As the second bail hearing of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is about to start, take a look at some of the following Twitter accounts to follow what’s gone on in court so far and what’s happening outside.
Sylvia Kauffman, executive editor, Le Monde: “The arguments against us didn’t last long – people soon accepted this wasn’t totalitarian absolute transparency but that we had been selective in what we published.”
Javier Moreno, editor-in-chief, El Pais: “All in all, it’s been the biggest story I’ve had in my five years as editor of El País, without any doubt. And measured by its international impact, it’s probably the biggest story this newspaper has ever been involved with.”
Emily Bell on how WikiLeaks and cablegate is forcing journalists and news organisations to assess their stance on the leaks and where coverage of it fits into their news agendas:
The idea that this is the first real battleground between the political establishment and the open web is very arresting. It also forces journalists and news organisations to demonstrate to what extent they are now part of an establishment it is their duty to report. Some like the Guardian, which has a long tradition of free speech attached to it, has been at the heart of disseminating WikiLeaks cablegate information.
…It is an excellent exercise for students (and editors) to think through what they would do. Many diplomatic and overseas correspondents one suspects already had a defacto access to the essence of the cables through their relationship with diplomats. Otherwise how are we so unsurprised by their content.
WikiLeaks has ignited a debate about the rights and responsibilities attached to freeing information.It has illustrated that Governments, however well intentioned, do not have the best judgement in terms of what it is right for citizens to know. It has shown that the established media no longer necessarily gets to make that call either, and forces us all to think about the consequences of that shift.
Speaking to Fox News yesterday, Senator Joe Lieberman, who is among WikiLeaks’ fiercest critics, makes very clear his desire to see the organisation’s founder Julian Assange extradited to the US and indicted by any means possible. Or not possible just now, but possible very soon, perhaps.
More interesting than Lieberman’s quite naked desire to prosecute Assange or WikiLeaks, or both, is his speculation that the New York Times may have also committed a crime and may also be subject to some form of prosecution.
That isn’t a great leap though, if WikiLeaks has committed a crime in publishing the cables then surely the New York Times has also committed a crime. It seems likely that attorney general Eric Holder, try as he might, will have enough trouble bringing a case against WikiLeaks. The state has been bitten once already in this kind of fight with the Times and I suspect it will be quite shy about trying again.
More interesting still is Lieberman’s comment toward the end of the interview:
I think the New York Times has committed at least an act of bad citizenship.
Holder can’t indict the Times for bad citizenship – yet – but the charge is an interesting one. It rests, at least in part, on the assumption that the interests and motives of the ‘good citizen’ align with those of the government. The American author Don DeLillo succinctly exposed the error in this assumption in 1988, in response to a very similar criticism by newspaper columnist George Will.
That year Will published a scathing review of DeLillo’s novel Libra in the Washington Post. He wasn’t a huge fan of the book. He called it:
… an act of literary vandalism and bad citizenship.
DeLillo’s novel, which tells of the events leading up to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, mixes fact and fiction in the mold of Public Burning or Executioner’s Song. It challenges the official version of events presented by the Warren Commission report. In doing so it wounded George Will and, in Will’s mind, America too. The New York Times’ publication and coverage of the embassy cables has wounded Joe Lieberman and in Lieberman’s mind, America too. Lieberman makes his feelings plain in the Fox News interview: rather than discuss the possible indictment of Julian Assange in the (relatively) factual terms of breaking the law or not breaking the law, Lieberman whimpers about the “negative consequences” for America, about the country being “hurt”.
It sure looks to me on the facts that WikiLeaks and Julian Assange have violated America’s espionage act, with great negative consequences for us.
He ought to be indicted and then we can ask the authorities to in England to extradite him to the United States. If we don’t do that someone else will come along and do exactly what WikiLeaks has done and that will hurt America even more.
But did DeLillo’s novel hurt America? Will the embassy cables? Are they acts of ‘bad citizenship’? More importantly, is an act of ‘bad citizenship’ a bad thing? Should the newspaper feel chastened?
This was DeLillo’s response to Will:
I don’t take it seriously, but being called a bad citizen is a compliment to a novelist, at least to my mind. That’s exactly what we ought to do. We ought to be bad citizens. We ought to, in the sense that we are writing against what power represents, and often what the government represents … In that sense, if we’re bad citizens, we’re doing our job.
Journalists should, of course be responsible, professional, and transparent where possible, but if the Times did not act as a ‘bad citizen’ in Will’s and Lieberman’s terms, would its journalists be doing their jobs?
Whether or not the newspaper has committed a crime is one thing but this stuff about ‘bad citizenship’, this stuff about America the Brave being wounded by one of its own, is as ludicrous now as it was when George Will said it. The New York Times should pledge allegiance to the truth, not the flag.
[T]he idea that al-Jazeera tempers its editorial content at the behest of the emir of Qatar, who mainly finances it, is possibly as fanciful as the WikiLeaks report that US diplomats believed their South Korean counterparts when they said that China might recognise a unified Korea under the aegis of Seoul. Conjecture does not always meet with reality. Al-Jazeera, in its swashbuckling and sometimes disorganised way, has shown itself quite adept at resisting pressure wherever it may come from.
We condemned Wired magazine for that conduct and the magazine has been oppositional ever since. The two blogs concerned, “Threat Level” and “Danger Room”, while having produced some good journalism over the years, mostly now ship puff pieces about the latest “cool weapons system” and other “war tech toys” as befits their names – “Threat Level” and “Danger Room”.
But Wired.com editor-in-chief Evan Hansen, writing yesterday on the Threat Level blog, clearly thinks the organisation is a force for good in the world, or in the US at least:
WikiLeaks is not perfect, and we have highlighted many of its shortcomings on this website. Nevertheless, it’s time to make a clear statement about the value of the site and take sides:
WikiLeaks stands to improve our democracy, not weaken it.
The simple journalistic truth that underpins probably the largest and most complex reporting exercise ever undertaken by the Guardian is that all the stories emerging from the WikiLeaks material would have been important public-interest stories in any circumstances.
On the Amazon Web Services site the statement says reports that a government inquiry had prompted it not to serve WikiLeaks any longer are inaccurate. It claimed instead that WikiLeaks had violated parts of its terms of service.
In the interview, which is carried out by Time editor Richard Stengel via Skype, Assange discussed the impact of the release so far.
I can see that the media scrutiny and the reaction from government are so tremendous that it actually eclipses our ability to understand it. And I think there is a new story appearing, a new, original story appearing about once every two minutes somewhere around the world.
He also talks about social media, adding that the wider online community has not been as involved in the “heavy analytical lifting” of the data as he expected, this role instead taken on by professional journalists.
The bulk of the heavy lifting – heavy analytical lifting – that is done with our materials is done by us, and is done by professional journalists we work with and by professional human rights activists. It is not done by the broader community. However, once the initial lifting is done, once a story becomes a story, becomes a news article, then we start to see community involvement, which digs deeper and provides more perspective. So the social networks tend to be, for us, an amplifier of what we are doing.