Weighing WikiLeaks’ “Uncomfortable Truths” and Julian Assange’s “Scientific Journalism”

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

WikiLeaks: Publishing the Unpublishable
Julian Assange of WikiLeaks speaks at the Hack in the Box security conference in Kuala Lumpur in 2009. (photo: Daryl Yeoh / Flickr, released under a Creative Commons 2.0 license)

WikiLeaks' founder Julie Assange published an editorial in The Australian yesterday. In "Don’t shoot messenger for revealing uncomfortable truths" he presents WikiLeaks as a moral, journalistic enterprise whose ideological origins trace back to Assange’s Australian ancestral roots. He writes:

"I grew up in a Queensland country town where people spoke their minds bluntly. They distrusted big government as something that could be corrupted if not watched carefully. … These things have stayed with me. WikiLeaks was created around these core values. The idea, conceived in Australia, was to use internet technologies in new ways to report the truth."

Assange goes on to describe WikiLeaks’ approach as “scientific journalism” — meaning that anyone can read a news story and access it’s original source materials to verify its journalistic accuracy.

Assange’s view of himself as a truth-crusading underdog is not universally shared. Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, argues that Assange’s world view is juvenile and oversimplified. Appearing last week on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show, Rose, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton, opined:

"This guy is basically a crank who is an essentially old-fashioned anarchist…which is essentially an adolescent world view — that all power and all authority is bad. Well, you know what? Not all authority and power is bad. And these cables that have been revealed show actually U.S. diplomats trying to do the right thing in generally intelligent ways. So ironically it proves the opposite of what Assange actually thinks."

David Brooks echoed Rose’s perspective in his recent New York Times column, "The Fragile Community":

"Far from respecting authority, Assange seems to be an old-fashioned anarchist who believes that all ruling institutions are corrupt and public pronouncements are lies. For someone with his mind-set, the decision to expose secrets is easy… But for everyone else, it’s hard."

Brooks goes on to criticize WikiLeaks for undermining the global diplomatic conversation — that when truths are leaked, trust is compromised and relationships suffer.

Is WikiLeaks in fact a constructive vehicle for revealing “uncomfortable truths,” as Assange argues? How are or aren’t we better off as a global community now that these diplomatic cables are Internet-accessible to all? In what ways has this latest round of leaks done more good than harm or more harm than good? Or is it too early to reach a conclusion?

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