Thursday, December 9, 2010

More on Assange

Honestly, I don't understand why so many of my fellow progressives are enamored of Assange. I'm all for freedom of speech, but I don't see how Assange's actions have anything to do with freedom of speech. I believe that I should have the right to say anything I want here on my blog, for example. If somebody tries to prevent me from that or censor me in any way, that will be a violation of my right to express myself freely. However, if I were to steal somebody's bank records or personal e-mails and publish them here, that wouldn't be freedom of speech. That would be stealing. As I understand the meaning of the entire concept of freedom of speech, it has to be your own speech, not somebody else's papers that you have stolen and disseminated. Something tells me that if Assange were to steal and publish the personal papers of any of his defenders, they would run to the police screaming for some action to be taken to stop him.

Almost 20% of students in one of my courses this semester plagiarized their final essays. They stole somebody else's words and presented them as their own for personal gain (a good grade, having to do less work, getting free time for other activities.) I gave a grade of zero for each plagiarized essay. Should I have respected my students' "right" to steal information as an expression of their freedom of speech? Another question I have is how can I require my freshmen not to steal information for personal gain when they see somebody like Assange being glamorized precisely for doing that?

I have heard the childish argument that governments shouldn't have secrets anyways. That is a point of view that I find hard to take seriously. Governments always had and always will have secrets and classified information. If you are in any way shocked by this knowledge, you can always become a consistent anarchist and fight for the elimination of any and all governments whatsoever. There is also always the Tea Party to join. It's easier than being an anarchist, and you will have a chance to vociferate against the "big bad givernment" to your heart's content. If you do believe, however, that some form of government is necessary, then you will have to accept that governments will have secrets and will work hard to protect those secrets.

There is another childish school of thinking that maintains that people have the right to know governmental secrets because those secrets affect the citizens' lives. Under that logic, my students should have the right to steal the answers to their final exams from my office and publish them online. The grade they get for the final exam does affect their lives, so should I just leave the office door unlocked and let the information be stolen?

There are so many honest, hard-working journalists who risk their lives in order to bring us information every day. Why don't we celebrate their efforts rather than some stupid pranks of a money-hungry hacker?

57 comments:

Khephra said...

Wow. Batting for despots and tyrants and calling yourself a "progressive feminist". Ironic and tragic.

Previously I've contended your misanthropy, but I won't suffer foolishness like this on my feed. Anyone who doesn't have their head completely up their ass would recognize the battle being waged - and it has nothing to do with "free speech".

Clarissa said...

I would love to hear an actual argument against what I'm saying. Emotional outbursts are not likely to convince anybody of anything. But I guess when logic and reasoning fail you, insults are all that remains.

FD said...

For me also, I think freedom of speech is not an accurate argument and neither is it the fact that governments keep secrets - in a world where people are hostile to each other, there is likely always to be some need for operational secrecy. What concerns me, is that the information published by Wikileaks shows that our governments have been actively misleading, and even lying to us. That is very different from merely keeping things secret.

Also, and I have no personal opinion on Assuange, but I do wonder about the condemnation as attention seeking, or money grubbing. I don't see how he personally is making money off've this, nor do I see how he's famewhoring - it's not like he appears on reality tv shows or is releasing a tell all book, or is even charging money for the information. Do you have any sources for this opinion, because I haven't come across any yet? His ubiquity although annoying and possibly undeserved is not necessarily all his doing.

Anonymous said...

Hi Clarissa,

Love your blog, but I would have to disagree with your school grades analogy. I'd say the situation is more akin to someone publishing the emails of a professor demanding, say sexual favors, in return for a good grade. Would you say it's still wrong to out this professor? Why do you find the act of whistleblowing so repugnant?

I would like to refer you to Glen Greenwald's blog where he discusses wikileaks in great depth.

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/index.html


Stringer

Clarissa said...

Finally, intelligent arguments which are not of the "up-your-ass" variety.

Stringer: if I publish the e-mails that nasty professor sent to me, of course I'm justified in doing that. They were sent to me, so they belong to me now, right? However, I obviously do not approve of anybody hacking into a professor's mailbox in search of something nasty that can then be published.

I in no way find whistleblowing repugnant. On this blog, I regularly publish posts on the actions of my college administration that I disapprove of. But I don't hack into administrator's mailboxes or go through their pockets to find my information.

Clarissa said...

