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Barlow Herget Commentary
Barlow Herget is a commentator and host on State Government Radio at Curtis Media. He has been a commentator on UNC public radio and an instructor in continuing education at Duke University. Herget was a Nieman Fellow ('70) at Harvard University, has worked for the Daily Press of Paragould, Ark., the Detroit Free Press, and the News & Observer of Raleigh. His articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times and numerous other publications. Contact him by email.
Wikileaks misses mark on transparency
Thursday - 12/2/2010, 11:02am EST
Governments are notorious and sometimes lethal in conducting business in secrecy. They would classify a mess hall menu if they could, and they in fact have sued over leaked information that their own organizations already made public.
This maddening government trait is the motivation behind the high-sounding Wikileaks organization to publish secret government documents. Their motto is, "We open governments."
Yes, and Pandora opened her box, too.
Wikileaks' release of military documents earlier and diplomatic cables currently shows more unthinking and reckless arrogance than moral transparency.
Unlike Daniel Ellsberg's famous exposure of the Pentagon Papers, Wikileaks latest dump of classified information reveals mostly gossip, not a history of misleading war policies. We know now that Russia's Vladimir Putin is considered an "alpha dog." Pakistan is called a duplicitous ally. We are shocked to find that Dictator Muammar Gaddafi favors voluptuous Ukrainian blonde nurses.
Mr. Julian Assange, editor of Wikileaks, seems blithely ignorant of foreign cultures and the importance of candid diplomatic advice. Raised in the protections of a Western free press, he seems untroubled about the fates of helpful diplomats in ruthless dictatorships.
What does Mr. Assange think will happen to some unlucky lower-level Chinese consul who provided frank Chinese worries about North Korea? The consul was named in one of Mr. Assange's leaked documents, and his name was broadcast in Western media. What foreign official will now want to talk openly with their American counterparts?
Similarly, Wikileaks shows no understanding of the confidentiality required in difficult diplomatic negotiations. Sometimes, what happens behind closed doors is the only way treaties can be written. Our own justice system recognizes the need for such discussions in jury deliberations that are not open to the press or other court officials.
Responsible journalists, so far, have exercised judgment in dealing with the leaked cables. Others won't. More purloined documents reportedly are coming. As an editor and reporter, I appreciate the value of whistleblowers and unauthorized leaks, and a free press cannot do a good job without them.
But Mr. Assange and his U.S. Army accomplice, PFC Bradley Manning, show no understanding of the wanton damage their revelations cause. Both are computer hackers, and PFC Manning, now in Army jail, especially sounds more vengeful in his thievery than righteous in his transparency.
Likewise, Mr. Assange's claim of the moral high ground in this scandal sounds like the bank robber who spends his stolen money and calls it economic stimulus. Julian Assange is more Pandora than Daniel Ellsberg.