Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why Does The Myth Persist That Wikileaks Is Indiscriminately Leaking Thousands Of Documents?

A few weeks ago, we called out the fact that many in the press continued to falsely report that Wikileaks had indiscriminately released all 250,000+ State Department cables that it had in its possession. In fact, this was the key claim that many have used to condemn Wikileaks and to suggest that it's neither a journalistic entity nor a whistleblowing entity. The problem is, this is false. To date, Wikileaks has only dribbled out approximately 2,000 of the cables and nearly every one has been in conjunction with various mainstream publications and do include redactions of sensitive info.

NPR just got around to correcting the error, even though many of its "hosts, reporters and guests have incorrectly said or implied that WikiLeaks recently has disclosed or released roughly 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables."

And yet the myth persists. It's quite amazing, for example, that the Wall Street Journal allowed famed First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams to publish this attack on Wikileaks as being "different" than Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers (a case for which Abrams represented the NY Times). The crux of the "differences" that Abrams highlights is the fact that Ellsberg withheld four out of 47 volumes of the Pentagon Papers, to be published at a later date, and then says:
Can anyone doubt that he would have made those four volumes public on WikiLeaks regardless of their sensitivity? Or that he would have paid not even the slightest heed to the possibility that they might seriously compromise efforts to bring a speedier end to the war?
As Jack Shafer deftly points out over at Slate, why, yes, it's quite easy to doubt that assertion of Abrams, since Wikileaks has so far withheld much more than Ellsberg did. As Shafer notes:
Perhaps because Abrams listens to too much NPR or doesn't read the New York Times very closely, he's under the misconception that WikiLeaks has published all 251,287 U.S. diplomatic cables it claims to possess. It hasn't, as NPR noted in a correction yesterday. WikiLeaks has released just 1,942 cables, which makes Assange's ratio of released-documents to withheld-documents much, much smaller than Ellsberg's. By that measure, Abrams should regard Assange as a more conscientious leaker than Ellsberg, not less conscientious.
Abrams' other reasons for slamming Wikileaks seem self-contradictory. He complains about the "harm" that these leaks will do, while at the same time insisting many of the documents shouldn't be released because they show no wrongdoing. Again, Shafer debunks this thoroughly:
Does he mean to imply that publishing state secrets can be defended only if they catch the government murdering, stealing, kidnapping innocents, fouling pristine rivers, or betraying allies? It may startle Abrams to learn that the diplomatic process has always been treated as news. Any of the cables now in the news would have made a splash had they been leaked in the conventional, non-WikiLeaks fashion.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dislike Wikileaks. The organization clearly has some serious issues and there are lots of reasonable questions concerning Julian Assange's leadership and focus. But it's really quite amazing how frequently the major media sources out there are attacking Wikileaks based on flat out false statements.

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