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<nettime> Jay Rosen: Wikileaks, the World's First Stateless News Organiz
Patrice Riemens on Sun, 1 Aug 2010 08:26:27 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Jay Rosen: Wikileaks, the World's First Stateless News Organization


I am still brooding on a reaction to John Young's acerbic comments on
WKLKs (though he took the defense of the same on CNN), but just like Jay
rosen, I am still vastly confused about the issue. Julian Assange's smart
talking on:
http://www.ted.com/talks/julian_assange_why_the_world_needs_wikileaks.html
heightened the confusiuon - yet is quite enlightening (and anyway very
informative).
Cheers, p+3D!

............................................................

Original to:
http://journalism.nyu.edu/pubzone/weblogs/pressthink/2010/07/26/wikileaks_afghan.html
(http://bit.ly/bMHy1d)  - loads of links! and no way Zero Comments ;-)


The Afghanistan War Logs Released by Wikileaks, the World's First
Stateless News Organization

"In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the
powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect
it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep
secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new."

    Wikileaks.org: Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010

    Der Spiegel: Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It

    New York Times: The War Logs

    The Guardian: The Afghanistan War Logs

>From my internal notebook and Twitter feed, a few notes on this development:

1. Ask yourself: Why didn?t Wikileaks just publish the Afghanistan war
logs and let journalists ?round the world have at them? Why hand them over
to The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel first? Because as
Julien Assange, founder of Wikileaks, explained last October, if a big
story is available to everyone equally, journalists will pass on it.

?It?s counterintuitive,? he said then. ?You?d think the bigger and more
important the document is, the more likely it will be reported on but
that?s absolutely not true. It?s about supply and demand. Zero supply
equals high demand, it has value. As soon as we release the material, the
supply goes to infinity, so the perceived value goes to zero.?

2. The initial response from the White House was extremely unimpressive:

    * This leak will harm national security. (As if those words still had
some kind of magical power, after all the abuse they have been party
to.)

    * There?s nothing new here. (Then how could the release harm national
security?)

    * Wikileaks is irresponsible; they didn?t even try to contact us!
(Hold on: you?re hunting the guy down and you?re outraged that he
didn?t contact you?)

    * Wikileaks is against the war in Afghanistan; they?re not an
objective news source. (So does that mean the documents they published
are fake?)

    * ?The period of time covered in these documents? is before the
President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things
reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy
review and a change in strategy.? (Okay, so now we too know the basis
for the President?s decision: and that?s a bad thing?)

3. If you don?t know much about Wikileaks or why it exists, the best way
to catch up is this New Yorker profile of Julien Assange.

    He is the operation?s prime mover, and it is fair to say that
WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of
volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site?s
complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and
between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key
members are known only by initials?M, for instance?even deep within
WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat
services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist
intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to
publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public,
will have serious adversaries.

And for even more depth, listen to this: NPR?s Fresh Air interviewed
Philip Shenon, an investigative reporter formerly at the New York Times,
about Wikileaks and what it does. (35 min with Q & A.)

4. If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to ?location? it says:
Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world?s
first stateless news organization. I can?t think of any prior examples of
that. (Dave Winer in the comments: ?The blogosphere is a stateless news
organization.?) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in
one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to
put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That?s what so
odd about the White House crying, ?They didn?t even contact us!?

Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news
reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of
information without regard for national interest. In media history up to
now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret
because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to
report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the
Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial
address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.

5. And just as government doesn?t know what to make of Wikileaks (?we?re
gonna hunt you down/hey, you didn?t contact us!?) the traditional press
isn?t used to this, either. As Glenn Thrush noted on Politico.com:

    The WikiLeaks report presented a unique dilemma to the three papers
given advance copies of the 92,000 reports included in the Afghan war
logs ? the New York Times, Germany?s Der Speigel and the UK?s
Guardian.

    The editors couldn?t verify the source of the reports ? as they would
have done if their own staffers had obtained them ? and they couldn?t
stop WikiLeaks from posting it, whether they wrote about it or not.

    So they were basically left with proving veracity through official
sources and picking through the pile for the bits that seemed to be
the most truthful.

Notice how effective this combination is. The information is released in
two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online
in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind
spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.

6. From an editor?s note: ?At the request of the White House, The Times
also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.?
There?s the new balance of power, right there. In the revised picture we
find the state, which holds the secrets but is powerless to prevent their
release; the stateless news organization, deciding how to release them;
and the national newspaper in the middle, negotiating the terms of
legitimacy between these two actors.

7. If you?re a whistle blower with explosive documents, to whom would you
rather give them? A newspaper with a terrestrial address organized under
the laws of a nation that could try to force the reporter you contacted to
reveal your name, and that may or may not run the documents you?ve
delivered to them online?. or Wikileaks, which has no address, answers no
subpoenas and promises to run the full cache if they can be verified as
real? (And they?re expert in encryption, too.)

Also, can we agree that a news organization with a paywall wouldn?t even
be in contention?

8. I?ve been trying to write about this observation for a while, but
haven?t found the means to express it. So I am just going to state it, in
what I admit is speculative form. Here?s what I said on Twitter Sunday:
?We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is
too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs.? My
fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be
unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect? not because the story
isn?t sensational or troubling enough, but because it?s too troubling, a
mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.

Last week, it was the Washington Post?s big series, Top Secret America,
two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland
that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no
accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole
is doing, and too much ?product? to make intelligent use of. We?re wasting
billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not
work. It?s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven?t
followed, not because the series didn?t do its job, but rather: the job of
fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.

The mental model on which most investigative journalism is based states
that explosive revelations lead to public outcry; elites get the message
and reform the system. But what if elites believe that reform is
impossible because the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great, the
public too distractible? What if cognitive dissonance has been
insufficiently accounted for in our theories of how great journalism
works? and often fails to work?

I don?t have the answer; I don?t even know if I have framed the right
problem. But the comment bar is open, so help me out.

9. Few people realize how important leaking has been to the rise of the
political press since the mid-18th century. Leaks were actually ?present
at the creation? of political reporting. I?m moving quickly this morning,
so I only have time for a capsule version. Those with a richer knowledge
of the British Parliament?s history can confirm or correct this outline.
Once upon a time, Parliament?s debates were off limits to newspapers. But
eventually, through a long period of contestation, the right to report on
what was said in Parliament was securely won (though not constitutionally
guaranteed.) John Wilkes is the pivotal figure and 1770 the date when the
practice became institutionalized.

A factor in that struggle was the practice of leaking. The way it worked
then is essentially the same as it works today. There?s a bitter dispute
in Parliament and people line up on one side or the other. Unable or
unwilling to accept defeat, the losing faction decides to widen the
battlefield by leaking confidential information, thus bringing the force
of public opinion into play. It?s a risky maneuver, of course, but the
calculation is that fighting it out in public may alter the balance of
forces and lead to a re-decision.

Each time the cycle is repeated, the press becomes a bigger factor in
politics. And internal struggles for power remain to this day a major
trigger for leaks. Conscience, of course, is a different trigger.
Whistleblowers can be of either type: calculating advantage-seekers, or
men and women with a troubled conscience. We don?t know which type
provided the logs to Wikileaks. What we do know is that a centuries-old
dynamic is now empowering new media, just as it once empowered the
ink-on-paper press.

* * *


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