Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Report from the Front of the War on Christmas

Check out this special report by Frank Conniff, broadcasting from the front lines of the War on Christmas, featured on last night's edition of Countdown on Keith Olbermann:

Friday, December 03, 2010

Taking a WikiLeak on Your Parade

Anyone watching the news cycle in the past week has undoubtedly come across the story of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. His site "dumped" secret communications between the United States and other countries into the public sphere and as a result the chatter circuit has been literally screaming for Assange's head. Sarah Palin suggested Assange be hunted like Osama bin Laden and Mike Huckabee has called for Assange to be executed. (I think this says less about the severity of Assange's actions and much more about leading Republican's lack of respect for due process.)

But as Glen Greenwald points out in this article at Salon, the anger at Assange is misplaced, inconsistent, and hypocritical. Greenwald writes:
The ringleaders of this hate ritual are advocates of -- and in some cases directly responsible for -- the world's deadliest and most lawless actions of the last decade. And they're demanding Assange's imprisonment, or his blood, in service of a Government that has perpetrated all of these abuses and, more so, to preserve a Wall of Secrecy which has enabled them. To accomplish that, they're actually advocating -- somehow with a straight face -- the theory that if a single innocent person is harmed by these disclosures, then it proves that Assange and WikiLeaks are evil monsters who deserve the worst fates one can conjure, all while they devote themselves to protecting and defending a secrecy regime that spawns at least as much human suffering and disaster as any single other force in the world. That is what the secrecy regime of the permanent National Security State has spawned.
As Greenwald intimates, the outrage seems like a superficial excuse for a deeper offense. For the politicians and governments involved, the anger seems less about any actual security breach or empowerment of anti-American movements and more about Assange's audacity to demand transparency and honesty. Some of the anger is to be expected. Much diplomacy is based on controlling perceptions and misdirection. WikiLeaks is like a friend who gets too drunk during a night out and inadvertantly spills all of your embarassing secrets to the girl you are trying to impress. But to suggest that this is some kind of major security risk, when most of what was exposed in this installment amounts to geo-political water cooler gossip, is rather ridiculous.

But the mainstream news media also appears caught up in this hysteria over the leak. In their case, the outrage seems more like scoop-envy. Traditional media institutions have yet to reclaim the trust of the public after the embarrassing cheer leading session that passed for news coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq. And rather than attempt to recover their credibility in the aftermath, most mainstream media sources have all but blocked out coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan from daily news reports despite the fact that 2010 has been the deadliest year for American troops. Assange and his sources have disrupted the media's complicit silence on this story and reminded reporters and consumers alike that a responsible press must take risks to get at the truth, even if it is unpleasant or damages advertising income or comes with the threat of legal action.
 
Ultimately, Assange is no Daniel Ellsberg, but he's not Julius Rosenberg either. A previous WikiLeaks dump exposed the extent of cruelty and misbehavior by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan but they also included the actual names of American allies on the ground in Iraq. This is an instance where the safeguards of old media would have been beneficial, as they would have been able to disseminate the necessary and news worthy information while also using editorial judgment that would protect sources. And yet, I think the public and the world is much better with Assange and people like him in it especially if hackers and anarchists are the last remnants of a responsible press.