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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

WikiLeaks: Is Mainstream Media Having "Buyer's Remorse?"

Recent articles by Bill Keller of the New York Times and Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian seem to expressing if not second thoughts, then at least a measured reappraisal about the long term value of WikiLeaks.

It's not that the basic goals of governmental accountability are bad. Far from it. But the manner in which Julian Assange has conducted his operation has caused a surge of stomach acid in newsrooms around Europe and North America.

No doubt that WikiLeaks has revealed some interesting cables about US foreign policy. This is especially true concerning the war in Afghanistan. But frankly, the news from WikiLeaks is not that stunning or even that consequential.

Assange's hearing in England over allegations that he is wanted in a rape case in Sweden has done much to sully whatever positive effect has emerged from WikiLeaks.

Both the Times and the Guardian have published articles about Assange that have raised doubts about the wisdom of partnerships between mainstream media and Assange.

Tonight on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, John Burns of the Times has added his own perspective from the court in London where the extradition hearing is being held.

Burns notes that Wikileaks has "taken an increasingly polemical stand, at least in the person of Assange, who's very much - WikiLeaks and Assange are, if you will, coterminous. He is WikiLeaks, to all extents and purposes and he has taken to public platforms and declared that his purpose in doing - in releasing these documents is in effect an assault on the United States, which he describes as being the biggest threat to democracy in the world and so on and so forth, and to hasten, if he can, an end to the war in Afghanistan, which puts him in the position rather more of being a politician than of being a journalist and it puts him in a very polemical position which has, by the way, alienated large numbers of his own associates in WikiLeaks..."

WikiLeaks is first draft journalism in much the same way that C-Span and the Parliamentary Channel are. There is a lot there, but it takes mature and seasoned journalists to sort it out. The Times, the Guardian and others have done precisely the right thing in making sense of the documents.

But what seems to be giving MSM journalists hives is the Assange-factor: this somewhat opaque and highly polemical self-promoter who is finally more open about his political attitudes than he has been before.

There will be more leaks, and possibly even more Assange-type characters who will come forward offering journalistic treasures. MSM needs to figure out a way that the next run of  odd and somewhat insecure messengers does not distort the more important and valuable message of public accountability and good journalism.

As journalism strives to deal with allegations of bias, Assange comes out and says that he actually DOES have an agenda. That is unfortunate, and clearly there is a measure of "buyer's remorse" from the two most important English-language newspapers about having entered into this arrangement with Assange.

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