The Global Report

WikiLeaks: Media resistance to exposure of government secrets

Added under Media Watch

The website WikiLeaks posted tens of thousands of classified intelligence documents relating to the Afghanistan War on Sunday, July 25. Spanning the years 2004-09, the documents had been shared in advance with reporters from the New York Times, the British Guardian and the German Der Spiegel, all of which produced long pieces offering their interpretations of the documents.

In corporate U.S. media, the documents produced several narratives. For some, the WikiLeaks revelations were either not all that important, or certainly not as important as the leak of the Vietnam War-era Pentagon Papers. As a Washington Post story put it (7/27/10), "Unlike the Pentagon Papers, these documents--although they are closer to a real-time assessment and although they land in the superheated Internet era--do not reveal any strategy on the part of the government to mislead the public about the mission and its chances for success." The New York Times (7/26/10) noted that

overall, the documents do not contradict official accounts of the war. But in some cases the documents show that the American military made misleading public statements--attributing the downing of a helicopter to conventional weapons instead of heat-seeking missiles, or giving Afghans credit for missions carried out by Special Operations commandos.

Such comments reflect a somewhat puzzling standard for what qualifies as official deception. But the overriding message of some prominent outlets was that there was little to glean from the disclosures. The July 27 Washington Post provided a remarkable case study. One news story, headlined "WikiLeaks Disclosures Unlikely to Change Course of Afghanistan War," presented the leaks as good news for the war effort, asserting that the "release could compel President Obama to explain more forcefully the war's importance," and conveying White House claims that "the classified accounts bolstered Obama's decision in December to pour more troops and money into a war effort that had not received sufficient attention or resources from the Bush administration."

Another Post story, headlined "WikiLeaks Documents Cause Little Concern Over Public Perception of War," suggested that the White House and Congress were trying to turn the leaks into "an affirmation of the president's decision to shift strategy and boost troop levels in the nearly nine-year-long war." The same could be said for the Washington Post, which also editorialized that the WikiLeaks release "hardly merits the hype offered by the website's founder."

Sources: Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting

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