WORKING DRAFT: Benkler, A Free Irresponsible Press,
Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review
Secretary Robert Gates wrote to the Senate represented that “the review todate has not revealed anysensitive intelligence sources and methods compromised by this disclosure.”
The year ended with thevery careful release of a few hundred (as of this writing, it has risen to over 1900) cables from U.S.embassies in cooperation with five traditional media organizations. At the time of the embassy cablerelease, about two-thirds of news repor ts incorrectly reported that Wikileaks had simply dumped over 250,000 classified cables onto the net.
In fact, Wikileaks made that large number of cables availableonly privately, to the
New York Times
, and later toother media organizations. These organizations put their own teams to sift through the cables, andselected a few, often in redacted form, to publish. Wikileaks then published almost solely those cablesselected bythese traditional organizations, and only in the redacted form released by thoseorganizations.
Of this release Secretary Gates stated: “Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes.Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”
Despite the steadily more cautious and responsible practices Wikileaks came to adopt over thecourse of the year, and despite the apparent absence of evidence of harm, the steady flow of confidential materials through an organization that was not part of the familiar “responsible press” wasmet by increasing levels of angry vitriol from the Administration, politicians, and media commentators.By the end of the year, U.S. Vice President Joeseph Biden responded to the quite limited and carefulrelease of the embassy cables by statingthat Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is “more like a high-tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers,”
leading to predictable calls for his assassination, on themodel of targeted killings of Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, by Fox News commentatorsand Republican presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
The New York Times
's flagship opinion author,Thomas Friedman, declared Wikileaks one of the twomajor threats to a peaceful world under U.S.leadership, parallel to the threat of an ascendant China.
The rhetorical framing of Wikileaks in the socio-political frame of global threat and terrorism,in turn, facilitated and interacted with a range of responses that would have been inconceivable in the
1 Adam Levine,
Gates: Leaked documents don’t reveal key intel, but risks remain
(Oct. 16, 2010, 8:25 AM),
, text accompanying notes __-__.3
detailed description and sourcing
, notes __-__.4 News Briefing, Dep’t of Defense, DOD News Briefing with Secretary Gates and Adm. Mullen from the Pentagon (Nov.30, 2010),
http://www.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=4728. Gates said at a Pentagon press briefing on the day of the release: “Now, I’ve heard the impact of these releases on our foreign policy described as ameltdown, as a game-changer, and so on. I think -- I think those descriptions are fairly significantly overwrought. The factis, governments deal with the United States because it’s in their interest, not because they like us, not because they trust us,and not because they believe we can keep secrets. Many governments -- some governments deal with us because they fear us, some because they respect us, most because they need us. We are still essentially, as has been said before, theindispensable nation. So other nations will continue to deal with us. They will continue to work with us. We will continue toshare sensitive information with one another. Is this embarrassing? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes. Consequences for U.S. foreign policy? I think fairly modest.”5
Biden Makes Case For Assange As A ‘High-Tech Terroist’
(Dec. 19, 2010, 3:51 PM),http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/19/joe-biden-wikileaks-assange-high-tech-terrorist_n_798838.html (“If heconspired, to get these classified documents, with a member of the US military, that's fundamentally different than if somebody drops in your lap, ‘Here David, you're a press person, here is classified materials . . . .’ I would argue that it'scloser to being a high tech terrorist than the Pentagon Papers.”).6
, notes __-__ (describing comments of Bob Beckel, William Kristol, and Sarah Palin).7 Thomas L. Friedman,
We've Only Got America A
, Dec. 15, 2010, at A31,