WikiLeaks, Mainstream Media, and the future of Journalism
I’m going to assume that readers of this post are familiar with the WikiLeaks story. If not, I recommend watching the following Chris Anderson interview with Julian Assange at a TED talk in July 2010:
… as well as the following interview with Julian Assange by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now from October 26th, shortly after WikiLeaks’ release of the Iraq War Logs: WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange on Iraq War Logs, “Tabloid Journalism” and Why WikiLeaks Is “Under Siege”. The first part of the interview can be viewed below:
WikiLeaks, Mainstream Media, and the future of Journalism
Rather, I want to specifically explore mainstream media coverage of WikiLeaks, and what it means for the future of Journalism.
The past two weeks has seen the first, sustained, clash between two ages: a new era of complete online freedom and transparency (and all that this entails, good and bad); versus the old world of secrecy, authority and control. And it’s been paralleled in a clash between a new way of doing journalism and the way the traditional, mainstream media does it.
… I have now come to the conclusion that the future of journalism will not come in any shape or form from the current established media – at least in its present form. … the future of journalism does not lie with the mainstream media.
Westbrook authored this post 2 days after he appeared on Al Jazeera with Robert Fisk – a bit of a journalistic hero of mine – on a panel discussing how WikiLeaks is challenging, and changing, the craft of journalism. The video can be viewed below:
I started with Westbrook because his voice is from a younger generation of journalists that looks to the Internet to provide a visibility and transparency that (I believe) was absent from previous forms of media and journalism. Westbrook makes the case that WikiLeaks represents a new form of journalism made possible by the Internet age, and the “complete and utter transparency” that is made possible by the Internet. He contrasts this with an older, more secretive era of both diplomacy and journalism.
Jeff Jarvis has also commented frequently of late on a new “era of transparency”, and supports WikiLeaks efforts in this regard in his blog post from December 4 2010: Wikileaks: Power shifts from secrecy to transparency.
Jay Rosen provides a very interesting angle on the WikiLeaks phenomena in the video below:
Rosen’s line of thought is not so much whether WikiLeaks is a journalistic force for good or evil (so to speak). Rather, he asks the important question of why WikiLeaks as an organization arose as a trusted source for whistleblowers in the first place? Quoting Rosen:
One of the reasons (why whistleblowers trust WikiLeaks with their information) is that the legitimacy of the press itself is in doubt in the minds of the leakers. And there’s good reason for that. Because while we have what proports to be a watchdog press, we also have … the clear record of the watchdog presses’ failure … to provide a check on power …
So I think it’s a mistake to try and reckon with WikiLeaks and what it’s about, without including in the frame the spectacular failures of the watchdog press over the past 10, 20, 30 years, but especially recently.
And so without this legitimacy crisis in mainstream American journalism, the leakers may not be so included to trust an upstart like Julian Assange and … WikiLeaks.
When the United States is able to go to war behind a phony case. When something like that happens, and the Congress is fooled, and a fake case is presented to the United Nations. And a war follows, and hundreds of thousands of people die, and the stated rationale turns out to be false. The legitimacy crisis extends from the Bush government itself to the American state as a whole, and the American press, and the international system. Because all of them failed at one of the most important things that a government by consent can do – which is reason-giving.
That’s powerful stuff.
Glenn Greenwald on Mainstream Media reporting of WikiLeaks
No journalist, however, has done more to expose the conflicted relationship of mainstream media (in the US) and WikiLeaks that Salon’s Glenn Greenwald – who also gets my vote as the top journalist writing for a US media outlet.
It’s hard to even know where to start to cover the excellent journalism Greenwald has done in holding mainstream media accountable for their inaccurries and mistruths regarding WikiLeaks. Here’s just a sampling of my favorite Greenwald pieces surrounding WikiLeaks:
- Wired’s refusal to release or comment on the Manning chat logs – December 29 2010
- The merger of journalists and government officials – December 28 2010
- What WikiLeaks revealed to the world in 2010 – December 24 2010
- The media’s authoritarianism and WikiLeaks – December 10 2010
- The lawless Wild West attacks WikiLeaks – December 6 2010
- WikiLeaks debate with Steven Aftergood – December 3 2010
- The moral standards of WikiLeaks critics – December 1 2010
- More on the media’s Pentagon-subservient WikiLeaks coverage – October 27 2010
- NYT v. the world: WikiLeaks coverage – October 25 2010
- The Nixonian henchmen of today: at the NYT – October 24 2010
Shameful Assange Media Interview award – CNN’s Atika Shubert
But my vote for most shameful Assange media interview of 2010 goes to CNN’s Atika Shubert who (briefly) interviewed Assange in October 2010. First, the clip:
This interview was conducted right at the time of the WikiLeaks’ release of the Iraq War Logs – an event of enormous import. In this interview, Shubert employs (to my mind) the age-old technique of attempting to discredit the messenger when the message is unpalatable. It’s shameful journalism, and Assange was exactly right to walk away from the interview. I thought he handled the situation with dignity and grace.
In Summary – the birth of a genuinely accountable news media?
I believe WikiLeaks sets a new example and ideal for transparency and accountability in both investigative journalism and world affairs. It’s an organization that could not have been born prior to the current Internet era, and its emergence is being resisted by entities – political and journalistic – that for far too long have not been held accountable to public scrutiny. It’s a very encouraging and hopeful phenomenon IMO.