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Washington Post Editorial Board: ‘WikiLeaks Differs From Journalism’

Washington PostHow so?

The Washington Post editorial board has determined in an editorial  on Manning’s conviction that WikiLeaks “differs from journalism in methods if not goals.”

The editorial argues:

As a newspaper, The Post thrives on revelatory journalism and often benefits from leaks, sometimes inspired by dissent and other times by spin. The Web site WikiLeaks, which published the raw material provided by Mr. Manning as well as other secrets, differs from journalism in methods if not goals. The Post and many others in print and broadcast journalism sift and check information and take care not to reveal sources and methods or to endanger lives in bringing secrets to light. WikiLeaks and Pfc. Manning showed less care. They spilled classified government data into the open, in some cases endangering individuals who were identified in diplomatic cables. Pfc. Manning had taken an oath to protect secrets, which he broke. No system of secrecy can function if people ignore the rules with impunity; it is reasonable that Pfc. Manning be punished in some way for breaking those rules.

There are multiple aspects of that paragraph worthy of deconstruction.

Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler was qualified by the defense in Manning’s trial to testify as an expert on WikiLeaks and its role in the networked Fourth Estate. His testimony should leave no doubt that WikiLeaks engages in journalism:

Benkler stated that he considered WikiLeaks an “organization that fulfilled a discrete role in network journalism, of providing a network solution to leak-based investigative journalism that in the past was done only by relatively large and unified organizations and now could be done in a network mode.” The media organization gathered “information relevant to public concern” and disseminated it to the public.”

The New York TimesThe Guardian, and Der Spiegel spent “time working both on the relevancy and the dissemination, while WikiLeaks did essentially the gathering, the authentication and the initial selection for dissemination” to organizations doing “further analyses.”

In fact, a 2008 Army Counterintelligence Center report on the possible threat posed to the US Army by WikiLeaks (which Manning was convicted of disclosing to WikiLeaks), suggested the media organization had engaged in journalism when it was about to publish a secret National Ground Intelligence Center report on warfare in Fallujah, Iraq.

Unclassified e-mail addresses and work telephone numbers of the authors and other persons referenced in the NGIC report were listed in the NGIC document, thus making them available to members of the news media attempting to verify the leaked information. Wikileaks.org and some other news organizations did attempt to contact the NGIC personnel by e-mail or telephone to verify the information. Such efforts by Wikileaks.org to verify the information are in contravention to its stated policy not to attempt to verify the information it receives from its sources…

…Given the high visibility and publicity associated with publishing this classified report by Wikileaks.org, however, attempts to verify the information were prudent and show journalist responsibility to the newsworthiness or fair use of the classified document if they are investigated or challenged in court…

Even the Army Counterintelligence Center putting together a report on the presumed “threat” from WikiLeaks could see that WikiLeaks was engaging in journalism.

The editorial board contends thePost takes care “not to reveal sources and methods or to endanger lives in bringing secrets to light,” unlike WikiLeaks and Manning. They “endangered” individuals “identified in diplomatic cables.”

Given that the Post’s editorial lacks specific examples, this point is speculative and tantamount to government spin. Two to three years after the release, either WikiLeaks and Manning killed or harmed individuals by releasing information or they didn’t, and, if they didn’t, they should not be held accountable for what could have happened but did not occur. 

Also, the Post has published slides outlining aspects of the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program, PRISM, which former NSA contractor Edward Snowden provided to the media organization. The Post might contend that it has protected “sources and methods” and not “endangered” lives by bringing these secrets into light, however, there are probably NSA officials and officials in the administration of President Barack Obama that would disagree.

Secretary of State John Kerry bluntly declared in a CNN interview on June 24, “What I see is an individual who threatened this country and put Americans at risk through the acts that he took.  People may die as a consequence of what this man did. It is possible the United States will be attacked because terrorists may now know how to protect themselves in some way or another, that they didn’t know before.”

How does the editorial board of the Post feel about these kind of hysterical statements from United States government officials?

The editorial board has published multiple editorials on transparency and how the American people should have basic information on government surveillance programs. It does not appear the editorial board has addressed claims like Kerry’s specifically.

What the Post wrote ties Manning to the journalism of WikiLeaks. Obviously, Manning had no control over how WikiLeaks published the material. He could only go off their history of publishing information when deciding to disclose information to the media organization.

More significantly, by deciding that WikiLeaks “differs from journalism,” it makes it possible for the Post to ignore the brazenness of the Justice Department’s decision to engage in a grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks.

Former New York Times legal counsel James Goodale, who argued the Pentagon Papers case, has suggested, “It is quite clear that the legal strategy, he, the president, wishes to invoke is to accuse Julian Assange of conspiracy,” Goodale stated. “It is very clear that Julian Assange is a journalist and, more importantly, a publisher and, to say that he conspired with Manning to publish the WikiLeaks, that theory could be applied to any publisher including the co-publishers” like the Times, The Guardian or Der Spiegel that published the documents Manning provided to WikiLeaks.

Obama is trying to succeed where Nixon failed by making the “news gathering entities in this country and reporters criminally liable for what they do when they gather the news. This would mean that the government will define the terms in which reporters and publishers can gather and publish the news, and we will lose that ability to do that ourselves or publishers will lose the ability to do that under the First Amendment.”

