Reaction To The WikiLeaks ReactionBy
The successive waves of document dumps by WikiLeaks have revealed just how much goes on behind the scenes, some aimed at driving the public to where leaders want to go. I am old enough (barely) to remember the Gulf of Tonkin incidents. Signal intelligence declassified by the National Security Agency in 2005 reveals that Americans were the first to fire (warning shots unreported at the time) in the first incident and the second reported incident – as we already knew – never took place. The USS Maddox took a single bullet hole. No Americans were injured. But records doctored to support claims of a second attack gave the Johnson administration a blank check to escalate the Vietnam war. Nearly 60,000 Americans and countless numbers in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia lost their lives in the aftermath. Because of leaks, Americans did not have to wait forty years to find out about the lies behind nonexistent WMDs, prisoner abuse and government-sponsored torture. Lies and secrecy seem to have a pretty high potential for doing great harm. It’s hard to imagine what greater damage the truth can do.
And now some reaction to the reaction to the WikiLeaks document release.
Beyond the inadvisability of giving unlimited access to diplomatic cables to plainly unreliable employees, the leaks so far have done remarkably little harm to the reputation of the US internationally. But the apparent marshalling of corporate America, assorted showboating legislators and, quite possibly, techno-savvy “patriots” acting as guerrilla deniers of service in an attempt to harass WikiLeaks out of existence may be what, in the end, does the real harm. The country’s over-reaction is looking increasingly like that of a bully who, having had his nose put slightly out of joint, is determined to batter the upstart into a pulp. If America wanted to convince the entire online world that it has no sense of perspective, the past few days have been a triumph. Talk of boycotts is now in the air.
Daniel Ellsberg has already started one:
I’m disgusted by Amazon’s cowardice and servility in abruptly terminating its hosting of the Wikileaks website, in the face of threats from Senator Joe Lieberman and other Congressional right-wingers. I want no further association with any company that encourages legislative and executive officials to aspire to China’s control of information and deterrence of whistle-blowing.
For the last several years, I’ve been spending over $100 a month on new and used books from Amazon. That’s over. I have contacted Customer Service to ask Amazon to terminate immediately my membership in Amazon Prime and my Amazon credit card and account, to delete my contact and credit information from their files and to send me no more notices.
I understand that many other regular customers feel as I do and are responding the same way. Good: the broader and more immediate the boycott, the better.I hope that these others encourage their contact lists to do likewise and to let Amazon know exactly why they’re shifting their business. I’ve asked friends today to suggest alternatives. I’ve removed all links to Amazon from my site, and I’ll be exploring service from Powell’s Books, IndieBound, Biblio and others.
So far Amazon has spared itself the further embarrassment of trying to explain its action openly. This would be a good time for Amazon insiders who know and perhaps can document the political pressures that were brought to bear—and the details of the hasty kowtowing by their bosses—to leak that information. They can send it to Wikileaks (now on servers outside the US), to mainstream journalists or bloggers, or perhaps to a site like antiwar.com, which has now appropriately ended its book-purchasing association with Amazon and called a boycott.
If you’d like to read further analysis of your cowardice, I suggest you see this excellent article by Glenn Greenwald.
Yours (no longer),
The Greenwald post is entitled “Joe Lieberman emulates Chinese dictators.”
David Samuels at The Atlantic:
It is dispiriting and upsetting for anyone who cares about the American tradition of a free press to see Eric Holder, Hillary Clinton and Robert Gibbs turn into H.R. Haldeman, John Erlichman and John Dean. We can only pray that we won’t soon be hit with secret White House tapes of Obama drinking scotch and slurring his words while calling Assange bad names.
Unwilling to let the Democrats adopt Nixon’s anti-democratic, press-hating legacy as their own, Republican Congressman Peter King asserted that the publication of classified diplomatic cables is “worse even than a physical attack on Americans” and that Wikileaks should be officially designed as a terrorist organization. Mike Huckabee followed such blather to its logical conclusion by suggesting that Bradley Manning should be executed.
But the truly scandalous and shocking response to the Wikileaks documents has been that of other journalists, who make the Obama Administration sound like the ACLU. In a recent article in The New Yorker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Steve Coll sniffed that “the archives that WikiLeaks has published are much less significant than the Pentagon Papers were in their day” while depicting Assange as a “self-aggrandizing control-freak” whose website “lacks an ethical culture that is consonant with the ideals of free media.” Channeling Richard Nixon, Coll labeled Wikileaks’ activities – formerly known as journalism – by his newly preferred terms of “vandalism” and “First Amendment-inspired subversion.”
Coll’s invective is hardly unique, In fact, it was only a pale echo of the language used earlier this year by a columnist at his former employer, The Washington Post. In a column titled “WikiLeaks Must Be Stopped,” Mark Thiessen wrote that “WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise,” and urged that the site should be shut down “and its leadership brought to justice.” The dean of American foreign correspondents, John Burns of The New York Times, with two Pulitzer Prizes to his credit, contributed a profile of Assange which used terms like “nearly delusional grandeur” to describe Wikileaks’ founder. The Times’ normally mild-mannered David Brooks asserted in his column this week that “Assange seems to be an old-fashioned anarchist” and worried that Wikileaks will “damage the global conversation.”
The result of this classification mania is the division of the public into two distinct groups: those who are privy to the actual conduct of American policy, but are forbidden to write or talk about it, and the uninformed public, which becomes easy prey for the official lies exposed in the Wikileaks documents: The failure of American counterinsurgency programs in Afghanistan, the involvement of China and North Korea in the Iranian nuclear program, the likely failure of attempts to separate Syria from Iran, the involvement of Iran in destabilizing Iraq, the anti-Western orientation of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and other tenets of American foreign policy under both Bush and Obama.
It is a fact of the current media landscape that the chilling effect of threatened legal action routinely stops reporters and editors from pursuing stories that might serve the public interest – and anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying. Every honest reporter and editor in America knows that the fact that most news organizations are broke, combined with the increasing threat of aggressive legal action by deep-pocketed entities, private and public, has made it much harder for good reporters to do their jobs, and ripped a hole in the delicate fabric that holds our democracy together.
John Grooms of Creative Loafing:
• At the Fox Nation site, nearly every comment on the story by their readers was “This guy (Wikileaks honcho Julian Assange) needs to be eliminated, he’s a traitor, Pres. Palin will put an end to these leaks [this is not a joke], blah blah blah.” Then I noticed the Fox Nation “mission statement,” sitting right there on the site’s front page, which says it is “for those opposed to excessive government control of our lives, and attempts to monopolize opinion or suppress freedom of thought.” Hmm, I guess their idea of freedom of thought only applies to those with whom they agree. Reminds me of late-’70s gay Brit singer Tom Robinson, who sang that the right’s version of “freedom” actually means “freedom from the likes of you.”