2011-04-08 WikiLeaks Challenges Media's Gatekeeper Function, Draws Attention to Press' Fealty & Allegiance to Power

ImageCitizens who are concerned with the state of media and democracy in the United States have gathered in Boston to talk about how to reform media. People are here to dig into some of the biggest developments in media, technology and democratic society to get closer to a truth, which can help citizens take action and improve and transform media in their communities.

One of the panels at the conference, "WikiLeaks, Journalism and Modern-Day Muckraking," offered attendees a chance to discuss how WikiLeaks has forced journalists to rethink their role in society and how, in an age of radical transparency, the need for muckraking journalism is greater than ever.

Participating panelists included Greg Mitchell of The Nation, Micah Sifry of the Personal Democracy Forum, Christopher Warren of Australian Media and the Entertainment & Arts Alliance, Emily Warren of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, and Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com. Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! moderated.

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Goodman recounts the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, describing how she came to meet Ethan McCord, a soldier seen in the video rescuing two children wounded in thee Apache helicopter attack. She explains the panel will get to questions like, “What does it mean to get this information to people dedicated to transparency?”

Mitchell provides a quick chronology of the WikiLeaks releases over the past. He discusses the role of gatekeepers and how the press has traditionally decided what to cover and what to leak.

WikiLeaks has circumvented gatekeepers of the media, says Mitchell, and, in fact, inspired the press to take back their traditional gatekeeper function by working to set up their own “leak portals” (e.g. Al Jazeera English, New York Times, etc).

Sifry suggests the real story to come from WikiLeaks has to do not so much with the organization itself but the fact that it shows how people can do “transparency to the powerful.” It shows that institutions in government gain trust by being transparent, however, WikiLeaks is not responsible for that development. And, Sifry takes a stand on WikiLeaks saying it is a “broken organization” and Julian Assange runs it in an “autocratic” fashion.

He also says the New York Times is clearly broken, as he cites the fact that the way they covered the US State Embassy cables was through “keyword searches” in a database. They never looked up the word “kleptocracy” and had they the Times would have found a cable on Libya.

Warren doesn't quite agree with Sifry's assessment of WikiLeaks. If journalists had to pass the personality test the press asks Assange to pass, few would, says Warren. Warren gets into how WikiLeaks has revealed the weaknesses of American journalism. He also calls attention to the dangerous distinction that Assange or WikiLeaks is a "source" and not a "media organization," as legally that could have profound implications.

Bell talks about WikiLeaks being a "prism" for understanding the transformation of journalism and its structures, which has been rapidly unfolding over past years.

And, Greenwald considers events surrounding WikiLeaks to be one of the most revealing controversies in recent history. Journalists often think it important, Greenwald notes, to fake the pretense that they are a check on the powerful. But, in this case, the US media has barely even tried to establish any sort of an anti-establishment veneer. And, Greenwald supposes this is because they are part of the political structure in the US and see WikiLeaks’ releases as not only an attack on the US government but also an attack on the institution they are a part of—the press.

Gate keepers??

MSM as the sanctioned and subsidized diseminators of "News", have never delivered on that mandate. With the highspeed rubber stamping, charaterized by the Patriot Act and WMD stories of the Bush years, the media surrendered even the pretext.

The real problem might be found on the demographic age curve, with the more 'conservative' boomers tending to subscribe to conventional media because they have not yet embraced the newer technologies.

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