FD: I have to confess that I'm not extremely familiar with Assange's life story. If there is any information that he is doing Wikileaks out of simple love for the truth while living on the proceeds of his honest day job, I welcome that information.

Anonymous said...

Clarissa,

Wikileaks has never hacked into any system. Even the most ardent critics of wikileaks have not accused it of hacking. Wikileaks has simply published information that various whistleblowers within various branches of governments have passed on to it.

Clarissa said...

Assange used to be a hacker, right? Of course, I got that information on Wikipedia, so I'm not saying it has got to be the truth.

Clarissa said...

"Assange and others at WikiLeaks also occasionally hack into secure systems to find documents to expose. "

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2006496,00.html#ixzz17dTHnZbU

Does anybody have any facts at their disposal that controvert this statement?

Clarissa said...

And this:

"During this time, Assange was involved in computer hacking and was a member of the computer hacking group International Subversives. In 1991, he was charged by Australian courts with 24 counts of hacking and pleaded guilty."

http://www.chacha.com/topic/julian-assange

I don't have time right now to keep searching, but I never even heard that Assange's hacking has been in dispute by any one, including himself.

zunguzungu said...

I've been blogging pretty heavily on this, if you're interested in my take on why what Wikileaks is doing is a good thing, or at worst, a less-bad thing than the status quo. Pretty much all I've written for the last week or so. (zunguzungu.wordpress.com)

Anonymous said...

Clarissa,

He may have been a hacker when he was a teenager but hacking is NOT the model by which wikileaks operatess. It's old-fashioned whistleblowing. His organization collects and publishes information from individuals who are too scared to reveal that information themselves. If he had been hacking into systems to get this information the case against him would've been clear-cut. I mean, the kid who hacked into Sarah Palin's email got jailtime for a relatively trivial act. Do you think there would be any controversy (like we have now) if the government prosecuted him for hacking into pentagon's or the state department's servers?

Going after Assange is controversial precisely because he hasn't committed a illegal act in publishing this information.

Also, I'd like to know your basis for characterizing him as money-hungry. This is something even his opponents haven't alleged. From the same wikipedia article you mentioned:

Like all others working for the site, Assange is an unpaid volunteer.

Stringer

Anonymous said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WikiLeaks

http://blogs.howstuffworks.com/2010/12/01/how-wikileaks-works/

Where might the leaked material come from? In the case of the Sarah Palin Yahoo email account and the Climate Research Unit email account, a hacker had to break into the accounts and steal the emails. In the case of the British National Party membership list, the web site for the organization accidentally posted its membership list on its web site for a short period of time, and someone snagged a copy before it disappeared.

But by far the most common, and most damaging, source of leaks is insiders who secretly collect the information and then send it to Wikileaks. Insiders might do this out of a sense of justice or as a form of retaliation against an employer. Whatever the motive, several of the resulting leaks have been spectacular.

Stringer

Anonymous said...

One more link:

http://www.aolnews.com/surge-desk/article/wikileaks-beyond-the-headlines-4-basic-questions-answered/19568515

3. How does WikiLeaks get the inside scoop?
The process is this: The website is set up to allow for completely anonymous submissions from whistleblowers around the world via a supposedly secure online form, although questions have been raised lately about its reliability. Assange and company (nameless and faceless contributors) then leaf through the confidential submissions, repackage them into multimedia presentations and publish them on the Web, still guaranteeing their sources complete anonymity.

---

Or you can just google 'how wikileaks works' and confirm for yourself that their operational model is based on users submitting information rather than wikileaks hacking into government servers.

Stringer

Clarissa said...

I think the main philosophical difference here lies between people who think that governments should operate under the principle of complete transparency and those who believe that that is not possible. I belong to the latter school of thought.

Governments lie and conceal information. More than that, any government, in and of itself, is an instrument of coercion. The only way to support the very existence of the sate is to believe that the benfits you receive from that coercion outweigh its drawbacks. That is what I happen to believe. If I didn't think that the state - as the seat of power and instrument of coercion - provided me with any significant benefits, I would have the courage of my convictions and become an honest anarchist (as opposed to an arm-chair anarchist, who writes an anarchist blog from his corporate cubicle.)

But accepting the benefits of the existence of the state while demanding of that state that it go against its very nature and stop being a coercive apparatus is what, in my culture, we call trying to sit on two chairs with one ass.

Of course, there is always the option of a naive insistence that it is possible to create a fully transparent, non-coercive, benevolent government that announces its every move to its citizens. I hope my readers will forgive me for finding such a position too naive to uphold.

