The media's authoritarianism and WikiLeaks
(Salon.com) -- by Glenn Greenwald --
After I highlighted the multiple factual inaccuracies in Time's WikiLeaks article yesterday (see Update V) -- and then had an email exchange with its author, Michael Lindenberger -- the magazine has now appended to the article what it is calling a "correction." In reality, the "correction" is nothing of the sort; it is instead a monument to the corrupted premise at the heart of American journalism.
Initially, note that Time has refused to correct its blatantly false claim that WikiLeaks has published "thousands of classified State Department cables" and posted "thousands of secret diplomatic cables" when, in reality, they've posted only 1,269 of the more than 250,000 cables they possess: less than 1/2 of 1 %. It's true that they provided roughly 251,000 cables to five newspapers, but they have only "posted" and "published" roughly 1,200 of them. Time just decided to leave that statement standing even knowing it is factually false.
More significant is the "correction" itself. It applies to Time's clearly false claim of "a distinction between WikiLeaks' indiscriminate posting of the cables . . . and the more careful vetting evidenced by The New York Times." That is false because WikiLeaks' release of cables had not been "indiscriminate" in any sense of the word. As this AP article documents -- and as a casual review of its site independently proves -- WikiLeaks has done very little other than publish the specific cables that have been first released by newspapers around the world, including with the redactions applied by those papers.
So did Time correct its false statement by acknowledging its unquestionable falsity and pointing to the evidence disproving it? Of course not. Instead, they merely noted this at the bottom of the article: "Correction: The story has been amended to reflect the fact that Assange rejects claims that WikiLeaks has 'indiscriminately' dumped documents on its site."...
The reason this matters so much is because this falsehood is at the center of both the propaganda war against WikiLeaks and the efforts to criminally prosecute it by claiming it is not engaged in journalism. Almost every radio and television show I've done over the last ten days concerning WikiLeaks -- and most media accounts I read -- have featured someone, somewhere, touting this lie, usually without contradiction: that WikiLeaks has indiscriminately dumped thousands of cables, whereas newspapers have only selectively published some.
As I wrote yesterday, WikiLeaks has every right to publish more cables than these newspapers decide to publish, and even to publish all of them -- if it does that, that won't change the legal issues one iota -- but since they haven't done that, media outlets have a responsibility not only to refrain from saying they have, but to state clearly that those who make this claim are spouting falsehoods. That's what "journalism" is supposed to be: stating what the facts are for one's readers and viewers. Time's "correction" explicitly refuses to do that (though the magazine's response is at least mildly better than the gross irresponsibility of The New Republic, which published at least two columns promoting this falsehood -- one by James Rubin and the other by Todd Gitlin -- and then did nothing other than publish a piece by Gitlin days later which devotes a couple of paragraphs to insisting he bears no responsibility whatsoever for his factually false statements and then the rest of the piece to attacking me for pointing them out).
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Beyond the need to destroy this pervasive zombie lie about WikiLeaks' conduct in the diplomatic cables disclosure, the broader point here is crucial: the media's willingness to repeat this lie over and over underscores its standard servile role in serving government interests and uncritically spreading government claims. NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen has an excellent analysis today documenting how, in the wake of 9/11, they dropped all pretenses of checking those in political power and instead began explicitly proclaiming -- as The New York Times' chief stenographer and partner-of-Judy-Miller, Michael Gordon, suggested -- that "capturing the dominant view within the government was the job [of journalists], even if that view was wrong." As Rosen writes, "our press has never come to terms with the ways in which it got itself on the wrong side of secrecy as the national security state swelled in size after September 11th," and thus: "To understand Julian Assange and the weird reactions to him in the American press we need to tell a story that starts with Judy Miller and ends with Wikileaks."
That's why this cannot-be-killed lie about WikiLeaks' "indiscriminate" dumping of cables has so consumed me. It's not because it would change much if they had done or end up doing that -- it wouldn't -- but because it just so powerfully proves how mindlessly subservient the American establishment media is: willing to repeat over and over completely false claims as long as it pleases the right people -- the same people to whom they claim they are "adversarial watchdogs." It's when they engage in such clear-cut, deliberate propagandizing that their true function -- their real identity -- is thrown into such stark relief...MORE...LINK