La nueva edad de oro del periodismo, y el fin del viejo periodismo
Assange may or may not be grandiose, paranoid and delusional - terms that might be fairly applied at one time or another to most prominent investigative reporters of my acquaintance. But the fact that so many prominent old school journalists are attacking him with such unbridled force is a symptom of the failure of traditional reporting methods to penetrate a culture of official secrecy that has grown by leaps and bounds since 9/11, and threatens the functioning of a free press as a cornerstone of democracy.
Yet the difficulties of documenting official murder in Kenya pale next to the task of penetrating the secret world that threatens to swallow up informed public discourse in this country about America's wars. The 250,000 cables that Wikileaks published this month represent only a drop in the bucket that holds the estimated 16 million documents that are classified top secret by the federal government every year. According to a three-part investigative series by Dana Priest and William Arkin published earlier this year in The Washington Post, an estimated 854,000 people now hold top secret clearance - more than 1.5 times the population of Washington, D.C. "The top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive," the Post concluded, "that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."
It is a fact of the current media landscape that the chilling effect of threatened legal action routinely stops reporters and editors from pursuing stories that might serve the public interest - and anyone who says otherwise is either ignorant or lying. Every honest reporter and editor in America knows that the fact that most news organizations are broke, combined with the increasing threat of aggressive legal action by deep-pocketed entities, private and public, has made it much harder for good reporters to do their jobs, and ripped a hole in the delicate fabric that holds our democracy together.
The idea that Wikileaks is a threat to the traditional practice of reporting misses the point of what Assange and his co-workers have put together - a powerful tool that can help reporters circumvent the legal barriers that are making it hard for them to do their job. Even as he criticizes the evident failures of the mainstream press, Assange insists that Wikileaks should facilitate traditional reporting and analysis. "We're the step before the first person (investigates)," he explained, when accepting Amnesty International's award for exposing police killings in Kenya. "Then someone who is familiar with that material needs to step forward to investigate it and put it in political context. Once that is done, then it becomes of public interest."
Wikileaks is a powerful new way for reporters and human rights advocates to leverage global information technology systems to break the heavy veil of government and corporate secrecy that is slowly suffocating the American press. The likely arrest of Assange in Britain on dubious Swedish sex crimes charges has nothing to do with the importance of the system he has built, and which the US government seems intent on destroying with tactics more appropriate to the Communist Party of China -- pressuring Amazon to throw the site off their servers, and, one imagines by launching the powerful DDOS attacks that threatened to stop visitors from reading the pilfered cables.
Yeah, yeah, yeah! Eso es!!