2011-07-19 Wall Street Journal's Murdoch-Shilling Ratchets Up

ImageThe Wall Street Journal - a News Corporation outlet - is again engaging in aggressive damage control for the Murdoch empire by attacking Wikileaks. WL Central addresses the mendacity.

It appears that the Wall Street Journal - which publishes from News Corp's Celanese Building headquarters in New York city - is suing for the title of "Murdoch's Bulldog." Thinly veiled and deceptive attempts to control the message on the escalating News of the World scandal have been issuing from the once-respected news outlet. And the tactic seems to be diversionary. The second article in two days to defend News Corp by attacking Wikileaks was published today, penned by Bret Stephens.

Trevor Timm has already written here at WL Central about yesterday's clumsy WSJ editorial, which alleged hypocrisy at the Guardian, in that it criticized News of the World while publishing material from Wikileaks. Today's article belaboured the same spurious argument even further, as the air of desperation at News Corp intensified in advance of the Murdoch hearing today. Keen to deny his motives preemptively, Stephens notes:

It's probably inevitable that this column will be read in some quarters as shilling for Rupert Murdoch. Not at all: I have nothing but contempt for the hack journalism practiced by some of the Murdoch titles.

But the entire thrust of his argument undermines this claim. Stephens is either exceptionally ignorant of the facts on which his article touches, or he is very clearly shilling for Rupert Murdoch. These are the only two possible explanations for the deceitfulness on evidence here.

How Damage Control Is Done

The article is a collection of timeworn rhetorical swindles. Stephens' basic argument is a tu quoque fallacy: he attempts to distract attention from criminal activity in News Corp ranks by arguing that the rest of the press is just as deceitful. Even if this were true, it would be nothing more than a distraction from what is, without a doubt, a scandal very worthy of scrutiny.

To substantiate his argument-by-hypocrisy, Stephens raises a false equivalence between, on the one hand, Wikileaks' facilitation of conscientious whistleblowing by corporate and government employees and, on the other hand, criminal interception of private voicemail messages by powerful news organizations.

This false equivalence is only sustainable by lying outright, or by passing on the lies of others. There is simply no comparison between these two activities. To support his case, Stephens therefore marshals various demonstrable falsehoods about Wikileaks. The usual suspects make their appearance - the same old zombie lies, already discredited countless times.

Straightforward Falsehoods

Consider Stephens' initial claims of false equivalence:

In both cases, secret information, initially obtained by illegal means, was disseminated publicly by news organizations that believed the value of the information superseded the letter of the law, as well as the personal interests of those whom it would most directly affect.

There is little doubt that News of the World was engaged in mass criminality, at this point. But it is false to assert that Wikileaks obtained its information by illegal means. It is probably true to say that, when whistleblowers leak evidence of wrongdoing from centres of state and corporate power, they do so in violation of the law. This is often what necessitates the confidentiality of sources in the exposure of such activity. But it is misleading to claim that in passively receiving such information, Wikileaks violates any law.

Wikileaks has, to date, successfully defended all legal challenges to its activities. And if Wikileaks does not obtain its information by illegal means, it is all the more deceitful to claim that the news organizations who publish information from Wikileaks - a list of organizations which includes the Wall Street Journal - are thereby obtaining information by illegal means. It is perfectly consistent with normal press freedoms to be in receipt of classified information. While this has been challenged by states hungry for more secrecy, the courts have thus far protected the practice.

Stephens next relies on the myth that Wikileaks has caused demonstrable harm:

In both cases, a dreadful human toll has been exacted: The British parents of murdered 13-year-old Milly Dowler, led to the false hope that their child might be alive because some of her voice mails were deleted after her abduction; Afghan citizens, fearful of Taliban reprisals after being exposed by WikiLeaks as U.S. informants.

