Media Rants: WikiLeaks vs. Corporate Media
WikiLeaks vs. Corporate Media
by Tony Palmeri
WikiLeaks, a kind of Wikipedia for whistleblowers directed by Australian activist Julian Assange, represents a set of journalistic values radically at odds with the values of the corporate press.
According to the UK Guardian’s Stephen Moss, “Assange unveiled wikileaks.org in January 2007 and has pulled off some astonishing coups for an organisation with a handful of staff and virtually no funding. It has exposed evidence of corruption in the family of former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, published the standard operating procedures for the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, even made public the contents of Sarah Palin's Yahoo account. But what has really propelled WikiLeaks into the media mainstream is the video it released in April of a US helicopter attack in Baghdad in July 2007, which killed a number of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters personnel, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen.”
The release of the leaked attack video (called “Collateral Murder”) led to the arrest of its alleged source, US Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning. PFC Manning spent 30 days in a Kuwaiti jail without charges, and now faces court martial for downloading and releasing classified information.
Mainstream coverage of the video focused on the conditions of its release and whether or not Manning and WikiLeaks harmed national security. Those hoping for a discussion of the war’s morality or legality, or whether its architects should be charged with war crimes, were left disappointed.
On its website, WikiLeaks offers a compelling case for its encouragement of “principled leaking.” They say:
“Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future . . . The power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history. The public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions forces them to consider the ethical implications of their actions. Which official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? What repressive plan will be carried out when it is revealed to the citizenry, not just of its own country, but the world? When the risks of embarrassment and discovery increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression. Open government answers injustice rather than causing it. Open government exposes and undoes corruption. Open governance is the most effective method of promoting good governance . . . We propose that authoritarian governments, oppressive institutions and corrupt corporations should be subject to the pressure, not merely of international diplomacy, freedom of information laws or even periodic elections, but of something far stronger — the consciences of the people within them.”
Time Magazine said that WikiLeaks “could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.” New media technology scholar Clay Shirky tweeted that WikiLeaks “has had more scoops in 3 years than The Washington Post has had in 30.” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald writes that there are very few entities, if there are any, which pose as much of a threat to the ability of governmental and corporate elites to shroud their corrupt conduct behind an extreme wall of secrecy.”
That WikiLeaks is on the radar screen of the US government was confirmed in 2008, when a leaked classified report written by the Army Counterintelligence Center placed the site on "the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States." In what is an apparent attempt to intimidate potential whistleblowers, press reports revealed a Pentagon “manhunt” for Assange, who briefly seemed to go into hiding. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration’s policy toward whistleblowers appears to be the harshest in US history.
I see three major differences between WiliLeaks’s values and the corporate press. First, the corporate press would rather talk about transparency than actually make it a central component of journalistic practice. The mainstream press annually promote “Sunshine Week,” but for Wikileaks every day is dedicated to shining light on corrupt governments and corporations.
Second, WikiLeaks has no interest in “building relationships” with power. Contrast that with the White House press corps, a largely sycophantic bunch enamored with shooting hoops with the prez or otherwise being privy to the world of the “insiders.”
Third, WikiLeaks encourages maximum transparency as a means to pursue the end of justice. Since the end of corporate media is profit, it has difficulty shining light on big corporations that might cut off advertising or other forms of support. Do not be surprised if the majority of useful information regarding BP’s actions in the gulf gets released on WikiLeaks before the mainstream press.
Taking on WikiLeaks style values might help restore the credibility of the establishment press. Owners and editors are slowly starting to understand. Case in point: the Washington Post in July published an excellent multi-part series on “Top Secret America.” The series “describes and analyzes a defense and intelligence structure that has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, or whether it is making the United States safer.”
About the WP series, WikiLeaks tweeted: “Real change begins Monday in the WashPost. By the years end, a reformation. Lights on. Rats out.” Let’s hope.