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GLOBAL-L December 2010

Subject:

The media's authoritarianism and WikiLeaks/ Salon

From:

Lucy Komisar <[log in to unmask]>

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[log in to unmask]

Date:

Mon, 13 Dec 2010 14:24:55 -0500

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<http://sacdcad01.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/click_lx.ads/www.salonmagazine.com
/news/topic.html/1753520644/TopLeft/default/empty.gif/523666366f557a4a767a73
4143746f62>
http://sacdcad01.salon.com/RealMedia/ads/Creatives/default/empty.gif

 


WikiLeaks <http://www.salon.com/news/wikileaks/index.html>


Friday, Dec 10, 2010 09:43 ET SALON

 <http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/index.html>
http://www.salon.com/img/squib/glenn_greenwald.pngGlenn
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/index.html> Greenwald


The
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/10/wikileaks_medi
a/index.html> media's authoritarianism and WikiLeaks


By Glenn Greenwald <http://www.salon.com/author/glenn_greenwald/index.html>


*

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

After I highlighted the multiple factual inaccuracies in
<http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2035994,00.html> Time's
WikiLeaks article yesterday (see Update
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/08/wikileaks/inde
x.html> V) -- and then had an email exchange with its author, Michael
Lindenberger -- the magazine has now appended to the article what it is
calling a "correction." In reality, the "correction" is nothing of the
sort; it is instead a monument to the corrupted premise at the heart of
American journalism.

* Continue
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/10/wikileaks_medi
a/index.html> reading

Initially, note that Time has refused to correct its blatantly false claim
that WikiLeaks has published "thousands of classified State Department
cables" and posted "thousands of secret diplomatic cables" when, in reality,
they've posted <http://213.251.145.96/cable/2008/01/08MADRID6.html> only
1,269 of the more than 250,000 cables they possess: less than 1/2 of 1 %.
It's true that they provided roughly 251,000 cables to five newspapers, but
they have only "posted" and "published" roughly 1,200 of them. Time just
decided to leave that statement standing even knowing it is factually false.

More significant is the "correction" itself. It applies to Time's clearly
false claim of "a distinction between WikiLeaks' indiscriminate posting of
the cables . . . and the more careful vetting evidenced by The New York
Times." That is false because WikiLeaks' release of cables had not been
"indiscriminate" in any sense of the word. As this AP article
<http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i0Vruimmvy8loGklsz34QyGDK
MDA?docId=120c7bf5d3a34dbaadf1280dace2e456> documents -- and as a casual
review of its site independently proves -- WikiLeaks has done very little
other than publish the specific cables that have been first released by
newspapers around the world, including with the redactions applied by those
papers.

So did Time correct its false statement by acknowledging its unquestionable
falsity and pointing to the evidence disproving it? Of course not.
Instead, they merely noted this at the bottom of the article: "Correction:
The story has been amended to reflect the fact that Assange rejects claims
that WikiLeaks has 'indiscriminately' dumped documents on its site." They
also added to the body of the article a sentence noting that "claims that
Assange has simply dumped the documents without reviewing them, much like a
traditional editor would, have been disputed" because "Assange himself told
TIME that each diplomatic cable his site has published has been vetted by
his own team or by the editors of newspapers with whom he has shared the
documents."

In other words, the most Time is willing to do -- when forced by public
complaints -- is note that "some" people (i.e., Assange) "dispute" the
Government's accusatory claims of "indiscriminate" document dumping, ones
uncritically amplified by Time and countless other media outlets. The most
they're willing to do now is convert it into a "they-said/he-said" dispute.
But what they won't do -- under any circumstances -- is state clearly that
the Government's accusations are false, even where, as here, they
unquestionably are. Anticipating that this would be the "correction" they
issued, I even emailed Lindenberger before it was posted and wrote:

One thing, while I have you - the appropriate correction needed is **not** a
he-said-/he-said formulation ("we said 'indiscriminate,' but Assange denies
this").

That WikiLeaks has (with a handful of exceptions) published ONLY what other
newspapers first published is a VERIFIABLE FACT. AP reported it, and all you
have to do is look on its website to see that virtually all the cables
published were ones first published by the five partner newspapers.

