The drama around the publication of 75,000 U.S. military documents by the Web site known as Wikileaks has left me with one impression, above all. It has to do with the relative reliability of the mainstream media and the Internet.
After all, the supporters of the mainstream media as the only reliable source of information have long denigrated the Internet because their stories are not fact-checked, not edited, as they are before getting into a newspaper or on the CNN, BBC or the CBC.
Not reliable? In comparison to what, has always been my question. The mainstream media itself is unreliable: what’s the difference?
During the run-up to the Iraqi and Afghanistan invasions, the mainstream media has been nothing but a cheerleader in the government’s corner. It has been established that the government told lies to encourage the nation to accept war. The mainstream media has, by and large, swallowed those lies and continued to propagate them, even after they had been revealed to be lies. Reliable? In a pig’s eye.
So, in such a situation, surely it behooves everyone to welcome the publication of as many official documents as possible. Especially those marked “Secret.” Governments will keep anything secret to cover their own asses.
But I notice from the press in the last few days that they are still denigrating the Internet disclosures as showing that they do not respect the law and are reckless with people’s lives. Not so: apparently Wikileaks withheld 15,000 documents because the information in them might have put individuals in danger.
That the Wikileaks documents are authentic is attested to by the fact they have not been denied by government, and by the equally interesting fact that such media giants as the New York Times, The Guardian in Britain, and Der Spiegel in Germany have checked the information against the work of their own reporters, and have devoted huge areas of space (six whole pages in one issue of the New York Times) to stories based on the links.
This is startling indeed: Why did the mainstream newspapers have to rely on amateur sleuths to uncover information that is essential to creating a public informed about what is being done in their name? The whole thing, in my view --- which I am sure is not shared by many --- is a huge black eye for the sycophantic mainstream media, with all its sacred shibboleths about freedom of expression, respect for privacy, respect for the law, and concern about the safety of officials.
Robert Parry, on Consortium.com writes that the Wikileaks documents “illustrate in mosaic detail why, after the United States has spent almost $300 billion on the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban are stronger than at any time since 2001…. (They) sketch a war hamstrung by an Afghan government, police force and army of questionable loyalty and competence, and by a Pakistani military that appears at best uncooperative and at worst to work from the shadows as an unspoken ally of the very insurgent forces the American-led coalition is trying to defeat.”
Julian Assange, the former teenage hacker who founded and runs Wikileaks, said this week he hoped his website would be dangerous to "people who want to conduct wars in an abusive way."
"This material doesn't just reveal occasional abuse by the U.S. military," he told CNN. "Of course it has U.S. military reporting on all sort of abuses by the Taliban. ... So it does describe the abuses by both sides in this war, and that's how people can understand what's really going on and if they choose to support it or not."