Therefore, not only is the Post editorial board wrong when it attempts to define WikiLeaks as a non-journalistic organization, it is carelessly or intentionally helping the government determine who gets to be a journalist and who does not, what organizations are journalistic and what organizations are not and what activities constitute journalism and what activities do not.

The editorial board supports a shield law for journalists, but, just like WikiLeaks was thought to imperil the passage of a shield law in 2010, the media organization appears to be having a negative effect again, as United States senators attempt to define journalists so it would not cover those working for WikiLeaks or any similar organization.

According to McClatchy, the bill being considered would define journalists as persons with a “‘primary intent to investigate events and procure material’ in order to inform the public by regularly gathering information through interviews and observations. The person also must intend to report on the news at the start of obtaining any protected information and must plan to publish that news.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a vicious and outspoken opponent of national security leaks, thought the definition might provide protection to “employees of WikiLeaks.” But, Sen. Chuck Schumer, a sponsor of the legislation, contended it was specific enough to distinguish journalists from those who should not be protected at organizations like WikiLeaks.

This is likely to remain a key hurdle to getting any shield law passed. Establishment media organizations like the Post are hurting their cause by taking a position that puts them at odds with WikiLeaks.

As Benkler said during Manning’s trial, “I would define journalism as the gathering of news and information rather than for public concern for purpose of its dissemination to the public. When I observe an organization doing that, I would say it’s engaged in journalism.” So, certainly, WikiLeaks is journalism.

The Post can take issue with WikiLeaks because of its perceived “goals” or mission (whatever the Post might think they are), however, one might take issue with how the Post finds it must act as a gatekeeper for the United States government’s secrets when the First Amendment carries an absolute right to publish. One might look at how the media organization handled disclosures from Snowden and past national security stories and decide the news organization covers for power far too often, which is why organizations like WikiLeaks can be immensely valuable.

The editorial board acknowledges that “far too much information is classified.” Absent radical shifts and changes in government, there will be a need for journalism from both leaks-based journalist organizations like WikiLeaks and traditional media organizations like the Post. 

The Post should come to grips with its role in the networked Fourth Estate and embrace what WikiLeaks represents.

Photo by danxoneil released under Creative Commons License

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

Washington Post Editorial Board: ‘WikiLeaks Differs From Journalism’

Washington PostHow so?

The Washington Post editorial board has determined in an editorial  on Manning’s conviction that WikiLeaks “differs from journalism in methods if not goals.”

The editorial argues:

As a newspaper, The Post thrives on revelatory journalism and often benefits from leaks, sometimes inspired by dissent and other times by spin. The Web site WikiLeaks, which published the raw material provided by Mr. Manning as well as other secrets, differs from journalism in methods if not goals. The Post and many others in print and broadcast journalism sift and check information and take care not to reveal sources and methods or to endanger lives in bringing secrets to light. WikiLeaks and Pfc. Manning showed less care. They spilled classified government data into the open, in some cases endangering individuals who were identified in diplomatic cables. Pfc. Manning had taken an oath to protect secrets, which he broke. No system of secrecy can function if people ignore the rules with impunity; it is reasonable that Pfc. Manning be punished in some way for breaking those rules.

There are multiple aspects of that paragraph worthy of deconstruction.

Harvard Professor Yochai Benkler was qualified by the defense in Manning’s trial to testify as an expert on WikiLeaks and its role in the networked Fourth Estate. His testimony should leave no doubt that WikiLeaks engages in journalism:

Benkler stated that he considered WikiLeaks an “organization that fulfilled a discrete role in network journalism, of providing a network solution to leak-based investigative journalism that in the past was done only by relatively large and unified organizations and now could be done in a network mode.” The media organization gathered “information relevant to public concern” and disseminated it to the public.”

The New York TimesThe Guardian, and Der Spiegel spent “time working both on the relevancy and the dissemination, while WikiLeaks did essentially the gathering, the authentication and the initial selection for dissemination” to organizations doing “further analyses.”

In fact, a 2008 Army Counterintelligence Center report on the possible threat posed to the US Army by WikiLeaks (which Manning was convicted of disclosing to WikiLeaks), suggested the media organization had engaged in journalism when it was in about to publish a secret National Ground Intelligence Center report on warfare in Fallujah, Iraq.

Unclassified e-mail addresses and work telephone numbers of the authors and other persons referenced in the NGIC report were listed in the NGIC document, thus making them available to members of the news media attempting to verify the leaked information. Wikileaks.org and some other news organizations did attempt to contact the NGIC personnel by e-mail or telephone to verify the information. Such efforts by Wikileaks.org to verify the information are in contravention to its stated policy not to attempt to verify the information it receives from its sources…

…Given the high visibility and publicity associated with publishing this classified report by Wikileaks.org, however, attempts to verify the information were prudent and show journalist responsibility to the newsworthiness or fair use of the classified document if they are investigated or challenged in court…

Even the Army Counterintelligence Center putting together a report on the presumed “threat” from WikiLeaks could see that WikiLeaks was engaging in journalism.

The editorial board contends it takes care “not to reveal sources and methods or to endanger lives in bringing secrets to light,” unlike WikiLeaks and Manning. They “endangered” individuals “identified in diplomatic cables.”

Given that the Post’s editorial lacks specific examples, this point is speculative and tantamount to government spin. Two to three years after the release either WikiLeaks and Manning killed or harmed individuals by releasing information or they didn’t, and, if they didn’t, they should not be held accountable for what could have happened but did not. (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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