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Alan Rusbridger WikiLeaks Interview: Editor Of The 'Guardian' On The Cables

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We're starting an interview with the editor of the Guardian, using some of the quesitons readers sent in to @HuffPostWorld.

HP: In an op-ed for the Australian newspaper, Julian Assange wrote today:

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media. The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.

Is WikiLeaks the future of online journalism, or will we see a backlash against this type of information flow?

AR: I agree with Assange about the (desirable) trend for journalism that gives sources where possible. At the Guardian we believe very much in the idea of a news organization which links to other sources of information, including source documents. It's useful - and it should help build trust by helping the reader to judge whether the story's true and whether it's been accurately and fairly reported.

HP: Reader @LloydBosch asks via @HuffPostWorld: At the current rate it will take more than 3 years to publsih all cables. What is your actual timeline on this?

AR: We're not remotely aspiring to publish all the cables and there's a limit to the resources that any news organization can focus on any one story like this. So, think weeks rather than months or years. I think WL's original plan was, in time, to choose other media partners for smaller countries which may have been overlooked in the first release of material. So that may play out over a longer timescale.

HP: Can you describe the editorial process by which you decided to publish the WikiLeaks cables? Was there ever a moment when you considered not publishing them?

AR: We've been sifting through them since July, when we first came into possession of the third cache of material. At first we had one reporter, but over time we've added in a number of foreign correspondents and specialists. Each looked at their own area and found the cables that seemed to them most significant. I wouldn't say we ever considered not publishing them as a whole. I can't imagine an editor in the world who would simply have handed them back. I would say that each individual story we've published - if presented to any news organizations as a self-standing leak - would have passed the public interest and wow test. So the question is whether there's something intrinsically wrong in publishing a great number of such stories close together. I don't think there is, so long as they are responsibly handled.

HP: What has the popular reaction been in the U.K. to the decision to publish the cables?

AR: There have been one or two snap pieces of polling which didn't show a strong feeling one way or the other. Some papers have been critical of individual cables released by Assange. Generally, the UK press has been avidly reporting the cables.

HP: Which leak has generated the most reader interest?

AR: If you mean which individual cable: the first day attracted the biggest traffic - though I think there is a huge number of people monitoring events today over the fate of Assange himself. The UN spying story generated a lot of reader interest. Of the individual countries I think Russia attracted the biggest traffic.

Breaking news: a colleague reports: "The inside piece on how the US manipulated climate accord has been the biggest single story. Then the North Korea-China story, followed by Prince Andrew. Russia was pretty big as a package rather than for individual stories catching fire."

So that's scientific, as Julian Assange would say, as opposed to speculation.

HP: Which leak would you consider the most underreported?

AR: They've come so thick and fast that I think we'll all be returning to report many subjects in greater detail. The Middle East/Iran stuff on the first day was fairly extraordinary. But then so was North Korea/ Russia/ Pakistan/ Nato and the Baltics.

HP: One leak revealed that U.S. officials called former Prime Minister Gordon Brown "abysmal," and another mocked the British commitment to a "special relationship" with the U.S. Have these revelations had a strong effect on popular perception of U.K.-U.S. relations, or the U.S. in general?

AR: I don't think the cables reported anything about Brown that wasn't being widely said in the opinion pages of newspapers at the time. It may have been a bit sobering to read the mocking of attitudes to the "special relationship". But maybe that's no bad thing.

HP: Which leak has personally interested you the most?

AR: I found the Pakistan and Russian material most unsettling. Reading the private opinions of Arab leaders on Iran had an immediate fly-on-the-wall quality, even if we suspected these were their views. Prince Andrew was the best gossip. Reading about him swearing about Guardian reporters for having the nerve to write about corruption in the arms trade was quietly satisfying!

HP: Are the WIkiLeaks specific to the technology they use, or is this the same type of muckraking that journalists have always pursued, presented in the currently popular media? Could WikiLeaks exist without Twitter and other social media?

AR: I guess the technology makes a crucial difference in terms of the sheer scale of the material. The Pentagon Papers were from the photocopier age. Twitter and other social media have a massive effect in terms of amplifying the leak and immediacy. And, of course, the technology is crucial to the effective distribution of the cables in a way which makes it difficult to suppress or disrupt. The other difference with old-style muck-raking is that this is raw data. Until recently journalists didn't do much in the way of publishing data. But many of the instincts behind the publishing are shared by journalists the world over.

HP: The big news today is that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been arrested and is being held without bail. Could you respond to this development?

AR: The charges relate to alleged sex offences in Sweden and appear to have no bearing on the original leak of the US Embassy cables, or on the Guardian's publication of the material. We've been told by WL that his arrest won't affect plans for the publication of further cables. Personally, I think it's extremely heavy-handed to lock him up, given that there were people offering up sureties for bail.