I was planning to write about the actual leaks from Wikileaks, but in the past few days I think I have read just about everything that can be said about the leaks themselves and Julian Assange in particular. I find myself uncomfortably sitting on the fence on this issue. Every time I hear or read someone from the U.S., Canada or other government attack Wikileaks for releasing information that in most cases is either obvious, like the fact that Putin is the real Czar of Russia, or that the Saudi and Emirate governments are fearful of Iran getting the bomb, or more often than not, irrelevant like the fact that Silvio Berlusconi is corrupt or that Kim Il Jong is chubby I want to cheer for Assange and the work he is doing in showing that the diplomats of the world’s most powerful nation are more concerned about Little Mosque on The Prairie than they are about trade, tariffs, peace and security. The people who come off badly here are all the U.S. government officials who can’t keep a secret and worse think that the Canadian inferiority complex is a secret to anyone.
I don’t think I have read a single Wikileak in the past weeks that revealed a fact I did not already know or suspect. All of this stuff was readily available from other sources if one took the time to search it out.
On the other hand, whenever I read about Assange the hero of free speech and justice I want to throw up. What is little Julian doing? He’s out there begging for leaks and having them published when he gets hold of them. So far as I can see he isn’t even collating and tossing out the obvious. He’s just sending out huge batches of what comes in to him. I would be far more impressed if he wrote coherent stories that told me what he has culled and deemed important information that he believes we should all know about.
The truth is, everything in the leaks will blow over within a few weeks.
My real purpose here is to talk about the journalism involved in publishing the leaks. There are a few concerns that the leaks raise.
First we should all be calling out the newspapers, radio stations and television newscasters who have published every leak, written profiles on Julian Assange and reported on every reaction to the leaks while writing condemning editorials against Wikileaks. You cannot have it both ways. You can’t sell newspapers with this stuff and then turn around and castigate the perpetrators of the leaks and the four newspapers that published the leaks in the first place. Oh, I guess you can and they do. Hypocrisy has reached epidemic proportions when it comes to Wikileaks.
Second, and the credit for this idea goes to Zbigniew Brzezinski, what should be worrisome to everyone about Wikileaks is that it is open to any government using it to plant information that may be false or that may be used to discredit another country, an opposing idea or a leader that the country dislikes. As the former U.S. Secretary of State points out, as long as the information comes from official sources it is fodder for Wikileaks and the newspapers and broadcast journalists who publish the information. If the U.S. wanted to discredit a foreign leader, all they would have to do is sneak a false report into the Wikileaks people that attached that leader to some nefarious plot or heinous crime. Since the information would have come from official sources, who is to say it is untrue? How does someone fight back against what has become a world-wide slur? As long as Assange and the people who publish the Wikistuff have no way of confirming the accuracy of the material, the process is completely open to abuse by official government sources.
While it is true that governments leak this sort of information all the time in the hopes of furthering their political and economic agendas, Wikileaks has added a new and vastly easier dimension to their official dirty tricks.
The biggest question I would like to ask all of the news editors who made such ready use of the leaks is whether any of them bothered to get two independent sources for each bit of information or leak before publishing. I would also like to know whether Assange and his co-conspirators bothered to check the sources and the facts presented to them.
So far I believe the material is real. I believe it’s real because it is for the most part low level and unimportant information. Sure there are a scant few exceptions, but even they are not hard to believe or a big surprise. Is the U.S. interested in collecting DNA from world leaders? Why not? But now that Wikileaks is part of the permanent landscape, what happens in the future? It is only a matter of time before diplomats, politicians and oligarchs see the opportunity Wikileaks presents and my fear is that journalists will have no defense against being used as patsies for the powers-that-be.