Sunday, December 12, 2010

DailyKos Recognizes That Wikileaks Info Is "Nothing Special"

Finally, among all the voices that keep gushing about how much the super-duper-crucial revelations coming from Wikileaks changed the world, honest achnowledgements are starting to appear of the very obvious fact that these so-called earth-shattering revelations didn't really reveal anything at all. On this blog, I have asked both the admirers and the detractors of Julian Assange to give me some information about what was so new in these leaks. As of now, nobody has been able to offer anything in response.

tell us nothing we didn't already know about way the United States shoves around other players at the world table, [. . .] the documents themselves are nothing special.
The article then goes to argue that even though the information "revealed" by Wikileaks was old news, it was still important for it to come out of yet another source. You can follow that argument on the DailyKos website, if you are interested. What interests me, though, is that the this entire hullabaloo over Wikileaks is at last getting to the point where we stop gushing and start analzying. DailyKos has acnowledged the basic uselessness of the Wikileaks documents and is trying to salvage the whole project through some inventive verbal acrobatics. For now, the only argument in defense of Wikileaks' abiding importance is that if the US government doesn't like it, it must be good and helpful to the liberal cause (or bad and unhelpful to the conservative cause.)

I will let my readers ponder the fallacies of this kind of logic on their own.


zunguzungu said...

To offer only one of the many examples of things we now know, the cables revealed that the US was deeply involved in pressuring Ethiopia to invade Somalia in 2006, a disastrous and basically criminal act which has cost an incalculable cost in human life and suffering. The US has denied that we were behind it (even though a lot of people then presumed them to be lying) but now we have strong proof.

See here, for example:

Details of what we knew about the coup in Honduras, too, are pretty damning evidence that the Obama administration's interest in democracy in the region is pretty superficial, and I could go on listing examples if I felt like it would do any good.

I'm not sure it will. I have a blog post where I list some of the revelations from the cables that we've gotten so far, but what I've found is that most of the people (I speak in general, not about you in particular) who insist on how unimportant the cable revelations have been are, in fact, supremely uninterested in actually bothering to read them. IT takes work to analyze them, but most of the MSM has had zero inclination to do that work, which is why they'd rather make sweeping generalizations. "Earthshattering" or "Nothing New" are both hyperbolic extremems, whereas the truth is somewhere in between: the leaks do more to fill in gaps in knowledge rather than reveal utterly unknown new revelations, but the gaps they fill in are in many cases quite important. You have to spend some time scouring to find all the ways the leaks are having real impacts in global governance (Spain's new copyright laws, for instance) but it's happening.

You can argue that the things we've learned are not as important as people in wikileaks or its most fervent defenders say, and you're probably right. But the idea that wikileaks "didn't really reveal anything at all" is just wrong, manifestly and comprehensively wrong.

Z said...

Well, I'm not a liberal and I never really understand the logic of sites like DailyKos and HuffPo. But if the stuff's not important, then I guess everyone can stop worrying.

DJ said...

"For now, the only argument in defense of Wikileaks' abiding importance is that if the US government doesn't like it, it must be good and helpful to the liberal cause (or bad and unhelpful to the conservative cause.)"

I'm sorry if my comments on the earlier threads were unclear, but this is not the only defense for the existence of WikiLeaks, and is (as you note) far from the best.

The main argument for the existence of WL being a net positive is that the media has shown it no longer has the capacity and/or drive to handle critical investigations of the nation's elite. Most people have agreed from the start that there is little revelatory information in the current batch of releases (the U.S. bombings in Yemen being the most noteworthy), but what's much more important is that it shows WL can act as an organized release valve for secret information that people with access want released to the public, even in a country as powerful as the U.S. Episodes in our history such as the release of the Pentagon Papers should be sufficient evidence that such a release valve is necessary at all times.

To argue it another way, if Assange is being truthful about possessing documents relating to a certain bank's general malfeasance, and he releases them, we may all start seeing WikiLeaks in a different, and more useful, light. That possibility is what's important, and the fact the cables that started this hubbub are not particularly insightful does not argue against this possibility.

Z said...

Evidence is always good. Of course I knew what the Obama administration's reaction to the Honduras coup would probably be, and was not surprised I was right; it is normal enough practice to OK coups with the US ahead of time, so the Administration's prior involvement isn't a surprise, but evidence is good.

Lots of Americans don't know this is an imperialist country, and lots of other do know it and like it. Still, it doesn't mean they and the world don't need info ... yes governments operate in secrecy but if it's also in iniquity they deserve to be found out!!!

KT said...

Clarissa, there is so much in the leaks that change the way we look at the world, even if they say things that we already suspected. I'll use Nigeria as an example.

One of the diplomatic cables show that while speaking with US officials, Ann Pickard, then Shell’s vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa boasted that Shell has shills in ALL aspects of the Nigerian government and that they know and control all policies regarding the oil industry. For a long time, this has only been suspected, and people like Ken Saro Wiwa have been executed on fabricated facts planted by Shell and their agents who continue to exploit the Niger Delta and its oil.

In the second batch of cables concerning Nigeria, we find that Pfizer, "The world's biggest pharmaceutical company hired investigators to unearth evidence of corruption against the Nigerian attorney general in order to persuade him to drop legal action over a controversial drug trial involving children with meningitis" (Find the news here:

The point I'm making here is that - more than just what it shows us about American diplomacy, the leaked cables also shows so many other things the knowledge of which has made us more empowered to act in certain ways, or at least to right the wrongs of the past. Now Shell and Pfizer have some more explanation to do.

Bottomline: it WAS revolutionary to have the cables published, and it has changed the way we look at the world, not just the United States or its foreign policy.

Clarissa said...

More and more people are recognizing the Wikileaks for exactly what they are: hyped up rehashing of old news:

"That's the funny thing about the purloined cables and secret documents. By and large, they don't contain news but observations by embassy personnel that reflect opinions and observations you could have picked up by reading newspapers. Nothing particularly shocking or earth shattering has come out."

After we finally reach a consensus that there is no real value to those leaks, we will be able to strat analyzing why there's been so much hype surrounding this old and stale information.