Although I an loath to give credit to Doyle McManus, he is correct that almost all the information contained in the Wikileaks documents was available from official sources, so the usual culprit, government secrecy, is not entirely to blame for this information being missing from the national debate on the war in Afghanistan. If the media had gotten off their collective butt and done some research, they might have fulfilled their true role of informing the electorate. The only service Wikileaks performed was to repackage the information in the shiny tinsel of controversy to attract the attention of the feckless media and to distract them from their preferred role as stenographers for the powerful.
On one level, it’s a tempest in a teapot. There’s no real news here. What! The leaders of Afghanistan are corrupt? My goodness – who knew that? What! Arab leaders say one thing to us and another thing to their own people? Who would have guessed? Pakistani leaders are untrustworthy? Stop the presses! You get the picture. The Wikileaks revelations don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. What’s interesting is the official outrage. There, the feeling is: “How dare anyone know what we’re really thinking!” Wikileaks reinforces the idea that official secrecy is never directed towards our adversaries and allies; they are smart people who know all this stuff anyway. It is directed towards keeping the American people in the dark about what the people who speak in our name are actually doing since that is never in our interest but in the interest, ultimately, of some corporate crony or other. Wikileaks puts these people on notice that they cannot operate in the dark anymore.
On another level, Wikileaks is only newsworthy because the news is not. The irony here is that all of the information Wikileaks revealed was easily obtained. Any journalist could have found this information just as easily. If the true job of journalism is to maintain an informed public, why didn’t journalists do their jobs? The real impact of Wikileaks is to reveal the extent to which journalism has been corporatized, the coziness between official journalism and official power. Real news is now the province of cowboys like Julian Assange. He has threatened to reveal information about BP and Bank of America. I hope these are not idle threats. It is more important for that information to be known than any tomfoolery at the State Dept.
And speaking of Julian Assange—what an asshole! He tried to pose as a working class hero to grab the spotlight. Didn’t he understand what making himself a target would mean? By making himself the news story, he has provided official journalism an enormous distraction from the real story. He needed to stay in the background and be as anonymous as possible. Sometimes, the anonymity of the internet can be a plus. Too bad he didn’t understand that.