FOR THE WEEK OF DEC. 06, 2010
Secrets spilled by WikiLeaks pose openness vs. ethics questions
Wikileaks and its leader, Julian Assange, remain in the news. Look for fresh coverage, opinion commentary or reader comments.
Can you find an unrelated example of information that a politician, business executive, celebrity or company would rather not see in the paper?
Also try to spot an article about international environmental, trade, law enforcement or military issues that shows the type of topics diplomats and government officials discuss.
An unauthorized release of more than 250,000 U.S. State Department cables from American Embassies around the world has created intense diplomatic, national security and journalistic fallout. Government memos recently were given to five major publications in New York, London, Paris, Madrid and Hamburg, Germany, by an online organization called WikiLeaks. The four-year-old group also has posted many on its website since Nov. 28. The renegade, nonprofit group says it discloses secret documents to reveal and deter "unethical behavior" by governments and corporations.
The White House, Congress members and others sharply criticize the release as illegal, reckless and even an act of treason (betraying one's country). Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who condemned the security breach as an attack on U.S. foreign policy interests and the international community, vowed aggressive steps to prosecute those who stole "information that was intended to be confidential." A media critic, Max Boot of Commentary magazine, blogged that editors who run leaked cables "have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy. . . .The conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt."
WikiLeaks last July posted tens of thousands of classified Pentagon field reports about the Afghan war. Earlier it exposed internal memos about toxins dumped off Africa's coast, the membership rolls of a racist British party and the U.S. military manual for its prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The shadowy group -- led by 39-year-old Australian journalist Julian Assange, financed by private supporters and staffed by volunteers -- says it uses computer servers in several European countries -- including Sweden and Belgium, where laws provide more protection for its disclosures. "We believe that transparency in government activities leads to reduced corruption, better government and stronger democracies," its website says. "All governments can benefit from increased scrutiny by the world community, as well as their own people. We believe this scrutiny requires information."
Law professor says: "The result will be less interesting stuff on paper for the record, more stuff over the phone or scattered in the diplomatic equivalent of tweets. Diplomatic historians . . . may have a lot less to work with in the future." -- Peter Spiro, Temple University (Philadelphia)
Critic says: "There was a time when editors and reporters thought of themselves as citizens first and journalists second. . . . We now seem to have reached a moment when the West's major news organizations, working hand in glove with a sleazy website, feel free to throw spitballs at those who make policy and those who execute it. This is journalism as pure vandalism." -- Max Boot, blogging at commentarymagazine.com
Journalism group says: "There is no indication that the news organizations that received early access to the cables acted unethically." -- Society for Professional Journalists statement Dec. 3
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