It is worth noting in passing that the phrase "a dreadful human toll" conjures images more of mass graves than fearful informants. But the central falsehood here - that the lives of Afghan informants were substantially endangered - has been discredited multiple times as a piece of straightforward US government spin. To date, Wikileaks does not have "blood on its hands," as has been so often cited. Furthermore, the controversy over the endangerment of Afghan lives rests on the allegation that Wikileaks was careless about harm minimization in its release of the Afghanistan War Logs. This too is a piece of government spin, calculated to conceal the US government's own negligence in helping with harm minimization.

Stephens, however, presumes damage on the part of Wikileaks, and quotes obediently from official government statements, presumably relying on trust that a faction which has a clear vested interest in seeing Wikileaks discredited would not fabricate harm to this end:

Seen in this light, the damage caused by WikiLeaks almost certainly exceeded what was done by News of the World, precisely because Mr. Assange and his media enablers were targeting bigger—if often more vulnerable—game. The Obama administration went so far as to insist last year that WikiLeaks "[placed] at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals—from journalists to human rights activists to soldiers." Shouldn't there be some accountability, or at least soul-searching, about this, too??

Elsewhere, Stephens raises another zombie lie from its umpteenth grave. Yesterday, it became known to the world, through the Zimbabwean press, that a treason investigation into Morgan Tzvangirai had collapsed. Wikileaks was blamed in January when journalists at the Guardian failed to redact some of Tzvangirai's comments from a published cable, which were then seized upon by Robert Mugabe's faction in the Zimbabwean government. Ironically, the most strident criticism of Wikileaks issued from the pages of the Guardian itself, although, after a week of criticism, the paper published a retraction, and recognized that it bore the responsibility. The falsehood that it was Wikileaks, and not the Guardian, which was responsible, was nevertheless invulnerable to the facts, and propogated freely elsewhere, as it has clearly done in Stephens' piece:

Was it in the higher public interest to know, as we learned from WikiLeaks, that Zimbabwe's prime minister and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was privately urging U.S. diplomats to hold firm on sanctions even as he was saying the opposite in public? No. Did the public want to know about it? No. What did this particular WikiLeak achieve? Nothing, except to put Mr. Tsvangirai at material risk of being charged with treason and hanged.

When these words were published it was already common knowledge that Tzvangirai is no longer to be prosecuted. While critics of Wikileaks, like Stephens, are happy to wax righteous about the endangerment of Tzvangirai's life, the discovery that he is no longer - and therefore never was - in any danger will likely be a substantial disappointment to them. Distortion though it was to blame Wikileaks for someone else's negligence - it was the closest thing to a point they had. It is for this reason that Tzvangirai's vindication is likely to be ignored by dissimulators like Stephens.

Mentioning Rape

In his attempt to tamp down controversy over the worst abuses of the tabloid press, Stephens scruples little from its tactics, indulging in a brief diversion through Assange's ongoing legal trouble - which has nothing to do with anything here - to throw in a specious association between public interest journalism and the word "rape."

You can see the attraction of this argument—particularly if, like Mr. Assange, you are trying to fight extradition to Sweden on pending rape charges that you consider unworthy of public notice.

The voluminous reservations that are to be had with the investigation in question are well documented, at WL Central and elsewhere. And in fact, it is to his credit that Assange has endured relentless scrutiny of this case so that the irregularities here can be exposed. Those have been - sadly - very worthy of public notice. But put this aside; Stephens isn't just being partial here. He is lying, whether intentionally or carelessly. In order for this not to be a casual libel, Stephens would have had to say that Assange is "trying to fight extradition to Sweden for questioning in connection with rape allegations." Doubtless, the mere mention of sex offences in this context - completely irrelevant though they are - would still have had the desired effect. But fidelity to the facts would not appear to be a priority for the Wall Street Journal, which just happens to share a building with Rupert Murdoch.

Failing to Understand Journalism

The crux of Stephens' false equivalence is an apparently formidable ignorance of the difference between personal privacy and state/corporate secrecy - an ignorance that is doubly repugnant in someone who claims to be a journalist. Taking issue with stringent criticism of Murdoch's News Corp by the rest of the press, he accuses them of "a piece of rhetorical legerdemain that masks a raw assertion of privilege." There is no difference between Wikileaks and phone-hacking, he tells us, except for the self-righteous prejudice of journalistic do-gooders:

The easy answer is that the news revealed by WikiLeaks was in the public interest, whereas what was disclosed by News of the World was merely of interest to the public. By this reckoning, if it's a great matter of state, and especially if it's a government secret, it's fair game. Not so if it's just so much tittle-tattle about essentially private affairs.

