Is Wikileaks Good Or Bad For Democracy?

Depends on who they’re attacking, doesn’t it?
One of the most interesting phenomenons in today’s bloated boisterous internet is a relatively small yet dedicated site that has, since 2006, released major information dumps on the rich and powerful called Wikileaks. The impact of their releases has varied widely, and the only thing more varied than the information they release is the reaction to it. It should be noted, before we go any further, that Wikileaks does not “make” any content. They don’t write articles, or anything similar. They don’t hunt down the information they get, nor do they “take” it themselves. Everything on Wikileaks is there because someone submitted it to them for release.

Wikileaks started in 2006, and, as with many “activist” organizations at the time, the target was George W. Bush, the Iraq war, the Afghanistan war, and the war on terrorism, all of which were favorite talking points for the activist communities. This quote is from an article written in 2010.

Say what you want about WikiLeaks — and I don’t much like what it has done — it nevertheless would be useful for its founder, Julian Assange, to follow George W. Bush as he lopes around the country, promoting his new book, “Decision Points.” When, for instance, Bush attempts to justify the Iraq war by saying the world is a better place without Saddam Hussein, Assange could reach into his bag of leaked U.S. government cables and cite Saudi King Abdullah’s private observation that the war had given Iraq to Iran as a “gift on a golden platter.”

I like the qualification there; after all, you must virtue-signal when talking about Wikileaks (particularly if you’re a “journalist”) so that everyone understands that you aren’t a part of “them” and what “they” do. The author goes on to recount Bush’s numerous failings, something journalists never had a problem doing, and concluded the following:

Reading Bush’s book, seeing him in his various TV appearances, I keep thinking of Menachem Begin, the late Israeli prime minister. In 1982, Begin took Israel to war in Lebanon. It cost Israel as many as 675 dead, 4,000 wounded and its image as invincible on the battlefield. Begin took responsibility. He resigned and became a recluse, a depressed and beaten man.

I suggest no such course for Bush — only that he read the WikiLeaks documents and, for the sake of history and the instruction it offers, reassess his vaunted decisions. His jejune approach to decision-making — know yourself but not necessarily the facts — is downright repellent. On the book’s dust jacket, Bush is shown in a ranching outfit. A Peter Pan outfit would have been more fitting. Like him, Bush has never grown up.

That’s harsh. Bush’s thinking about foreign policy is so simplistic (that’s what jejune means; my guess is someone got a thesaurus for his birthday) that he would benefit from reading some of the Wikileaks dumps at the time and rethink the things he wrote in his book. For a person who claims they don’t like Wikileaks and what they have done, it’s interesting that they’ve used the site as a bludgeon with which to beat a President.

But what does it really mean to attack George W. Bush? If you think about it, not much. Bush was wildly polarizing, to say the least, and for 8 years the American left made him the root of all evil in the world. Attacking Bush in 2006 is about as edgy as saying you’re voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016 (pro tip: it’s not).

But Wikileaks is still around, and this year it has provided a devastating window into the corruption of our political process by people with vested interests in the outcome. In just a few short months Wikleaks demonstrated that the DNC was conspiring to eliminate wildly popular upstart candidate Bernie Sanders, and did so in such a blatant and obvious fashion that the chair of the DNC had to resign (interestingly, to then join Hillary Clinton’s campaign showing how Clinton truly feels about corruption in the party). It showed that various media outlets, particularly the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times have all at various times colluded with the Clinton campaign to shape coverage of both her and her opponent, Donald Trump, and it even showed that Clinton associate Donna Brazile, whose attitude and behavior are nothing short of contemptuous on her best day, even leaked questions from a debate and a town hall to the campaign so that Clinton could prepare for them.

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One would think the ambivalence over Wikileaks has subsided somewhat in its 10 years of existence, and anyone who does so would be wrong. While Trump supporters are crowing from the top of the mountain about how great this is, Clinton supporters have utterly turned their back on the organization. To wit, I offer a paragraph from another op-ed.

Now WikiLeaks is all over the place, a veritable downpour of the once secret, both consequential and trivial — more the latter than the former, it seems. Taking a lateral from Moscow, the organization has gutted the Democratic National Committee, revealing that it had taken sides in the primary fight between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. It later opened a digital vein into the most secret thoughts of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager and a former White House chief of staff. Like the DNC, he, too, favors Clinton. We are constantly finding gambling at Rick’s.

Translation: Wikileaks leaks obvious stuff we already know. The “gambling at Rick’s” remark, for those not familiar, is one of the most classic scenes from the movie Casablanca, wherein Captain Renault says he’s shocked to find out gambling is going on at Rick’s and then, seconds later, is handed his gambling winnings.

The implication of the line is quite clear; “Hey Wikileaks, tell us something we don’t know!”

The piece continues…

When in 2006, WikiLeaks leaked its first leaks, it was hard to know what to make of it. Not much has changed. The organization seems both invaluable and a damned nuisance — leaking a video showing what certainly seemed like a U.S. war crime in Iraq as well as transcripts of Clinton’s speeches to various Wall Street groups in which she did not call for breaking up the banks or for socializing the economy. These non-revelatory revelations, however, were just a piece of the Clinton oeuvre, which also included some personal emails. They, too, are shocking in their banality.

Again, pump up the anti-Bush revelations (not that they needed; the Collateral Murder video was a turning point for many people in their opinion of our government, myself included) while minimizing the anti-Clinton ones. “She didn’t say she was going to break up the banks, so that’s not interesting” seems to be the tactic, except it is mainly because Clinton said that the huge sums of money she’s receiving from massive Wall Street banks won’t affect her policies because she’s strong in the face of them. To the author, these are non-revelatory, but to people like me who mocked her for implying that $650,000 in one year in speaking fees generally wouldn’t affect her policies were confirmed when we learned that she did not, in any way, “come out strong” against those banks like she said she did or would.

Our writer concludes with the following:

No one I know writes candid emails anymore. No one I know is unaware that he or she shares a computer with the Chinese and the Russians. “The Chinese are in your business,” Google’s Eric Schmidt told a group of businessmen not too long ago. The more prudent among us have deleted emails from way back. Now the record is what we say it is. The only thing truly transparent will be our lack of candor.

The clear conclusion is that Wikileaks is contributing to a culture that is the opposite of the transparency they seek, which is a far cry from imploring of one of the subjects of a prior set of leaks, George W. Bush to read the site for clarity on their decisions.

We’re going to lose all this transparency from the government, but we should definitely make sure that people in DC read the leaks if they make them look bad and we don’t like them.

These conflicting opinion pieces are typical in many ways. They show the ambivalence that sometimes follows Wikileaks and what they do, but they also demonstrate an amazing secondary trend.

That one person can hate or love Wikileaks depending on who they’re releasing the info about.

You see, the first two quotes are from a piece by Richard Cohen, reliably liberal nationally-syndicated columnist for the Washington Post.

The second batch of quotes? From a piece by Richard Cohen, reliably liberal nationally-syndicated columnist for the Washington Post.

Good luck with the election, America.

You’re going to need it.

 

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