there bias in the actual facts? (5.00 / 0) (#23)
    by Anne on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 11:57:44 AM EST
    That's what you keep missing here.  That and the fact that Glenn has never taken up Julian Assange-the-man as any kind of cause, nor has he ever elevated him to hero status.  It's just not there.  What is there  -on pretty much every subject I've read him on - is generally a coherent recitation of the facts, a discussion of the relevant principles and the laws and always - an honest and open representation of "the other side."  There is no effort on Glenn's part to hide what anyone else is saying or doing as a means of bolstering whatever points he wants to make; he happily provides links to all manner of sources for people to read for themselves and reach their own conclusions.  When others come back to refute Glenn's points, he takes that on, too.  

    He seeks - and often gets - accountability for what is being written in the media, doing what is almost never done anymore: expecting those who write and report to back up their claims.  Do you think the people at The Atlantic and Politico would have corrected their stories on the Guardian's release of the cable if Glenn hadn't held their feet to the fire?  And really, are we not better served by demanding that those who hold themselves out as purveyors of information do so with some adherence to the truth?

    The blackmail thing?  The article you cited made it clear that this is less blackmail than it is insurance against what is described as the paranoia of thinking he could be killed or disappeared, but in the context of what the US government has done to others - assassination orders on American citizens, indefinite detention, searching and seizing the electronic devices of those entering the US without warrants - I would call that less "paranoia" and more "reasonable expectation" that harm could befall him.  

    And I still don't understand what Assange's personality traits have to do with the things that Glenn and others have concerned themselves with.  You keep coming back to egomania and the self-serving nature of what he's doing, but that has nothing to do with preserving the rights of journalists and others to disseminate information, even if that information is embarrassing to the government.  And nothing to do with the danger of First Amendment rights being eroded for all of us - unless you believe that it is Assange that has endangered those rights and not the government that seems hell-bent on quashing it in order to protect themselves.

    I don't have any problem having an actual discussion about what Wikileaks' mission and intent are -  but that's not been the focus of your comments; even if it had been, you seem to have dismissed the whole matter by your categorical conclusion that "it's all about him."  What else is there to say to that?  

    I read the essay, but you realize that the essay spoke to the question of what purpose is served by having so much information out there and available, as opposed to whether the coordinated campaign to shut Wikileaks down and demonize Assange serves the goal not just of a more transparent government, but of a strong and well-defined First Amendment that allows for truth to be spoken to power without fear of government reprisal.

    As for this, from the essay:

    One is justified in asking: Will deaths occur as these and other statements are published? We do not know, and we may not hear about them if they do.

    Aren't there other questions that need to be asked?  Like, "how many deaths have occurred as a result of policies and actions that we have not been told about?"  "How many lies have we been told in order to believe that violence and death and destruction have been perpetrated not by others, but by our own government?"


    This comment is completely (none / 0) (#22)
    by observed on Fri Jan 14, 2011 at 11:11:37 AM EST
    unresponsive. It's indisputable that you don't like GG or Assange. It's also inarguable that GG is correct about the Guardian's omission.

    That;s horsesh*t (none / 0) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:12:47 AM EST
    The Guardian decided what to publish and Wikileaks would then "revealed" on its site what the Guardian chose to publish.

    Then you need (none / 0) (#5)
    by jbindc on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:17:15 AM EST
    to take it up with the Guardian - you know, the people who "leaked" the story.

    We take take thir word of their practices or Glenn's word on what he sees as their practices are.


    I took it up with the Guardian (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:18:36 AM EST
    in this post.

    Yes (none / 0) (#7)
    by jbindc on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:19:28 AM EST
    Using articles from 2 weeks ago.  This is their response from today.

    I don't think (5.00 / 3) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:22:28 AM EST
    they add anything to respond to in that post.

    The essential point is the one I made in the story - the story of WL's "endangering" the Zimbabwe figure was a lie to demonize Wikileaks.

    And the people who wrote that, including The Guardian, are exposed precisely because now that they know it was The Guardian they will not write about it again.

    If they really cared about the "endangerment" of the Zimbabwe figure, they would.

    But what they cared about was a chance to attack Wikileaks.  


    A bit more detail....... (none / 0) (#10)
    by trillian on Thu Jan 13, 2011 at 11:36:42 AM EST
    Wikileaks in Zimbabwe, and in the Media


    ....In this particular case, the argument that (A) because the cable hurts Tsvangirai and helps Mugabe, (B) Wikileaks is therefore bad for democracy, and therefore (C) bad for Zimbabweans, is a set of propositions linked together by a lot of un-argued claims. For example, you'd never guess from reading Albon or Richardson that it's not at all clear that Tsvangirai would win a free and fair election, were one to be held, and particularly unlikely to mount a real challenge in the kind that actually will be held....