Anonymous said...

Clarissa,

If that is your position then why did you earlier claim to support whistleblowing? How does whistleblowing enter into your model of a government that should be allowed to lie to its citizenry with impunity, wage illegitimate wars or deny trials to citizens for reasons of 'national security'?

"I think the main philosophical difference here lies between people who think that governments should operate under the principle of complete transparency and those who believe that that is not possible. I belong to the latter school of thought. "

This is, in my opinion, a false dichotomy. What if I write:

"I think the main philosophical difference here lies between people who think that governments should operate under the principle of complete secrecy and those who believe that it should not be allowed to do so. I belong to the latter school of thought. "

See what I did there?

Stringer

sarcozona said...

I think that wikileaks has shown us that the US government is making us less safe with its policies while telling us that it's making us more safe. I don't necessarily think governments should be completely secret free, but perhaps threats like wikileaks will force governments to avoid doing at least some awful things. Or perhaps they'll just do it without a paper trail.

Richard said...

This note is just to clear up what appears to a couple of points of confusion.

First the material that Wikileaks is releasing is part of the same batch of materials that a U.S. Army enlisted man down loaded from a computer that he should not have had access to in the first place. The EM is now sitting in an Army Stockade in Kuwait awaiting trail. My guess is that the trail will never occur because it would reflect badly on the Army.
Second although much of the material is embarrassing, it is not highly classified and contrary to claims by people who don’t know what they are talking about, it has not placed any U.S. troops or civilians in harm’s way.
Finally I must disagree with Clarissa about the material being released by Wikileaks being someone else’s property. In point of fact it belongs to the U.S. taxpayers since they are the ones who are paying for it and salaries of the soldiers and diplomats who generated the materials in the first place. All levels of the U.S. Government work for the American people and are accountable to them. Just because too many in government are unaware of this does not make it any less true.

Clarissa said...

" In point of fact it belongs to the U.S. taxpayers since they are the ones who are paying for it and salaries of the soldiers and diplomats who generated the materials in the first place."

-Richard, according to this logic, my final exams belong to my students who are paying my salary with their tuition. Do you suggest I have no right to conceal the answers to the final exam questions from them?

Anonymous said...

Knew you were going to respond to Richard's post, low-hanging fruit and all that.

Stringer

Clarissa said...

Stringer, it takes time to go over the information people have linked to in their comments. I don't like to answer unless I know what I'm answering to.

No need to get upset or anything. :-)

Clarissa said...

sarcozona: I read the first link you provide very carefully. But I find it hard to understand its claims. The journalist says that without Wikileaks we wouldn't about the US military presence in Yemen. I haven't been to the Wikileaks site even once but I have heard about the US plans to invade Yemen I think for as long as a year ago. I think I even blogged about it. Or commented on it somewhere. I'm not sure because it was a long time ago. As for the US bombings of Afghanistan, I find it unbelievable that anybody anywhere in the world that is reached by Internet doesn't know that this has been going on for a long time.

So what is it that has been revealed that is making people so excited? It's a good faith question because I would seriously like to know, but specific accounts vary.

The first account I read stated that the main problem with the leaks was that they revealed classified documents where foreign leaders were referred to in unpleasant terms. For the life of me, I don't remember the source of that.

Is that the important classified information (coupled with the so-called "secrets" about Yemen and Afghanistan) knowing which is making us so much safer?

I'm sorry for not answering as fast as everybody would like. I'm at work right now and things keep coming up. Trust me to post something heavily controversial on the penultimate day of the semester. I will answer everybody, though. Just give me a moment.

Clarissa said...

""I think the main philosophical difference here lies between people who think that governments should operate under the principle of complete secrecy and those who believe that it should not be allowed to do so. I belong to the latter school of thought. "

-I don't like this way of putting it because thinking that "governments should be allowed to. . ." is not a statement that clarifies anything. Allowed to by whom? What are the alternatives? Can you give me an example of any government in history that has not operated in secrecy? If you can give such an example, I promise to study it closely and offer my thoughts on how successful they were.

Richard said...

From you response I presume that you don’t agree that the U.S. Government is accountable to its citizens, yet this is exactly what makes a democracy viable. As an instructor you are accountable to your students for given them a good education in the Spanish Lnaguage and Hispanic Civilization. I don’t believe that you have a mutually agreed compact with your students that says you are accountable to them for everything you do. The U.S. Government does have such a compact it is called the Constitution.

