Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Reactionary Response to WikiLeaks Afghan Papers

The fall out from the WikiLeaks disclosure of numerous classified military documents continues today, with one Congressman legitimately calling for Pfc. Bradley Manning's execution and Congress as a whole alienating bloggers and new media from a pending "media shield" bill. In other words, just a bunch of folks not getting it.

First, let's begin with Representative Mike Rogers (R-MI), who says that Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is alleged to have leaked the military helicopter footage showing the killing of two Reuters employees in Baghdad should be killed if convicted of leaking the information:

Rogers is, in a phrase, well behind the times. The "culture of disclosure" he speaks of can easily be translated into "transparency." What the helicopter video shows is the death of two Reuters employees and a number of others. What the military told the public following the attack was not true, and they were caught in a lie. The leaking of this video showed that. The Afghan papers leaked to WikiLeaks also catches the government in a few non-truths. If the government is telling its subjects the truth and these papers are leaked and put soldiers in harm's way (which, for the record, has not really been proven) then I see a justifiable reason for outrage against those leaking them. But when the leaks simply highlight lies the government and military have been telling, why focus your anger on the leaker? Why not focus it on the people doing the lying?

And just a quick aside: Rogers, when asked about the Pentagon Papers, stated that he did not have enough knowledge about the case to comment directly. Now, if I were going on a cable news network to talk about the leak of military documents you better know I'm going to quickly read the Wikipedia page on the definitive military papers leak. Rogers is on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and he doesn't "know all of the circumstances around" Ellsburg and the Pentagon Papers?

And then there's the new "media shield" bill currently in front of the Senate. An amendment to the bill being drafted by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will ensure that sites like WikiLeaks are actively excluded from the protections in the bill. The amendment, according to the New York Times, will "make clear that the bill’s protections extend only to traditional news-gathering activities and not to Web sites that serve as a conduit for the mass dissemination of secret documents." In other words, Congress is trying to redefine what a journalist is, a decade after blogging and online-only media already did.

I understand that a lot of people are angry about WikiLeaks, but to call for the execution of leakers and to draft legislation to actively exclude blogs from a media shield law (which, in my opinion is unnecessary anyway thanks to the First Amendment) is just a display of reactionary garbage. Let's focus on real problems, like what is our strategy and what are our goals in Afghanistan? To sit around and allow lobbyists like the Newspaper Association of America to pat Congress' back on a bill that favors their interests and excludes an ever-expanding group representing the future of journalism is just counter-productive.

Photo - Mike Rogers, Chuck Schumer, and Dianne Feinstein (l.-r.) (Kane Photoshop original)

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