To say "some say 'indiscriminate' while Assange denies this" as a correction
is misleading. As a journalist, you should tell your readers the verifiable
FACT: that virtually all of the cables published thus far by [WikiLeaks]
were first published by these newspapers.

What was vital here was to have Time state clearly that the claim of
"indiscriminate" dumping of cables is factually false -- not merely that
Assange disputes it. That could then be used to quash this lie each time it
appears in other venues. Of course, all of that fell on deaf ears, because
my demand required that Time do exactly that which establishment media
outlets, by definition, will rarely do: state clearly when the facts
contradict -- negate -- claims by those in political power, especially when
the target of the false claims is a demonized outsider-of-Washington faction
like WikiLeaks.

The same exact thing happened when Time was finally forced in 2007 to issue
a "correction" to Joe Klein's factually false statement (which he was told
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2007/11/29/tribune/print.
html> by GOP Rep. Pete Hoekstra) that the Democrats' FISA bill "would give
terrorists the same legal protections as Americans." Rather than admit what
was 100% clear -- that Klein's statement was categorically false --
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2007/11/28/new_correction
/index.html/print.html> Time instead merely noted in its "correction" that
"Republicans believe it can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't."

That was Time's "correction" to a factually false statement -- some say yes
and some say no: who are we to say which is true? we're just "journalists"
-- and that's what they just did again in the WikiLeaks case (by contrast,
The Chicago Tribune, which had run Klein's original Time story, issued
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2007/11/29/tribune/print.
html> a clear correction: "A Time magazine essay by Joe Klein that was
excerpted on the editorial page Wednesday incorrectly stated that the House
Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act would
require a court approval of individual foreign surveillance targets. It does
not" -- that's what a genuine correction looks like).

The reason this matters so much is because this falsehood is at the center
of both the propaganda war against WikiLeaks and the efforts to criminally
prosecute it by claiming it is not engaged in journalism. Almost every
radio and television show I've done over the last ten days concerning
WikiLeaks -- and most media accounts I read -- have featured someone,
somewhere, touting this lie, usually without contradiction: that WikiLeaks
has indiscriminately dumped thousands of cables, whereas newspapers have
only selectively published some.

As I wrote yesterday, WikiLeaks has every right to publish more cables than
these newspapers decide to publish, and even to publish all of them -- if it
does that, that won't change the legal issues one iota -- but since they
haven't done that, media outlets have a responsibility not only to refrain
from saying they have, but to state clearly that those who make this claim
are spouting falsehoods. That's what "journalism" is supposed to be:
stating what the facts are for one's readers and viewers. Time's
"correction" explicitly refuses to do that (though the magazine's response
is at least mildly better than the gross irresponsibility of The New
Republic, which published at least two columns promoting this falsehood --
one by James Rubin
<http://www.tnr.com/article/politics/79531/the-irony-wikileaks-american-dipl
omacy-hard-left> and the other by
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/07/wikileaks/inde
x.html> Todd Gitlin -- and then did nothing other than publish a piece by
Gitlin
<http://www.tnr.com/blog/foreign-policy/79780/response-glenn-greenwald>
days later which devotes a couple of paragraphs to insisting he bears no
responsibility whatsoever for his factually false statements and then the
rest of the piece to attacking me for pointing them out).

* * * * *

Beyond the need to destroy this pervasive zombie lie about WikiLeaks'
conduct in the diplomatic cables disclosure, the broader point here is
crucial: the media's willingness to repeat this lie over and over
underscores its standard servile role in serving government interests and
uncritically spreading government claims. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen
has an excellent analysis today
<http://pressthink.org/2010/12/from-judith-miller-to-julian-assange/>
documenting how, in the wake of 9/11, they dropped all pretenses of checking
those in political power and instead began explicitly proclaiming -- as The
New York Times' chief stenographer and partner-of-Judy-Miller, Michael
Gordon, suggested -- that "capturing the dominant view within the government
was the job [of journalists], even if that view was wrong." As Rosen writes,
"our press has never come to terms with the ways in which it got itself on
the wrong side of secrecy as the national security state swelled in size
after September 11th," and thus: "To understand Julian Assange and the weird
reactions
<http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/12/the-shameful-attac
ks-on-julian-assange/67440/> to him in the American press we need to tell a
story that starts with Judy Miller and ends with Wikileaks."

