ANALYSIS: WikiLeaks: the worst crime —Sikander =Amani - Monday, December 06, 2010

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The unbelievable fury with which journalists have reacted to the WikiLeaks files puts their professional integrity and belief in freedom of expression in serious doubt, just as it suddenly gives a new meaning to the age-old complaint of a collusion between governments and the media establishment

The US embassy cables made public by WikiLeaks are creating havoc. Not because of the innumerable deaths the US State Department so dramatically predicted (which are still waiting to occur), nor because of the irreparable damage to international relations and to peace in general, which was supposedly bound to happen after the publication of about 250,000 secret files. As many commentators have noted, most of the information published through WikiLeaks actually confirms political analyses made by scholars or pundits, or even common sense: Iran is a problem, and has generated an Israeli-Arab rapprochement; Russia is a mafia state; meanwhile, the US is concerned about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. Yawn, yawn. Nothing new under the sun. No, if WikiLeaks is creating havoc, it is due more to the bruised egos it has triggered — as well as rewriting the rules of diplomacy and forcing the media to question their methods. Egos of leaders, first of all: Berlusconi is discarded as a useless party-animal, Sarkozy as mercurial and authoritarian, Medvedev as the Robin of Putin’s Batman, Angela Merkel is hailed as uncreative and boring, Zardari as incompetent and corrupt, Kristina Kirchner as borderline psychotic, etc. No wonder Hillary Clinton is scouring the globe trying to soothe these ruffled feathers, though in all honesty one wonders how one can possibly make up after accusing one of borderline psychosis. But that is perhaps where the whole genius of diplomacy lies: to be able to round the edges of even the worst insults. As Caskie Stinnett famously said, a diplomat is “a person who tells you to go to hell in such a way that you actually look forward to the trip”. A lot of that diplomatic genius will be put to the test now.

But the bruised egos were also those of journalists. Now that is actually a whole lot more distracting to follow. WikiLeaks had selected a few international media organs as prime recipients of the files: The Guardian (UK), Le Monde (France), Der Spiegel (Germany), and El Pais (Spain) — The New York Times only got access to the files via The Guardian. These media outlets had signed an agreement not to reveal the files before a pre-determined date, and to release them in a certain order: as we can see, the drama unfolds every day, with all five publications releasing the same news on the same day. All other media outlets are condemned to repeating what has been stated in rival publications. It must be irritating indeed. But lo and behold, what do we see all of a sudden? Bursts of self-righteous indignation from all these spurned lovers about the ethics of publishing the files. A sputtering, red-faced Wolf Blitzer from CNN was beside himself with anger a few days ago, explaining from his divine position of Journalistic Omniscience that “it is amazing to me that the US government security system is so lax that someone could allegedly do this kind of damage just by simply pretending to be listening to a Lady Gaga CD and at the same time downloading all these kinds of documents” and that definitely, the US government, whose interests he was suddenly representing, should “fix the problem” as soon as possible. His ridiculous performance was, alas, merely one among many. All of a sudden, journalists across the globe tried to explain why it was very, very, very bad to publish secret governmental files and why it was very, very irresponsible to let them out in the public instead of leaving us, great and intelligent journalists, decide what should or should not be aired to the ignorant and dumb masses. The Economist remained true to itself, pompous and high-handed, in warning us readers of how the world would probably be a worse place because of WikiLeaks (in spite of its professed stance in favour of liberalism and freedom — but who minds such a minor contradiction).

Sadly, it is not merely professional jealousy that seems to (mis)guide the journalists in their virulent attacks. WikiLeaks blatantly exposes the increasing obsolescence of old-fashioned reporting (though not of old-fashioned analyses), as opposed to new age blogging and direct journalism — WikiLeaks is the meteoroid that will kill the dinosaur. Truth be told, the unbelievable fury with which journalists have reacted to the WikiLeaks files puts their professional integrity and belief in freedom of expression in serious doubt, just as it suddenly gives a new meaning to the age-old complaint of a collusion between governments and the media establishment: why and how could allegedly independent media suddenly become such active spokespeople? The Guardian wryly noted that it is the governments’ task to keep their secrets secret, not the media’s. One could add that disclosure is singularly important in an era when a “democratic government is so hubristic that it will lie blatantly to the entire world in order to invade a country it has long wanted to invade”, in Digby’s terms — we do not need more secrecy, we need less of it. What is amazing is the media’s support of this continued secrecy, in complete contravention of their own stated purpose, which makes us reflect on their real purpose. Glenn Greenwald rightly says in a superb piece, ‘WikiLeaks reveals more than government secrets’, “Our major media stars are nothing more than government spokespeople and major news outlets little more than glorified state-run media...Most political journalists rely on their relationships with government officials and come to like them and both identify and empathise with them. By contrast, WikiLeaks is truly adversarial to those powerful factions in exactly the way that these media figures are not: hence, the widespread media hatred and contempt for what WikiLeaks does.”

WikiLeaks has deeply embarrassed the US and other governments, as well as put most media to shame. What is the consequence? WikiLeaks is being knocked off the net, as the American government is putting massive pressure on its service providers, and is seemingly behind the massive cyber attacks which are currently affecting the website. As of the time of writing, the website was unavailable. Worse, the head of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is being portrayed as the worst criminal in recent history, and several American politicians and/or journalists have astonishingly called for his assassination. The US has become a country where it is okay to call on the extrajudicial execution of a man who has done nothing but expose documents. This is demented. As Glenn Greenwald notes, “After a decade’s worth of American invasions, bombings, occupations, checkpoint shootings, drone attacks, assassinations and civilian slaughter, the notion that the US government can and should murder whomever it wants is more frequent and unrestrained than ever.” The rage which befalls Julian Assange is astounding: more resources are spent trying to besmirch and stop him than any of the great genocidal criminals of the past few decades. If only the US put half as much energy in arresting war criminals as it does in catching Assange, and if the media put half as much intellectual and investigative resources in disclosing the heinous secrets of many an authoritarian regime, the world might not just be a better place, but a less hypocritical one too.

The writer is a freelance columnist and can be reached at

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