Clarissa said...

Richard: do you really believe that a full transparency of the government's every action is possible? Once again, I would like some examples of when that happened historically and how it worked.

I'm very surprised that people seem to be genuinely shocked at discovering that their government has secrets. Is that really news to anybody? Really? What next? We will "find out" that every country has spies and will be shocked about that? :-)

Richard said...

It is really a question of balance isn’t it. Of course no government can be completely transparent, yet I believe that in our country the government should error on the side of openness rather than secrecy. There are a number of specific categories of information that in the interests of National Security must be classified to prevent serious harm coming to any or all of our citizens. Still this is a subjective judgment call and secrecy should be used only to protect national interests, not to conceal foolishness or waste in government. For example, President Nixon tried to have CIA classify the operations that were lumped under the Rubric of Watergate to prevent the discovery of what were criminal enterprises.

Clarissa said...

"I believe that in our country the government should error on the side of openness rather than secrecy."

-I have to say, Richard, that I find your vision of the Us government to be overly optimistic. Thi country has been strongly imperialistic since the late XIXth century. Internal affairs have always been sacrificed here for the pursuit of these external, imperialistic goals. I don't like that and I think you don't particularly like that either. However, I do have a feeling that the majority of those American taxpayers who put this government in office (and the previous, and the one before that) fully share the idea of American exclusivity and believe in the right of this country to participate actively in running the world. And you cannot meddle in the affairs of others with the goal of running the world without lots of secrecy, spies, etc.

maybe the Americans should choose whether they want a more transparent government or whether it matters more to them to be world's #1 superpower.

I do not believe you can have both. Do you?

Anonymous said...

Clarissa,

I don't think the semantics is important here. I could've omitted 'allowed' without any loss of meaning.

I still would like an answer to the question I posed earlier. Where does whistleblowing fit into your model of government that can lie and deceive its citizens with impunity? And I totally agree with Richard's last post. It's a question of balance. A government shouldn't be allowed to cover up CRIMES by invoking some vague notion of 'secrecy'.

I also don't appreciate being called naive for expecting SOME accountability from my government. The way you framed the issue (people who support wikileaks believe a government should not have ANY secrets) seems dishonest. Nobody believes that.
You've created a lot of strawmen here.

Stringer

Richard said...

Ok Clarissa you have me there. You are of course quite correct that the U.S. has held imperialist aspirations since the late 19th Century and that imperialism and transparency are mutually exclusive. Still that does not negate the fact that if our government is to remain democratic it must be more not less transparent. Yes I guess I am overly optimistic about the U.S. Government in that I keep hoping the U.S. Citizenry will come to its collective senses and realize that in the end imperialism does no one any lasting good.

Clarissa said...

Stringer: then maybe you should tell me what it is that you believe. I asked many good faith questions here but nobody is answering them.

Here are the questions that, hopefully, will alow me to understand what it is that the Assange-defenders actually believe:

Question 1:
So what is it that has been revealed that is making people so excited? It's a good faith question because I would seriously like to know, but specific accounts vary. The first account I read stated that the main problem with the leaks was that they revealed classified documents where foreign leaders were referred to in unpleasant terms. For the life of me, I don't remember the source of that. Is that the important classified information (coupled with the so-called "secrets" about Yemen and Afghanistan) knowing which is making us so much safer?

Question 2:

What are the alternatives? Can you give me an example of any government in history that has not operated in secrecy?

Question 3:

Maybe the Americans should choose whether they want a more transparent government or whether it matters more to them to be world's #1 superpower. I do not believe you can have both. Do you?

Clarissa said...

"I keep hoping the U.S. Citizenry will come to its collective senses and realize that in the end imperialism does no one any lasting good."

- That's exactly what I want to see to! I knew we would agree eventually.

But I can't avoid being stunned at how the same people demand complete transparency and at the same time support the imperialist mission of the US and its belief in its "special" mission. I see either a hypocrisy or a major instance of willful blindness here.

Richard said...

It seems to me that our debate over government transparency proves that competing points of view, if handled with courtesy and rationality, can lead to a ground truth namely that imperialism is really incompatible with democracy. My guess is that it is this sort of give and take that keeps your classes lively and interesting.

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Richard! If a group of people agrees with each other on everything all the time, then that's really scary. It means that some or all of them have stopped thinking for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Jesus, Clarissa, who is demanding complete transparency? Why have you been so fixated on this strawman?

