Where’s the Wiki-DriWeave?
Have you heard of Wikileaks? It’s this website that publishes leaked documents and tapes from government agencies, corporations, churches, and organizations that might have something to hide. I’ve been doing a lot of catching up on my reading and just read a wonderful article in The New Yorker about Wikileaks and its founder and figurehead, Julian Assange, in the June 7, 2010 issue.
Wikileaks is based in Sweden because of laws there that are advantageous to such a journalistic endeavor as Wikileaks, which as you might have guessed, has many enemies. They have multiple servers and volunteers around the globe. The idea behind this is that the site can remain up even if their site, say, in Germany were to get raided, as, indeed, the registrant of Wikileaks’ German domain name did. The site has over 1,200 volunteers.
The way it works is that sources upload their source material to Wikileaks anonymously, via its website. Sources are never met. Their content is encrypted and evaluated, and if sufficiently provocative, published. The criteria for publication is documents of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical interest.
Favorite targets have been human rights violators, totalitarian or corrupt governments in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Sarah Palin, the United States military, the Church of Scientology, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons).
The site is a journalistic tool, and the idea is to encourage sources to submit content that is worthy of journalistic evaluation and synthesis without the source or the journalist having to worry about any punitive action resulting from the exposure.
Wikileaks, by its very nature, is a secretive organization. Members say that they have been harassed by law enforcement and intelligence organizations in a variety of countries. The site is funded by grants and donations and is not, therefore, subject to the possible censure of traditional media outlets. Wikileaks does, however, sometimes allow their scoops to be published originally in other media outlets by submitting them to more traditional news agencies before publishing on their own site.
There are a couple of very valid criticisms of the Wikileaks paradigm. One is that they don’t always seem to take care to evaluate the harm in publishing some material, such as the very real possibility of compromising the safety of American military personnel in publishing some of the documents that have recently been released in regards to the war in Afghanistan.
The second criticism is that since anonymous donation is encouraged, sources could be submitting materials that are less than authentic. Documents can be doctored and edited. Audio tapes can be edited. Photos can be Photoshopped. Assange says that he has a team of five editors who presumably have backgrounds in legitimate journalism as well as technical savvy, to evaluate the authenticity of submitted leaks. Wikileaks, though, seems to also shrug off this criticism with, “[misleading leaks] are already well-placed in the mainstream media. [Wikileaks] is of no additional assistance.”
Assange himself maintains final say in these matters. Assange is, no doubt, a brilliant man. He’s an Australian man with no background in journalism and no academic credits. He’s a self-taught savant with computer hacking and programming skills. He was convicted of computer crimes while he was still a very young man.
Wikileaks is a powerful tool for reform and brings attention to some very real problems that need exposure. We need an open forum for people to bring atrocities into the light and expose them for what they are, without fear of retribution. Assange won an award from Amnesty International in 2009 for exposing assassinations that were carried out on Kenyan citizens without the benefit of due process.
What I question is having a man with no journalistic training or credentials lead such an organization and make the final editorial decisions for it. Perhaps Wikileaks would be better served in partnering with a journalist of some stature who would be willing to volunteer his services. I bet Assange could find someone to help him out with that. What is Dan Rather doing these days? How ‘bout Bob Woodward? How ‘bout it, guys?