As Julian Assange told media partner Bivol, "I believe in the right to communicate and the inviolability of history, privacy for the weak and transparency for the powerful." It is a basic jurisprudential principle of civic democracy that the private individual must be protected from the abuses of arbitrary power. There are rigorous legal restraints on the exercise of state power to ensure that the necessary evil of strong government does not become harmful to the people it is supposed to serve. The concept of privacy is one such restraint, as is the concept of due process. When powerful organizations are able to flagrantly breach the privacy of individuals, they are given an almost total power over them, and there is nothing to prevent them from committing injustices.

Likewise, when powerful organizations and individuals are given the right to pervasive secrecy, they can shield abuses, and commit unaccountable injustices against private individuals. This is why there is a need for public interest whistleblowing, and it is why a press that focuses on the wrongdoing of the powerful is a crucial asset of a just society.

If Stephens had a proper grasp of the principles behind public interest journalism he would realize that News of the World - a hitherto unaccountable organization exploiting vulnerable individuals - is exactly the sort of entity Wikileaks would insist could beneficially become more transparent. By criticizing voicemail interception, publications like The Guardian are acting entirely consistently with the principles that led them to publish stories by Wikileaks.

There is therefore no moral equivalence between News of the World and Wikileaks. Instead, two different analogies are worth bearing in mind. A similarity between Wikileaks' public interest motives and those of The Guardian in the tireless exposure of News of the World. And that between News of the World and a U.S. government which avails of the prerogative of state secrecy to lie and dissemble, mislead its public, spy and violate civil liberties on the domestic front, and commit acts of state terrorism and the crimes of aggression abroad.

If Bret Stephens was a journalist, all of this would be clear to him. But he cannot be that. To appropriate the term 'journalist' as one who engages in clamorous apologism for state and corporate criminality, and for the abuse of the vulnerable, is to offend against the language we speak. His attacks on Wikileaks are merely the incidental symptoms of a general malady: the inversion of the function of the press by corporate monopolies and incestuous loyalties. At best, Stephens has negligently misstated the facts. At worst, he is a liar for hire. And either way, it is abundantly clear which payroll he is on.

News Corp

It might be presumed that Parliament considers skill at buttering bread to be the defining mark of a "Gentleman's" interity.

Certainly, one would not want to assume that a few telephone taps have compromised everyone to the extent that there will be no consequences for corrupting the justice system.

And Look How The System Works...

This utter tripe from the Wall Street Journal is now being swallowed and regurgitated by various right-wing crazy US outlets, who then spew it into the brains of their minions with minimal further diagnosis. Hey! It's the Wall Street Journal! It MUST be true, right?! Just add a little seasoning to make sure they swallow it whole.

One example is the Independent Women's Forum (@IWF on Twitter) who threw up this dog's breakfast : http://t.co/3GV6WFd

Another example is the Christian Broadcasting Network (www.cbn.com) who published this banal homily to Bret Stephen's genius: http://t.co/IF5yCQd

But there's more:


And more:


And even more!


One might describe the Murdoch media empire as a vampire squid whose tentacles are wrapped around the face of humanity, but Goldman Sachs has already claimed that title. It's little surprise that the two enterprises work hand in glove.

Cognitive Dissonance Or Just Deliberate Propaganda?

I suggest the latter.

There's no internal logic to Stephens' argument, as even the anti-WikiLeaks readers in the WSJ noted. It's just pure horse-shit, flung wildly in all directions.

This is the Beck/O'Reilly school of Murdoch media: you can always retract the lies after the damage has been done. Who cares? As long as it's entertaining to your lizard-brain target audience, and gives them a crutch on which to rest their own greedy self-deception.

Great job, x7o, thanks.

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