What wikileaks has done and why people are 'excited' about it:

http://sowhyiswikileaksagoodthingagain.com/

"Maybe the Americans should choose whether they want a more transparent government or whether it matters more to them to be world's #1 superpower. I do not believe you can have both. Do you?"

Now that's a different discussion from what you started with your blogpost where you:

a) Mischaracterized Assange's motivation for doing what he did (he lusts for money).

b) Mischaracterized how his organization operated (by hacking).

c) Mischaracterized the position of wikileaks supporters (naive idiots who demand full and complete disclosure of all government secrets).

Basically you gave your opinion about this affair without even knowing its rudimentary details. But hey, it's the internet and this is your blog so do whatcha wanna. :)

Stringer

Clarissa said...

So can you help me avoid all these mischaracterizations by answering my questions? You say that I don't understand your position. You are right, I don't. Simply because I have no idea what it is and you are refusing to tell me.

Now I've started to think that you have reasons to keep your opinions so "top secret." :-) (That ws a joke.)

Anonymous said...

Clarissa,

To get more information about what wikileaks has done and its implications, you should really go to Glen Greenwald's blog that I linked to earlier.

A sample: http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/12/01/lieberman

If there's Nothing New in these documents, can Jonathan Capehart (or any other "journalist" claiming this) please point to where The Washington Post previously reported on these facts, all revealed by the WikiLeaks disclosures:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA's torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me");

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation";

(5) there were at least 15,000 people killed in Iraq that were previously uncounted;

(6) "American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world" about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961.

The text above has a lot of embedded links that I can't copy here so if you want sources for these assertions you may have to visit the blog.

Stringer

Clarissa said...

I followed your link, Stringer, and I find it as mind-boggling as sarcozona's. So before Wikileaks people didn't know there were massive and horrendous civilian casualties in the countries the US invades? People didn't hear about Canadian soldiers killed by mistake? I don't know about you, but we in Canada have known this for a long time.

I would like to hear a specific answer to this specific question: how is it possible to know that the US is waging several wars right now and not realize that this involves numerous deaths, rapes, mutilations, and endless suffering?

Was it really such a recent revelation for you? Really? If I get a direct answer to these questions, then we can take this argument firther.

Clarissa said...

Sorry, I responded before seeing the last comment.

Can you tell me which of these revelations that you list were news to you? You can just give numbers from your own list.

All of the things you list are horrible. But the entire world knows that the US has been doing this and much, much worse forever. So? What has that knowledge changed exactly? That's what the American messianic mission costs evrybody. Is anybody ready to abandon said messianic mission? Will the US be ready to abandon it after a trillion more of such - and worse - revelations?

Anonymous said...

I think I answered all your questions. My position echoes that of Richard's - that it is impossible to have total transparency in government dealings, but at the same time there should be some mechanism to prevent governments from covering up crimes. I also agree with your point that imperialism is incompatible with democracy. I hope I have made myself clear.

"So before Wikileaks people didn't know there were massive and horrendous civilian casualties in the countries the US invades? People didn't hear about Canadian soldiers killed by mistake?"

We're talking about information that can perhaps be used in a court of law to prosecute people in government who committed crimes. Let me give you an example. We all 'know' that Wall Street is crooked beyond belief but what good is this 'knowledge'? Now if the SEC obtains concrete and specifc information gathered from the office computer of a shady hedge fund manager, then it has something to work with: information that can bring him/her to justice.

It is not Wikileaks job to prosecute criminals. It can only shed light upon various lies and coverups that governments and corporations engage in. What we as a society do with this information is going to be an indication of our values and commitment to the rule of law.

Stringer

Clarissa said...

"We're talking about information that can perhaps be used in a court of law to prosecute people in government who committed crimes. Let me give you an example. We all 'know' that Wall Street is crooked beyond belief but what good is this 'knowledge'? Now if the SEC obtains concrete and specifc information gathered from the office computer of a shady hedge fund manager, then it has something to work with: information that can bring him/her to justice."

- I'm glad to encounter such optimistic people who are firm believers in the US democracy. Seriously. I, for one, think that neither Goldman Sachs nor the governmental agencies who perpetrated the above-listed crimes have anything whatsoever to fear from justice.

