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Respected media outlets collaborate with WikiLeaks

(AP) - 5 hours ago

PARIS (AP) - The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this
week reveal not only secret government communications, but also an
extraordinary collaboration between some of the world's most respected media
outlets and the WikiLeaks organization.

Unlike earlier disclosures by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret
government military records, the group is releasing only a trickle of
documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after
considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share
all of the material.

"They are releasing the documents we selected," Le Monde's managing editor,
Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris
headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it
obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der
Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York
Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan
the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release
publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and
others involved in the arrangement said.

"The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main
stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the
journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material
well in order to write about it," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a
question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. "The
redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and
we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the
process is working."

Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too
sensitive, and "I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the one it likes," El Pais
Editor in Chief Javier Moreno said in a telephone interview from his Madrid
office.

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related
cables. For example, The Guardian published an article Thursday based on
diplomatic cables discussing the assassination of former Russian security
officer Alexander Litvinenko by radiation poisoning, and WikiLeaks quickly
posted three cables on the same subject.

The close arrangement is unusual because it ties the media outlets more
closely to WikiLeaks, and reveals an unusual collaboration with a group
facing a U.S. criminal investigation.

"In this case, what you have is news organizations partnering with an
organization that very clearly has a different set of values," said Kelly
McBride, a journalism ethics professor at The Poynter Institute in St.
Petersburg, Florida.

But McBride notes that the unique collaboration also forces some degree of
journalistic standards on WikiLeaks, which in the past has released
documents without removing information considered sensitive.

New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller told readers in an online
exchange that the newspaper has suggested to its media partners and to
WikiLeaks what information it believes should be withheld.

"We agree wholeheartedly that transparency is not an absolute good," Keller
wrote. "Freedom of the press includes freedom not to publish, and that is a
freedom we exercise with some regularity."

Days before releasing any of the latest documents, Assange appealed to the
U.S. ambassador in London, asking the U.S. government to confidentially help
him determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were
publicly released. The ambassador refused, telling Assange to hand over
stolen property. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Assange's
offer "a half-hearted gesture to have some sort of conversation."

U.S. officials submitted suggestions to The Times, which asked government
officials to weigh in on some of the documents the newspaper and its
partners wanted to publish.

"The other news organizations supported these redactions," Keller wrote.
"WikiLeaks has indicated that it intends to do likewise. And as a matter of
news interest, we will watch their website to see what they do."

While Keller has emphasized to readers that the Times is "not a 'media
partner'" of WikiLeaks and that it did not receive the State Department
documents from WikiLeaks, his public comments describe a working
relationship with the group on the release of the material and decisions to
withhold certain information.

Keller told the AP in an e-mail Thursday that advising WikiLeaks about
removing names and other sensitive details is the responsible thing to do.

"We have no way of knowing what WikiLeaks will do, no clear idea what they
make of our redactions, but if this to any degree prevents WikiLeaks from
carelessly getting someone killed, I'm happy to do it," he said. "I'd be
interested to hear the arguments in favor of having WikiLeaks post its
material unredacted."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said this week there is "an active,
ongoing, criminal investigation" into WikiLeaks' release of the material. He
said it jeopardized national security, diplomatic efforts and U.S.
relationships around the world. He declined to equate WikiLeaks to
traditional news organizations that enjoy certain free-speech protections.

"I think one can compare the way in which the various news organizations
that have been involved in this have acted, as opposed to the way in which
WikiLeaks has," Holder said. He did not elaborate on the distinction he sees
between WikiLeaks and the publications.

Although WikiLeaks has said it will ultimately post its trove online, The
Times said it intends to publish only about 100 or so of the records. And
the other news organizations that have the material said they likely will
release only a fraction.

"We are releasing only what is interesting," Le Monde's Kauffmann said. "I
couldn't tell you the proportion, but the vast majority of these documents
are of no journalistic interest."

She said there was "no written contract" among the organizations and
WikiLeaks on the use of the material.

"The conditions were that we could ourselves - that's to say our journalists
and those at the other newspapers - do our own selection, our own triage,"
and select which documents to withhold from public view, Kauffmann said.

The media outlets agreed to work together, with about 120 journalists in
total working on the project, at times debating which names of people cited
in the documents could be published.

"With this, I really think we have taken all the possible precautions,"
Kauffmann said. "At times, it comes up that we'll discuss it between us,
with the other papers, on some points. One of us struck too much out and
another said 'Come on, it's about a high official, we can leave his/her name
in. There won't be any reprisals.'"

Le Monde and El Pais came into the media partnership late, about a month
ago. The Times, Guardian and Spiegel had already done quite a bit of work on
the documents and shared it, El Pais' Moreno said.

Kauffmann declined to say how or when WikiLeaks contacted the publications
about the documents. They began sorting through the material after WikiLeaks
obtained it.

Some news organizations, including AP and The Washington Post, also have
sought access to the documents, but they were denied because of the
arrangement between the five media partners.

The Post reported this week that WikiLeaks approached CNN and the Wall
Street Journal about receiving the documents and asked them to sign
confidentiality agreements that would have entitled WikiLeaks to a payment
of around $100,000 if the partner broke the embargo. The two news
organizations declined.

Kauffmann of Le Monde said there was no financial agreement with WikiLeaks.

"Never has anyone asked to pay anything, and if they had, we probably -
certainly - would not have done so, because we never pay for news."

Blackledge reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Niko Price
contributed to this story from London.

Copyright C 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

 


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