OrgWatch: WikiLeaks promotes transparency, among other things

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The founding idea of WikiLeaks is beautiful in its simplicity, an anonymous repository for government and corporate officials to leak things of critical importance to the voting public. Like wikipedia, anyone can put forth content into the public dialogue, and the organization goes to great lengths to protect its sources.  The organization has facilitated leaks around the world, including the Climategate emails and the Palin email hack.  As The National is quoted on their website saying, “WikiLeaks has probably produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years.”

But a recent leak may have gotten them in the hot seat.  The video below, entitled “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks, is of a 2007 Apache Helicopter Attack in Bagdhad that resulted in the deaths of civilians, including two Reuters news employees.  The issue was that many observers did not find that this constituted a war crime, and found WikiLeaks’ editorializing to be particularly distasteful and misleading.  You be the judge [Warning: it is tough to watch]:

The official Pentagon story is that there was small gunfire in the area, though the founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, disputes that in this interview with Stephen Colbert, who may or may not have stepped out of character to condemn the slant:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Julian Assange

Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

I am empathetic to the critiques made of WikiLeaks; to call it “Collateral Murder” inserts a deliberate subjective opinion onto a purportedly objective piece of media. But what is funny about the whole thing to me is the fact that we accept this kind of sensationalist editorializing in virtually every other journalistic output. Rarely do the loud, outlandish lower graphics on Cable News channels match the objectivity demanded by the profession, and try picking up the New York Post any day of the week. Why should we begrudge Assange for trying to “achieve the maximum political impact” for what is nothing more than a leaked video in a case where the Pentagon was being particularly secretive?

Colbert gets him on this, because the video is slightly edited, but it is light years away from the chopped up 30-second clips that might squeeze past a TV news editor’s desk, if they actually aren’t too PG to show it. However, the fact that only 1 in 10 watched the whole thing should raise some eyebrows about the powerful impressions made in those first two minutes.

I am reminded of a critique I once read about the use of exclamation points by Lewis Thomas, who noted, “If a sentence really has something of importance to say, something quite remarkable, it doesn’t need a mark to point it out.”

I applaud the effort to make transparent the pain and suffering and collateral damage that comes from wars, especially those fought on false pretenses.  That effort is certainly of importance.  It shouldn’t need any slant to point that out (and we all know cable news will jump right in to fill any voids in that department).

So, do you think WikiLeaks crossed a line?  Would it have hurt their effort if they had simply added a question mark to the title, and let viewers and politicians and lawyers make their own judgments?  Is WikiLeaks really a threat to national security?

[Props: Andrew Sullivan]

Posted on April 16th 2010 in news, OrgWatch

One Response to “OrgWatch: WikiLeaks promotes transparency, among other things”

  1. Mark Sharp Says:

    People are crying regarding some informants outed by Wikileaks. If somebody invaded your country and your neighbor worked with occupiers by passing them information, you would not decision him an informant, you would decision him a collaborator, or presumably a traitor.

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