I also think (and I know I will be branded as a conspiracy theorist for that) that this entire Assange debacle is very useful to the US government at this point. While this James-Bondian drama goes on, people forget about rising unemployment, the tax legislation that is being pushed through Congress as we speak, and other things that will impact our lives right now. Of course, tax legislation is a lot less fun that the adventures of a fearless freedom fighter persecuted by radical feminists who are revealed to be CIA agents in disguise. And we do get a huge pay-off here: massive "revelations" about things we already know. Yay for democracy.

Anonymous said...

So does this blogpost go into your 'hall of fame' controversy section? It's funny if it ends up there because that's how I discovered your blog - from tracking back your comments at a feminist blog (which became the basis of your 'Why I Rarely Visit Feminist Websites' post).

Stringer

Clarissa said...

I haven't updated that page for a while, but now you mention it, I think I should add this one there. Thanks for being here!! This has been very refreshing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this was nice. It's the first time I've ever commented on a blog and I gotta say it does take quite a bit of energy to maintain a written conversation like this (while frantically refreshing the page to see if someone's responded). Don't know how you do it on a regular basis but kudos to your effort!

Stringer Bell

(p.s. Google my name if you want a recommendation for holiday viewing. You'll be glad you did.)

Clarissa said...

Google says Stringer Bell is an actor. Are you recommending that I watch The Wire? I've been planning to for a while, especially since I'm a huge Baltimore lover.

Anonymous said...

Stringer Bell is a character in The Wire. It is the greatest drama in television history and no, I'm not exaggerating. It'll take you a few episodes to get into but your patience will be handsomely rewarded.

Stringer

Clarissa said...

That's what I keep hearing from my closest friends. Thanks for confirming that it is worth watching. I will watch it during this winter break and post a review. Or two reviews. :-)

DJ said...

If you're in Canada, that might help explain my surprise at some of what you're saying.

The end of your post is where the crux of this lies, and I'm sort of surprised no one mentioned it directly.

"There are so many honest, hard-working journalists who risk their lives in order to bring us information every day."

I assume you're referring to journalists over in war zones. After all, journalists residing in the comfort of Western society don't have much to worry about. But that's led to journalism being the main problem in the U.S.

Long ago, Watergate broke because of leaks to a media outlet that exposed the corruption of the Nixon administration. That's the epitome of journalism, following leads related to poor governmental behavior and exposing it for the public, so that they can more appropriately judge their duly elected officials. It's why freedom of the press was so instrumental to the start of America, and continues to be vital in any free country on the planet.

The spine of the American press is degrading rapidly, however. Not only are top reporters and editorialists very cozy with the Washington elite, but once the Bush administration started threatening lawsuits against the nosy New York Times and potentially other outlets, what investigative journalism remained came more or less crashing to a halt. Even if they want to chase certain leads, now the media has to decide whether or not interests powerful enough to ruin them by forcing them to pay for a legal defense are going to be made angry. That gives control of the narrative in almost every major media outlet to the most powerful people in the country. Even reporters or hosts who are commonly critical of the government on factual grounds (think Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow) can only work with the facts they're able to get their hands on.

WikiLeaks sidesteps this. They don't do so gracefully, although as Greenwald likes to note, they're not releasing the cables at more than a trickle. But they can't- every communication between a leaker and the destination of the leaks puts said leaker in danger. Even in the mid-70s, Deep Throat had to set up face-to-face meetings with the Watergate reporters (I don't know if they all were, but some, definitely). How impossible would back-and-forth between a leaker and WikiLeaks be, given only electronic communication, until the full story of some corruption was complete?

I can't speak to Assange's precise aims. But the role WikiLeaks is playing now only exists because there's no longer a sense that anyone in possession of what they feel are critical-but-secret documents can take them to the mainstream media and be treated seriously. Really, who has a reputation at this point for being big enough that people will have to listen to him, and will also shoot down the biggest targets he can, besides Matt Taibbi? There would have to be a thousand of him to sift through a major leak like this and find actual stories to report, if there are any.

Basically, we no longer have a press corps functional enough to handle this type of leak in a manner that will see anything come of it. WikiLeaks has, in the past, exposed serious corruption in other countries (Kenya comes to mind) and done much good. So even though this set of cables might expose secrets that don't help anyone (although it's good to know about others, like the bombings in Yemen), under the circumstances, I think we're much better off with WikiLeaks than without. Because, honestly, the alternative is nothing.

DJ said...

(1/2)

If you're in Canada, that might help explain my surprise at some of what you're saying.

The end of your post is where the crux of this lies, and I'm sort of surprised no one mentioned it directly.

