The discussion in the Unites States over the legality of Wikileaks, the wondering over whether it qualifies as an enemy of the state, considerations about whether it should be categorized as a terrorist organization and whether the United States should assassinate frontman Julian Assange are shaped almost entirely by the fact that the recent major material made available by Wikileaks has been U.S. material, namely a video of U.S. military murder of civilians in Iraq and a treasure trove of diplomatic communications.
Absent the conversations is how great Wikileaks is for leakers, that is, how much more amenable and effective the site is for leakers than the traditional press. If Chinese citizens or North Koreans or Iranians were dumping diplomatic cables on Wikileaks servers, you can bet Fox News and Sen. Joe Lieberman and Amazon.com would be on a “let freedom ring” pro-Wikileaks marketing campaign to beat the band. Julian Assange would be camped out on Glenn Beck’s chalk board.
Yet what the great denouncers of Wikileaks would miss then as they are missing now is that Wikileaks is the killer application in a realm that used to be exclusive to the biggest mainstream media news outlets. It is email in a world once dominated by snail mail. If Wikileaks were to disappear in a hail of U.S. drone strikes tomorrow, a new Wikileaks would arise. There is already an industry growing up in the major confidential information dump site sector, where news outlets as they exist can’t compete.
Sending your top secret memo of damning information to Wikileaks will get it to the top news outlets, that is, not just national outlets, but literally almost all of the top outlets, in the world! There is no exclusive. The people who will be reporting on your memo will be forced to compete with each other to mine the best material honestly without holding back. If the Post isn’t brave enough to run the meat, the Guardian will be. More than that, the interested public can go straight to the thing itself, sparking the kind of blogger bonanza that mocks the staid group-think that blinkers media insiders, like the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, whose simpleton take is only that Julian Assange “clearly has a beef with the United States” and whose only guess at why Assange is “doing these things” is– well there is no guess, Capehart went on MSNBC Thursday just to say he “doesn’t know” why, can’t fathom it.
Faced with risking your job, your hide, your life to send out information, do you send it to Capehart and hope for the best? Do you send it to any one person or organization, where someone will read it or watch it or listen to it and decide whether it has merit and, if yes, how to present it? Or do you send it to Wikileaks and let the world have at it, no filters, no Capeharts or Capehart editors and publishers who think just like the people they’re paid to watchdog?
As NYU’s Jay Rosen puts it, leakers now go to Wikileaks and they aren’t going to stop because,
the legitimacy of the press itself is in doubt in the minds of the leakers. And there’s good reason for that. Because while we have what purports to be a “watchdog press,” we also have — laid out in front of us — the clear record of the watchdog press’ failure to do what it says it can do, which is provide a check on power when it tries to conceal its deeds and its purpose.
Wikileaks this week and next week and the week after that may be bad for Hillary Clinton and bumbling U.S. diplomats with bad ideas about how to further democracy and our national interests, but Wikileaks is good for people and for democracy and really good for the leak industry. Let the free market in top secret information revelations thrive.
** UPDATE: We’ve reached the point where the United States, bastion of free expression and free press, is blocking access to mainstream news sites — FOX, CNN, MSNBC, HuffingtonPost– because they are writing about Wikileaks. Imagine if China or Iran undertook such a fool tyrant’s errand!