That's why this cannot-be-killed lie about WikiLeaks' "indiscriminate"
dumping of cables has so consumed me. It's not because it would change much
if they had done or end up doing that -- it wouldn't -- but because it just
so powerfully proves how mindlessly subservient the American establishment
media is: willing to repeat over and over completely false claims as long as
it pleases the right people -- the same people to whom they claim they are
"adversarial watchdogs." It's when they engage in such clear-cut,
deliberate propagandizing that their true function -- their real identity --
is thrown into such stark relief.

Just to underscore this point a bit further, consider this remarkable (and
remarkably good) Editorial from
<http://m.guardian.co.uk/ms/p/gnm/op/si1Qgy7aABGsPSkOd_cicLg/view.m?id=15&gi
d=commentisfree/2010/dec/10/cyber-attacks-payback-time-editorial&cat=world>
The Guardian yesterday, which not only vehemently defends WikiLeaks, but --
extraordinarily -- also justifies the "denial of service" attacks from
anonymous individuals around the world aimed at various companies serving
the Government's war on WikiLeaks by depriving them of all services
(MasterCard, Amazon, Paypal, etc.):

These companies all considered that their association with WikiLeaks damaged
their brand image, a reflection prompted in some cases by a helpful call
from the US state department. In essence they are trying to have it both
ways: pretending in their marketing that they are free spirits and enablers
of the cyber world, but only living up to that image as long as they don't
upset anyone really important. . . . .

The hacktivists of Anonymous may be accused of many things - such as
immaturity or being run by a herd instinct. But theirs is the cyber
equivalent of non-violent action or civil disobedience. It disrupts rather
than damages. In challenging the credit card companies and the web hosts in
this way, they are reminding these businesses that their brand reputation
relies not only on how the state department sees them, but also on how they
maintain their independence in the eyes of their users. . . .

In times when big business and governments attempt to monitor and control
everything, there is a need as never before for an internet that remains a
free and universal form of communication. WikiLeaks' chief crime has been to
speak truth to power. What is at stake is nothing less than the freedom of
the internet. All the rest is a sideshow distracting attention from the real
battle that is being fought. We should all keep focus on the true target.

The damage caused by the "denial of service" attacks on these companies has
been trivial. Even a CNN article today
<http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/12/09/wikileaks.cyber.attacks/index
.html> -- which absurdly asks in its headline: "Is WikiLeaks engaged in
'cyber war'?" -- quotes Bruce Schneier comparing "the pro-WikiLeaks attacks
on MasterCard and Visa to a bunch of protesters standing in front of an
office building, refusing to let workers in. It's annoying, but it didn't
shut down the operation." It was basically an act of civil disobedience --
aimed at protesting the collusive role these corporations played in trying
to punish WikiLeaks despite no finding of wrongdoing -- which caused
virtually no real damage.

Despite all that, it is impossible to conceive of any establishment media
outlet in the U.S. uttering a peep of support for what those protesters did.
The immediate consensus in the American political and media class was that
these activists were engaged in pure, unmitigated destruction -- even evil
-- and should be severely punished. That's because the greatest sin in our
political culture is doing anything other than meekly submitting even to
assertions of lawless and thuggish government and corporate power. If the
Government and the largest corporations collaborate to lawlessly destroy
WikiLeaks for the crime of engaging in threatening journalism, then you
simply write polite letters to Congress or complain on your blog; what you
don't do under any circumstances is resist or fight back using even symbolic
gestures of disobedience. That's the authoritarian mentality pervading --
defining -- not only the establishment media but (as a result) much of the
citizenry.

Just contrast the angry denunciations over these activists' simplistic,
relatively innocuous denial of service attacks, with the apathy toward (or
even support for) the
<http://mashable.com/2010/12/03/everydns-dns-wikileaks/> far more
sophisticated and damaging "cyber attacks" launched at WikiLeaks, which
resulted in their permanent removal from any recognizable URL (and now can
only be found through some impossible-to-remember numerical address; added:
they are also now at wikileaks.ch). Whoever was responsible for those
attacks aimed at WikiLeaks -- even if it were a government agency -- is
acting every bit as lawlessly as the adolescent (though well-intentioned)
activists responsible for shutting down MasterCard's website for a few
hours. But it is only the latter transgressions that trigger any real anger.