"There are so many honest, hard-working journalists who risk their lives in order to bring us information every day."

I assume you're referring to journalists over in war zones. After all, journalists residing in the comfort of Western society don't have much to worry about. But that's led to journalism being the main problem in the U.S.

Long ago, Watergate broke because of leaks to a media outlet that exposed the corruption of the Nixon administration. That's the epitome of journalism, following leads related to poor governmental behavior and exposing it for the public, so that they can more appropriately judge their duly elected officials. It's why freedom of the press was so instrumental to the start of America, and continues to be vital in any free country on the planet.

The spine of the American press is degrading rapidly, however. Not only are top reporters and editorialists very cozy with the Washington elite, but once the Bush administration started threatening lawsuits against the nosy New York Times and potentially other outlets, what investigative journalism remained came more or less crashing to a halt. Even if they want to chase certain leads, now the media has to decide whether or not interests powerful enough to ruin them by forcing them to pay for a legal defense are going to be made angry. That gives control of the narrative in almost every major media outlet to the most powerful people in the country. Even reporters or hosts who are commonly critical of the government on factual grounds (think Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow) can only work with the facts they're able to get their hands on.

DJ said...

Oh crap. I kept sending because the browser errored and said the URL was too long. Feel free to delete the last three comments. And this one.

Clarissa said...

DJ: I'm glad you agree that this particular set of revelations doesn't "reveal" anything.

Now, let's see what's happening. Our administration has caved completely to the Republicans and is preparing yet another major takeover of the country by the ultra-rich. Now we will hand over to them the Social Security, gut the sad remnants of the middle class so that Blankfein can buy yet another yacht, and finally destroy education. Yippee.

In the meanwhile, the public that has been getting all antsy is given this delicious story where a brave freedom-fighter is being chased all over the world by the CIA agents. Then, he is accused of rape by two women. Who later turn out to be radical feminists. Or not. Who later turn out to be CIA agents. Or not. Who later are said to have worked undercover in Cuba. Or not. These two women are appropriately Swedish because a good spy story cannot do without some blondes in it. The brave freedom fighter a.k.a. the James Bond of the New Millenium has made some revelations, which are not really revealing anything, just the stuff everybody has know forever. Still, everybody is riveted to this story, while the new Congress is robbing us blind. And when this whole drama finally blows over, we will wake up to the reality where we aree all poorer, more overworked, and have less to hope for.

That's how I see this story. That's why I believe that engaging in the "save brave Assange!" show is detrimental to the progressive movement in this country.

V said...

I think that as long as there is competition (either between political parties within one country, or between different countries) the politicians will feel the need to have secrets. However, it still has to be recognized that transparent government is the ideal to aspire to. And that if a citizen discovers that his government has been up to something ranging from unethical to downright criminal, it is his duty of a citizen to blow a whistle.

Also, since I am not an American, I do not have a dilemma here. The US policies (and the policies of any other country) have to be more transparent AND the US has to meddle less in the affairs of other countries. And as long as some American secrets pertain to the politics of my country (which are unfortunately even not pro-American, but pro-republican) I feel quite entitled to know those secrets. Truth be told - I seriously considered making a donation to Wikileaks...

I do have an impression that Assange is a bit fame-hungry. So what? It may not reflect perfect psychological health, but it is good for his cause. Fame is useful as insurance policy. It is more difficult to "disappear" somebody who has fame...

Clarissa said...

I admire your idealism, my friend. Where, oh where did my own idealism go only to be substituted by a tired cynicism of major proportions? :-) :-)

V said...

You seem to be looking only at the implications of Wikileaks on internal American policies. Of course there aren't many, so you can safely assume that it is all one big government-sponsored PR stint intended to divert the attention of American public from really important issues like budget deficit, continued tax-cuts for the wealthy, etc, etc.

But isn't it a bit America-centered view? American allies around the world are facing some unpleasant issues because of those leaks. Some people are pretty angry... I am not sure the US are willing to sacrifice so much of its international image and so many of their friends just to divert attention of its own public from some internal issues...
Actually, if they do - it is not bad for the world either - because the US influence will decrease.

DJ said...

So, you disagree with progressives going to bat for Assange because the Republicans rolled Obama again? I'm not sure how that's justified. It's not like progressives can't do more than one thing at a time, and regardless, it's the Senate filibuster (and Obama's less-than-mediocre negotiation skill) that's allowing the Republicans to be so intransigent unless they get their cookies.

