Wick Communications

Something in between

In Online media on December 2, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Hey, what do we think of this guy? (Is it just me, or does Julian Assange look like the villain from a Batman sequel?) Is he a terrorist, as some with secrets suggest, or is he a journalist of a sort as he would have you believe? This AP story suggests that he may fall in the middle somewhere.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that Assange is the maverick leader of WikiLeaks. That is the Internet-only outfit that has “dumped” hundreds of thousands of sometimes classified documents on the Web for all to see. Some are damning. Some are just damn boring. In my opinion, most of them, while undoubtedly embarrassing to the authors and subjects, simply amplify things we already know. I tend to agree with Michael Tigar, the former Duke law professor quoted at the end of the AP story.

Anyway, an interesting debate has arisen as the United States and other aggrieved governments ponder how to respond to WikiLeaks. Some are suggesting Assange be charged with violating the Espionage Act and that could send a chill down the necks of honest-to-goodness journalists…

Among the questions to consider: Is Assange the leaker, or merely a publisher? Is he entitled to First Amendment protections here in the United States, and, if not, how is what he has done different than the publication of the Pentagon Papers 40 years ago?

These are interesting and tough questions and I suspect that is why it’s taken the United States so long to respond. I bet there is no consensus on just what to do. I’m not of a mind myself. In principle, I’m all for the declassification of the vast majority of documents like this. On the other hand, I think he crosses the line when he suggests openly that he is trying to change the course of governments or bring down banks. That isn’t journalism.

Clay

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  1. While I haven’t quite decided on whether Assange is the leaker, just the publisher, protected by the First Amendment, etc., I do think true journalists have a certain amount of responsibility in what they do report and publish, just as I think they know this. Just because you can, does that mean you should? Sometimes, although infrequently, the answer is no. The value of releasing information needs more consideration than just shock value it will have for readers. While I do believe journalists should fulfill their “watchdog” duties faithfully and hold people and organizations accountable, a journalist shouldn’t begin a story with the sole purpose of discrediting or taking down something or someone, either. Woodward and Bernstein didn’t pursue the Watergate stories with the specific intention of bringing down Nixon nor did the Washington Post publish those stories for that reason either. On a different note, while I haven’t read all the Wikileaks documents, the information revealed in those documents that the media has reported on thus far hasn’t exactly been as earth shattering or in the same league as Watergate. Like the story today: according to cables released by Wikileaks the Mexican Drug War lacks clear strategy. Wow. No way. Now that’s a newsflash. You never would have guessed that reading all the stories about the drug war-related violence, killings and unrest in Mexico that show up in media outlets every other day. And government officials putting a positive spin on the matter publicly in spite of the evidence and what they privately feel? My God. That’s just unheard of. What are they, politicians?

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