28 November 2010

Cablegate is more about Wikileaks (and Julian Assange) and less about the cables

Today, Wikileaks has begun to release some of the 251,287 embassy cables in their possession.  They won't say, but presumably these are all or some of the cables Bradley Manning illegally obtained while stationed in Iraq.

Wikileaks' Cablegate page says that:
[t]he embassy cables will be released in stages over the next few months. The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice.
This is an interesting editorial comment on their part.  The material in these cables is so important that you, the well-read reader of the world, could not possibly comprehend them all at once.  Instead, we will feed them to you slowly, like a drug, so that Wikileaks can remain in the news as long as possible.  Because that's what this is all about, really.  If the material was that important, they'd release it all and let the world's media decide what is and isn't important.  Why risk a time delay, the possibility that their website goes offline and all the material doesn't get released?  What if their fearless leader Julian Assange, wanted for rape in Sweden, gets arrested?  Who decided the release schedule?  So someone else is determining for me what is important and what isn't?  More on this later.

I recognize that Wikileaks is supposed to be about more than Julian Assange, but his figure looms large over the organization:
‘I am the heart and soul of this organization, its founder, philosopher, spokesperson, original coder, organizer, financier and all the rest. If you have a problem with me, piss off.’
Is there any doubt who Wikileaks is really about?  The leaked chat sessions, in which Assange accused another Wikileaks member of leaking data and suspended him for it (the irony of leaked Wikileaks material, no?) close the door on Wikileaks being about more than Julian Assange.

In my prior post about Wikileaks, I challenged them to practice the transparency they preach:
...Wikileaks is about transparency. Can we assume then that they'll continue to regularly update and publish their list of donors? I give them credit for publishing the leak of their own donors, but why does it have to be leaked? If you want transparency, then practice it yourself.
Jacob [Appelbaum] asked for $200,000 in donations for Bradley Manning's legal fund. Will Wikileaks practice transparency by releasing the names of donors to the legal fund?
I'll add to that; since Wikileaks feels the desire to editorialize about the content of these embassy cables, why not release all of the relevant chat sessions among the Wikileaks inner circle so that the public can truly scrutinize what is important, and what isn't.  Who decided the release schedule?  This is important for transparency, isn't it?  Again, going back to my first point, instead of relying on Wikileaks to determine what's important, let the reader decide what is important.

I'll end with what I've said before: Wikileaks lost its focus when the story became about Julian Assange and the Wikileaks organization in general, and less about the actual content of what they're releasing.  There will be some juicy stories about information in these embassy cables, but eventually the story will go back to the underlying narrative about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, and the newsworthiness of their releases is again weakened.
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