#cablegate Wikileaks and the Press

I did an interview on the BBC yesterday on Wikileaks, along with Bill Keller, the Executive Editor of the venerable New York Times, which has published a few of the leaked diplomatic cables.  Keller made a startling admission – the New York Times took all the cables it intended to publish to the US government to get their permission and edits before the Times published.  Extraordinary!  I replied that one conclusion from Keller’s remarkable confession was that one should not turn to the Times for the Wikileaks cables, but to the Wikileaks site itself.  What has happened to the Fourth Estate in this country?  It is clearly running scared of the witch hunt that has now brewed up to savage and destroy Wikileaks.  At a discussion at Columbia University today, one student told me that he wished the US was still practicing extraordinary rendition so that Julian Assange could be arrested and brought to justice in the US.  There is something akin to McCarthyism going on in the US right now, where no one can question anything the government does in the name of national security.  The Obama administration, Hillary and all, is required to denounce Wikileaks in hysterical terms (“an attack on the international community”, Hillary called it, which, by the way, it is not), as politicians of Right and Left line up to attack Assange and Wikileaks in ever more colourful terms.  Right thinking democrats (small D) should instead be reading these ruddy telegrams and learning what the government is up to – good and bad – in their name.  I know from bitter experience of government, working on highly sensitive national security issues (Iraq, Afghanistan, terrorism), that government is as often wrong as it is right.  And then those democrats need to ask why these secrets – whether mistakes or virtues – were not revealed earlier, and why it took a renegade Australian based in Iceland to reveal what their government is up to in their name. Please don’t give me the sanctimonious nonsense about governments needing secrecy to do their necessary business – I’ve worked for government and I know that secrecy kills good thought, and good policy, and is grossly overused in government to cover up mediocrity, incompetence and sheer immorality, as much as it is “national security”.

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