Wikileaks and the Free Press

“Congress shall make no law ?abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” 1st Amendment, US Constitution

US officials routinely declare commitment to a free press ? except when someone uses it to reveal unflattering information. Ironically, members of the media critical of Wikileaks also think the government should protect us by not sharing “classified information.” Those two words often alert us to some bureaucrat is covering his ass by barring the public from knowing of  a possibly illegal act.

In school, Americans routinely hear “we are a government of law.” Teachers should add “when convenient.”

Indeed, Julian Assange formed Wikileaks because the US government had acted in a wildly illegal fashion and then used “classification of documents” to cover crimes  — and because mainstream media abdicated its responsibility decades ago.

Look at some instances from the newspaper of record to understand the nature of the US free press.

During the Spanish Civil War, Herbert Matthews saw dead and wounded Italian troops. Mussolini had dispatched them to aid Franco’s fascist insurgency against the Republic.
Returning to Madrid to file the story Matthews’ boat capsized, Ernest Hemingway jumped in after him and pulled him out.

Days later, Matthews discovered the Times editor had removed the Italian connection entirely by changing “Italian” in his story to “insurgent.” The Hemingway story got spiked. (Authors conversations with Matthews –1961)

In 1961, shortly before the CIA launched its selected group of Cuban exiles to invade the island, Tad Szulc wrote a story on the impending covert operation, including the date, and the place: the Bay of Pigs. The Times’ editor alerted the publisher who phoned President Kennedy.

Should the Times publish the details?

Kennedy thought making public the where and when of the CIA plan would damage US national security. The Times removed the “where and when” from the story.

After the “Bay of Pigs fiasco,” Kennedy reportedly regretted his comment to the Times’ publisher. Had The Times published the details, Kennedy might have had a pretext to cancel the operation.

In October 1962, Fidel Castro invited Matthews to cover the Missile Crisis from inside his office. Matthews called the publisher who called the White house. Not a good idea, said a top Kennedy adviser. Matthews was told not to cover the story from Cuba.

In 2002 and into early 2003 the Times featured bogus front page stories by Judith Miller and other reporters offering supposedly definitive evidence of Saddam Hussein’s possession of WMD. The sources turned out to be the Cheney-Rumsfeld gang who peddled invented “evidence” to opportunistic journalists.

Currently, The Times beats journalistic war drums on Iran with similar “evidence.” Its “fear Iran” stories omit key historical events. The United States initiated Iran’s nuclear program when the Shah (our guy) ruled that country. In the mid 1980s top Reagan officials illegally sold sophisticated missiles to Iran’s theocratic rulers (Iran-Contra scandal).

Wikileaks published documents from sources US journalists should have cultivated instead of behaving like White House stenographers. (Exceptions like Seymour Hersh and Dana Priest only dramatize the point: the fourth estate has become an arm of national security policy.)

In 2009, the media cheered Assange as he accepted Amnesty International’s UK New Media Award for Wikileaks’ “Kenya: The Cry of Blood – Extra Judicial Killings. But Assange this time has used his sources to reveal sins of a democratic regime ?the world’s leading source of “freedom”.

The righteous Wolf Blitzer howled on CNN to demand the Government make certain neither he nor his journalistic competitors discover any more “classified” documents.

“Do we know yet if they’ve [made] that fix? [that] somebody right now who has top secret or secret security clearance can no longer download information onto a C.D. or a thumb drive?” (Nov. 29)

Blitzer fears citizens might realize their government does major hanky panky. Did Blitzer get his journalism degree from a correspondence course at Pentagon U?

Underlying Blitzer’s blitz echoes Secretary of State Clinton’s whine that Wikileaks endangered lives.

Wait! Officials of a government that killed more than 100,000 people in the Iraq War and countless tens of thousands in Afghanistan have “humane” concerns? The people who order drone strikes to assassinate “suspected terrorists” in several countries worry about endangering lives?

Amnesia? US troops killed millions of civilians in the Vietnam and Korean wars, yet US leaders possess the chutzpah to accuse Wikileaks of endangering peoples’ lives by revealing U.S. sources?

The government has not yet shown that the cable releases have caused deaths ? even among Arab dictators and hired ratfinks who fed names to the US military for arrest or assassination. Maybe some of those exposed will at least feel the torturous whip of public humiliation.

Wikileaks compromised government confidentiality, critics charge, referring to the government that reads our emails and taps our phones. It deserves the same respect it gives its citizens: none.

Wikileaks reveal not a compassionate great power struggling for order and law against venal forces, but a sneaky gang of operators spying on UN officials and anyone else around.

The big secrets in the cables:  Israel and Saudi Arabia pressed Washington to bomb Iran.

The documents ? aside from the trivia and gossip — shows the foolishness and futility of the foundations of US foreign policy. Bullying cannot substitute for diplomacy much less strategy in the Middle East or anywhere else.

Assange deserves journalistic honors and thanks from US citizens. Instead, we hear echos of the noted intellectual who called him “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands. His past posting of classified documents revealed the identity of more than 100 Afghan sources to the Taliban. Why was he not pursued with the same urgency we pursue al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders?

“Did we use all the cyber tools at our disposal to permanently dismantle Wikileaks? Were individuals working for Wikileaks on these document leaks investigated? Shouldn’t they at least have had their financial assets frozen just as we do to individuals who provide material support for terrorist organizations?” (Sarah Palin on her Facebook)

SAUL LANDAU’s new film WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP premiered December 11 at the Havana Film Festival. CounterPunch published his BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD.


SAUL LANDAU’s A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch / AK Press.