2011-05-08 Greg Mitchell on WikiLeaks & the Questions It Raises About Media

Traditional media organizations, especially those in the United States, are afraid of WikiLeaks. It threatens their position in society.

The new "leaks portal" launched by the Wall Street Journal called "SafeHouse" is not just a shoddy excuse of a system for accepting leaks from "sources" but a sign that the WSJ is afraid of WikiLeaks and how the organization is transforming journalism.

In an up-and-coming documentary on the New York Times, "Page One: A Year Inside the New York Times," executive editor of the Times Bill Keller says on-camera, "The bottom line is, WikiLeaks doesn't need us. Daniel Ellsberg did.” That reality has likely fueled the tension between Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and Bill Keller and the Times.

At the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR) in Boston about a month ago, Greg Mitchell, blogger for The Nation, who has been blogging all things WikiLeaks since the release of the US State Embassy cables began, was present for a panel on WikiLeaks. The panel, in addition to Mitchell, featured Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Micah Sifry, Emily Bell, and Christopher Warren. [The full panel can be viewed here.]

I had the privilege of interviewing Mitchell the day after the panel for The Nation.

[Full disclosure: I currently serve as an intern for The Nation and I happen to assist Mitchell on a daily basis.]

Mitchell explains, "WikiLeaks raises so many questions. Even apart from the content, what it shows about Iraq or Afghanistan or Egypt or Israel or anything, is the issues it has posed for America for free speech, the traditional media versus new forms of communication, transparency versus secrecy, and major issues about who’s going to be the gatekeepers of the future, of the secrets, of the information that the public gets.”

He describes how WikiLeaks has a way of compelling many to consider who gets to decide what stories come out, who gets to decide what secrets remain suppressed and what should get a full airing, what kind of airing do they get, what’s the spin on it and whether alternative media and average citizens have access to it and can they get at information and put their own spin on it.

Mitchell goes on to talk about how WikiLeaks’ release of cables has had a profound impact in various countries around the world. He also mentions how WikiLeaks has gone beyond just working with the New York Times and The Guardian. And, he highlights the hypocrisy of the New York Times

"Hardly a day passes and the Times doesn’t have a story that cites WikiLeaks. Some document that has just come out, often on the front page," says Mitchell. Even though they have been given dozens and dozens of days of coverage, access to numerous scoops, the Times especially Keller will slam Assange and WikiLeaks.

The Atlantic Wire did the counting and found the Times had cited WikiLeaks in nearly half of its issues in 2011 so far: "By our count, on 54 days so far this year* the paper's reporters have relied on WikiLeaks documents as sources for their stories."

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