I guess my reaction to your comment comes down to one question: What makes you think progressives aren't noticing the tax deal as much, or nearly as much, as they otherwise would if WikiLeaks wasn't an issue? If it's because the reaction is more subdued than you'd expect, much of that could be attributed to the fact that some progressives are going to look at the numbers and calculate that the deal isn't actually that bad. Even Paul Krugman acknowledges the deal makes sense mathematically, and that it's the math weighed against the policy implications down the road becomes more troublesome. It's the kind of thing not every progressive will come down on negatively, no matter what distractions may or may not be in play.

sarcozona said...

Clarissa, it's true that

the entire world knows that the US has been doing this and much, much worse forever.

But knowing something and having enough real and public evidence available to do something about it politically or legally are really different. For example, knowing that the US government is protecting its image by covering up civilian deaths is quite different from having access to this video with its cold & callous conversation and brutal images or exact numbers and details of civilian deaths, when before we were relying on approximations and indirect evidence.

I definitely agree with V, that it still has to be recognized that transparent government is the ideal to aspire to. And that if a citizen discovers that his government has been up to something ranging from unethical to downright criminal, it is his duty of a citizen to blow a whistle.

... The US policies (and the policies of any other country) have to be more transparent AND the US has to meddle less in the affairs of other countries.


And while I don't think we'll ever get to that point, I believe that working towards this goal makes the world a better place.

Khephra said...

"I would love to hear an actual argument against what I'm saying."

Perhaps. But from my vantage engaging you on this topic seems about as constructive as discussing social welfare with a card-carrying Republican. You make very ideological arguments and generalize wildly, and I have yet to notice any systematic engagement with critical lenses. In your reviews of Zizek, for example, it was clear that you have a very poor grasp of hermeneutics. Or, when you rant about communism, for instance, you seem completely incapable of separating your experience of 'failure' with what Badiou might refer to as 'the Communist Hypothesis'. Or, when you rant about your experience as an academic - ignoring the non-transferrablity of your experience. Or, when you wax polemic about your 'pedagogy' - irregardless of the fact that by your own admission you have next to no training in pedagogic and curricular theory, no familiarity with Western pedagogic lenses, and no grasp of the mechanics of critical epistemologies.

You are clearly an intelligent woman. You clearly have viewpoints to share. But many of those viewpoints are dreadfully under-theorized and not worth deconstructing. More productive matters call for my attention.

Insofar as this post in particular, the entire basis argumentation is discursive without actually acknowledging the role of discourse. More concretely, you question whether Assange is a 'rapist' but avoid what that actually entails. Indeed, if Assange is a 'rapist' the concept ceases to have meaning.

The woman who Assange ‘raped’ while sleeping? The one who woke up with Assange rubbing on something or another in a bid for sex, and tacitly agreed? Or the other woman, who Assange ‘held down’ and ‘ripped the necklace off of’? The one who held a party for Assange a few days later, let Assange stay in her house afterwords, and maintained a friendly relationship with Assange until the police pressed charges?

Really, saying this is “rape” is insulting to actual victims of rape.

That's a matter that can be contested - and fruitfully. But, given the rhetorical style employed in previous posts, I'm unconvinced you have much to add to the discussion.

*That's* why I said "I won't suffer foolishness like this on my feed". It isn't because I'm an avid supporter of Assange or Wikileaks and it isn't because I'm a misogynist. It's because the 'rape' charges are blatantly politically-motivated. It's because I recognize Assange and Wikileaks as soldiers in a war against empire (see, e.g., Democracy Now!). And it's because I recognize people who say things like "There is another childish school of thinking that maintains that people have the right to know governmental secrets because those secrets affect the citizens' lives" are batting for the power elite. For all these reasons and more, when someone such as yourself publicly aligns themselves with empire, I walk away.

In contrast with your enthusiasm for despotism, I'd agree with Thomas Jefferson: "Information is the currency of democracy."

By aligning yourself against transparency in government you undercut your 'progressive' politics and make a hypocrite of yourself.

By ignoring the context of the leaks and arguing on the basis of 'state secrets' you make yourself a tool of empire.

Now why, as a critical pedagog and advocate for the sub-altern, would I want to invest time on a blog which served the interests of empire? Here I find resonance with Foucault: "People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what they do does."

Clarissa said...

http://echidneofthesnakes.blogspot.com/2010_12_19_archive.html#2499223292846763770