Great video explaining how the Guardian has organised the database of US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks, including how sensitive information is handled and sources protected.
Veteran journalist Sir Harry Evans, the former Sunday Times editor who presided over many controversial investigations by the newspaper, including the Kim Philby espionage case, said this week he would have published the WikiLeaks embassy cables.
He was critical of WikiLeaks though, which he said had not done a responsible job with redacting their leaks.
The full video, courtesy of the 92nd Street Y, New York.
“Whistleblower” – it’s a word that we have used ourselves here at Journalism.co.uk to define WikiLeaks, the site currently publishing batches of more than 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables and at the heart of debate over the rights and wrongs of doing so.
But when news organisations use this word to describe WikiLeaks, what, if anything, are they communicating about the body itself? This is a question raised in an interesting post on Yahoo’s The Cutline news blog, which reports that this issue has actually led to a series of news organisations asking their journalists not to use the word in their reports.
“We’ve had ‘whistleblower’ in some copy but have decided not to use it any longer,” AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Cutline. “Our description now reflects the site’s own name: a website that specializes in displaying leaked information.”
Colford didn’t say whether the AP considers “whistle-blower” to be inaccurate. He simply said that “we think we have a better, clearer description, and that’s what we’re using.”
NBC News spokeswoman Lauren Kapp also told The Cutline that the network was retiring “whistle-blower” in its WikiLeaks reports, even though it called WikiLeaks a “whistle-blower” on last Monday’s “Nightly News With Brian Williams.” Reuters, which has used “whistleblower” since the State Department leak, no longer uses it either. “Our style guidelines ask that reporters not describe WikiLeaks as a whistle-blower,” Reuters spokeswoman Erin Kurtz said.
So what’s the problem? The Cutline looks at the true definition of the term and the impact this could have on a reader/listener/viewer.
The term “whistle-blower” is usually used to describe someone within, say, a corporation or government agency who risks a career to speak out against corruption or fraud. It may just seem like a semantic issue, but how the media describe WikiLeaks can affect public perceptions. A whistle-blower is probably viewed positively, as an individual speaking out against wrongdoing.
Editors note: In hindsight, it makes sense that ‘whistleblower’ is not the most appropriate term for an organisation that is in fact a platform for whistleblowers. But then, “a website that specializes in displaying leaked information” is not exactly the most concise. I think ‘whistleblower’s website’ is a good compromise. Feel free to chime with suggestions though.
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.
… 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.
Senator Joe Lieberman, a good citizen?
Just hours after the arrest of Julian Assange in London, the Australian has published an op-ed piece by the WikiLeaks founder in which he places the organisation squarely among the media firmament:
“Democratic societies need a strong media and WikiLeaks is part of that media”, argues Assange. “The media helps keep government honest. WikiLeaks has revealed some hard truths about the Iraq and Afghan wars, and broken stories about corporate corruption.”
The piece begins with a quote from a young Rupert Murdoch, who said in 1958: “In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win.” A particularly poignant statement, given that WikiLeaks is now in the fight of its life: trying desperately to stay online amid sustained cyber attacks; facing possible prosecution under any law the US attorney general can find to fit the bill; and press coverage of the leaks diverted by the arrest of its founder and editor-in-chief for alleged sex crimes.
The attacks on WikiLeaks have come thick and fast from many fronts, but, as Assange points out in his op-ed, the newspapers that published secret diplomatic cables by its side are not suffering anything like the same treatment:
WikiLeaks is not the only publisher of the US embassy cables. Other media outlets, including Britain’s the Guardian, the New York Times, El Pais in Spain and Der Spiegel in Germany have published the same redacted cables. Yet it is WikiLeaks, as the co-ordinator of these other groups, that has copped the most vicious attacks and accusations from the US government and its acolytes.
Assange goes on to claim that his organisation has coined “a new type of journalism”, which he calls “scientific journalism”.
We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?
His call for journalism to adopt something more akin to a scientific method are not new. It echoes comments he made back in July, prior to the release of Afghanistan and Iraq war logs and the US embassy cables:
You can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results, that should be the standard in journalism. You can’t do it in newspapers because there isn’t enough space, but now with the internet there is.
As he has done for many years in defence of his own organisation, Assange raises the issue of the Pentagon Papers as he closes his piece:
In its landmark ruling in the Pentagon Papers case, the US Supreme Court said “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government”. The swirling storm around WikiLeaks today reinforces the need to defend the right of all media to reveal the truth.
It’s more than a week after WikiLeaks began publishing secret US diplomatic cables but the organisation continues to occupy the headlines. Yesterday Reporters Without Borders claimed that the site had made an appeal for hosting help amid mounting cyber attacks, calling for support in creating mirror sites.
“WikiLeaks is currently under heavy attack,” the site said in a message posted yesterday. “In order to make it impossible to ever fully remove WikiLeaks from the Internet, we need your help. If you have a Unix-based server which is hosting a website on the internet and you want to give WikiLeaks some of your hosting resources, you can help!”
The appeal follows a decision by Amazon to stop hosting WikiLeaks’ site last week and EveryDNS.net to stop providing the organisation with its .org web address.
News also broke this week that the US is considering using US Espionage Act and other laws to prosecute WikiLeaks.
In a Reuters report, US Attorney General Eric Holder is said to have claimed that “there are other statutes, other tools at our disposal”.
The Espionage Act dates back to 1917 and was focused on making it illegal to obtain national defense information for the purpose of harming the United States. Holder described the law as “pretty old” and lawmakers are considering updating it in the wake of the leak.
Today WikiLeaks vowed, via its Twitter account, to continue to release more cables tonight despite the arrest of the whistleblower founder Julian Assange in London earlier today. According to a blog post on the Australian, Assange is also due to be writing exclusively for the paper tomorrow.
Mark Seddon, a journalist formerly with Al-Jazeera, responds to yesterday’s reports on US embassy cables released by WikiLeaks that suggested the Arabic arm of the broadcaster has been used as a “tool of foreign policy” by the Qatari government,
[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.
Wired magazine has had a somewhat fractious relationship with whistleblowers’ website WikiLeaks since the latter rose to prominence.
Speaking at the beginning of October at City University London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange hit out at the magazine for allegations it made about infighting at the organisation.
Later in the month he made further criticisms of two particular blogs on Wired.com:
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 Guardian’s readers’ editor Chris Elliott weighs in on the newspaper’s decision to partner WikiLeaks in the release of the US embassy cables:
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.