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WikiLeaks Prompts Orgy Of Media Self-Abnegation

Wikileaks

First Posted: 12/01/10 04:34 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:15 PM ET

My blunt-force trauma takeaway from the most recent WikiLeaks document dump of diplomatic cables is that our diplomats seem to be very sharp and candid and detailed in their reporting, and that people of great stature seem to have mean things to say about other people of great stature when their backs are turned. The latter phenomenon is not alien to anyone who had the misfortune of attending an American high school, circa 1919-present, but because the people involved in the WikiLeaks dump are all ranking members of the global aristocracy, Julian Assange must obviously be hunted down and gutted with all deliberate haste!

So say the haters, at least. For my part, I welcome our conquering Eurotrashy transparency overlords. Their next trick, if the rumors are to be believed, concerns the banking industry, and the "prestige" apparently involves some sort of hard drive obtained from Bank Of America. I'm wary of the very real possibility that this release will not get the overpromise/undeliver ratio right, but beyond that minor apprehension, I am in full agreement with Das Krapital's Moe Tkacik, who is "decisively thrilled about this." In fact, I fully endorse these long sentences of Tkacik's responding to the more uncertain Kevin Drum, who isn't sure why the threatened bank disclosures don't give him the same "qualms" as the diplomatic cables:

Okay WHAT ABOUT, Kevin, how we live in a democracy, and how our elected officials passed laws so that the government eventually has to inform the citizenry about how it does things, and no one who who makes his living working for the democracy actually makes that much because we, the voters, decided that would be unseemly, but our politicians and media and elections and central banks and courts and military and legislative processes and universities and Michelle Rhee-endorsed charter schools can all be bought by and outsourced to powerful corporations that abide by none of those rules and pretty much never have to tell anyone anything ever about what they're doing with "our" money, even when it ends up totally destroying the financial system. This dearth of information breeds in turn a dearth of understanding about the operations of the "private" sector, which in turn has bred (among people who, unlike Drum, still have to give the subject more thought) a nauseating mythologizing of wealth and commerce in this country, which is very convenient to the oligarchs who control everything already, but what isn't, the end.

The most curious feature of this latest WikiLeaks dump is how the media has, in general, taken to dumping all over WikiLeaks themselves. It's sort of strange: here, Assange and his compatriots have gone to the trouble of doing most of the legwork and has served up scooplets in the most convenient way possible. You'd think there might be a little gratitude. Of course, if you go back to the overpromise/underdeliver ratio, one can fairly state that it's not like Assange has really served up "The Pentagon Papers ver. 2.0 (feat. Swizz Beatz)." But as the media puts WikiLeaks on blast, it makes you wonder if the current climate would welcome something on the level of Daniel Ellsberg, or if they'd simply order him off to be aerially hunted in Sarah Palin's Alaska. Glenn Greenwald has captured this mood pretty deftly:

Then, with some exceptions, we have the group which -- so very revealingly -- is the angriest and most offended about the WikiLeaks disclosures: the American media, Our Watchdogs over the Powerful and Crusaders for Transparency. On CNN last night, Wolf Blitzer was beside himself with rage over the fact that the U.S. Government had failed to keep all these things secret from him:

"Are they doing anything at all to make sure if some 23-year-old guy, allegedly, starts downloading hundreds of thousands of cables, hundreds of thousands of copies of sensitive information, that no one pays attention to that, no one in the security system of the United States government bothers to see someone is downloading all these millions -- literally millions of documents?...at this point, you know, it -- it's amazing to me that the U.S. 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 C.D. and at the same time downloading all these kinds of documents."

Then -- like the Good Journalist he is -- Blitzer demanded assurances that the Government has taken the necessary steps to prevent him, the media generally and the citizenry from finding out any more secrets: "Do we know yet if they've [done] that fix? In other words, somebody right now who has top secret or secret security clearance can no longer download information onto a C.D. or a thumb drive? Has that been fixed already?" The central concern of Blitzer -- one of our nation's most honored "journalists" -- is making sure that nobody learns what the U.S. Government is up to.

It sure seems to me like Blitzer is suggesting that some sort of preemptive restraint be put on Ellsbergian disclosures and their disclosers, which staggers the imagination. Would CNN stifle a story such as this if it came about as a result of its own enterprise reporting? Surely not, right?

I think that at the bottom of all this kerfuffleage between these well-known media outlets and the snazzy media vehicle that WikiLeaks has become is just the basic conflict between the traditional media and disruptive technology that's been playing out over the better part of the decade. There are extant hang-ups between an old-guard whose traditions have stood the test of time and the landscape they see rearing up in front of them -- a terrain marked by bloggers, reporters with opinions, social media immediacy, and tablet apps. And there is the serious concern as well -- that an old model will crumble before a new model is erected and perfected in time to replace it. WikiLeaks exacerbates all of these tensions -- and serves as a constant reminder that there are truths -- of varying value, let's allow -- that the old methods haven't brought out into the light.

That said, this observation from Slate's Jack Shafer -- a professed fan of WikiLeaks -- is worth noting:

Information conduits like Julian Assange shock us out of that complacency. Oh, sure, he's a pompous egomaniac sporting a series of bad haircuts and grandiose tendencies. And he often acts without completely thinking through every repercussion of his actions. But if you want to dismiss him just because he's a seething jerk, there are about 2,000 journalists I'd like you to meet.

Hah. Perhaps it's simply the media's way of saying: "Julian, in thy orisons, be all our sins remember'd."

RELATED:
How You Can Stop Worrying And Learn To Love This Wikileaks Bank Data Dump, Liberals [Das Krapital @ The Washington City Paper]
WikiLeaks reveals more than just government secrets [Salon, Glenn Greenwald]
Why I Love WikiLeaks [Slate, Jack Shafer]

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