WikiLeaks – media or messenger?

A friend asked for my thoughts about the WikiLeaks story based on diplomatic cables… what the NYTimes currently explains is a (treasure) trove of documents offering perspective on US allies and enemies.

I responded: Troubled… I worry that (what appears to be) an indiscriminate use of Freedom of Information Act requests (FOIAs) is abusive and not journalism. It is troubling that regurgitating huge amounts of data without the legwork invested by and associated with solid reporting masquerades as journalism and contemporary media. I think it does a disservice to all true journalists. Good reporting is less about volume and more about substance, perspective and context, and that does not appear to be reflected here.

My friend and colleague, Sharon Stevenson, now an ex-pat who offers a particularly excellent eye on the media, wrote: “To the editors of the unsigned “A Note to Readers: The Decision to Publish Diplomatic Documents” of Nov. 28, 2010:
I’m wondering if stating that “…it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name,” means you are saying that the government should therefore have no right to secrecy about any communication or deliberation. Because that’s exactly what that statement implies. Do you really mean that we the public should have the right to know everything that is done or said “in our name” by government?
If that is so, then I must as an American journalist of thirty years ask if you are advocating that the government should fail, i.e. lose all power to negotiate, lose all power to react to possible threats, lose all power to be considered an ally since all those actions normally have some aspect of secrecy or confidentiality involved?
By not condemning, or questioning at the least, the wholesale dump of cables and in fact enjoying the fruits of readership by their publication, not as part of stories generated by decisions of reporters and their editors to pursue information, but as part of the illegal stealing of lawfully classified secret documents, you are in fact encouraging more of the same illegal thefts of government information and making a mockery of “freedom of the press.”
You are not recognizing that the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) exists for this purpose to make it possible for legitimate members of the media to get the documents they need to better help the public exercise their franchise, the main reason for freedom of the press in the first place, i.e., for the public to be able to cast an intelligent, well-informed vote.
As much as I have admired and certainly daily read the NYTimes, your reputation for me is now sullied, smirched, dirty, and your actions show you are putting monetary gain ahead of the rule of law and the welfare of the nation.
To help you remain consistent, I hope that from now on the NY Times will record and publish all meetings at the top executive levels of the paper and require reporters to videotape their interviews with all sources and put them on YouTube. Because after all, isn’t it presumptuous to conclude that subscribed American readers have no right to know what is really behind the investigative stories which form the bedrock of your freedom of press?”

The questions posed by this (to me) is that there may be less and less definition between news and text/words. Words become jumbles; thoughts become less important to the absolute volume of content.
The absence of real reporting from so many world capitals makes this all the more alarming. As news organizations have retrenched in the new world economics there are fewer feet on the ground and eyes balls on the scenes to report (and analyze) world and political events, offer perspective and interpretation based on a series of observations, variables and reportage.

WikiLeaks is enjoying surging popularity as if it is some upstart or a David playing against the Goliath of traditional media. Dont forget that Goliath plays a daily role, even if not as glamorous a role as WikiLeaks, an organization that has not invested itself in the daily grind, the less popular but oh-so-necessary role of media.

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Author: Peter Shaplen Productions

More than four decades of experience as a journalist, producer, reporter, writer and professor of news, corporate production, crisis management.

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