Identically, note how few object to the fact that the DOJ is investigating
the pro-WikiLeaks attacks
<http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-09/holder-says-u-s-is-looking-into-wi
kileaks-tied-cyber-attacks.html> , but not -- of course -- the ones directed
at WikiLeaks. That's because we collectively believe -- with the
establishment media leading the way -- that the most powerful authorities
have the unfettered right to do whatever they want to anyone who is
sufficiently demonized as Bad, while the worst sin is to do anything outside
of approved (i.e., impotent) means to protest establishment power and
authority, no matter how destructive and criminal the ends are to which that
power and authority is being applied.

This is the same mentality that expresses such self-righteous
<http://www.tnr.com/blog/foreign-policy/79780/response-glenn-greenwald>
outrage
<http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/01/wikileaks/inde
x.html> over the mere prospect that disclosures of the truth by WikiLeaks
might hypothetically one day lead to the death of a single innocent person,
while barely uttering any real anger over the massive numbers of innocents
actually being killed right now by the U.S. Government. And it's the same
mentality that purports to acknowledge the massive secrecy abuses, deceit
and pervasive crimes of the U.S. Government, while demanding
<http://whoisioz.blogspot.com/2010/12/yglesias-vs-yglesias-hamster-cage-matc
h.html> that one of the very few people who apparently risked something to
do anything meaningful to stop all of that -- Bradley Manning -- be severely
punished, or that Julian Assange be punished. This is authoritarianism in
its classic form -- an instinctively servile loyalty to power even when it
is acting corruptly, lawlessly and destructively -- and it finds its purest
and most vigorous expression in those who most loudly claim devotion to
checking it: our intrepid adversarial journalists.

 

UPDATE: For a slightly different but related service the establishment
media dutifully provides to the Government, see this excellent Marcy Wheeler
post from today
<http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/2010/12/10/hatfill-and-wen-ho-lee-and-pla
me-and-al-awlaki-and-assange/> , entitled: "Hatfill and Wen Ho Lee and
Plame and al-Awlaki and Assange."

 

UPDATE II: CNN today spewed pure, absurd fear-mongering against WikiLeaks
<http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2010/12/more-journalistic-malpractice-ali.ht
ml> ; Assange really is their new Saddam Hussein and WikiLeaks their new
WMD. And just to underscore the contrast between how media outlets around
the world behave, the French newspaper Liberation -- a mainstream
center-left publication -- announced today
<http://www.liberation.fr/making-of/01012307421-liberation-abrite-wikileaks>
that it was creating a "mirror-WikiLeaks" site and hosting it on their
paper's website (its mirror site is here <http://wikileaks.liberation.fr/>
). It is even possible to conceive of a mainstream American newspaper doing
that?

 

UPDATE III: The New York Times has a new article
<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/10/world/europe/10wikileaks-react.html?_r=2&
src=me&ref=world> which, in the first paragraph, takes note of these facts:

For many Europeans, Washington's fierce reaction to the flood of secret
diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks displays imperial arrogance and
hypocrisy, indicating a post-9/11 obsession with secrecy that contradicts
American principles.

You don't say. Along those lines, former Bush OLC official Jack Goldsmith
today said <http://www.lawfareblog.com/2010/12/seven-thoughts-on-wikileaks/>
he agrees "with those who think Assange is being unduly vilified" and,
further, is unable to see how WikiLeaks' conduct can be distinguished from
either that of The New York Times (both in this leak and past ones), as well
as "Bob Woodward, [who], with the obvious assistance of many top Obama
administration officials, disclosed many details about top secret programs,
code names, documents, meetings, and the like." He adds, with great
understatement: "the U.S. government reaction to WikiLeaks is more than a
little awkward for the State Department's Internet Freedom initiative."

* More: Glenn <http://www.salon.com/author/glenn_greenwald/index.html>
Greenwald

 


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