Alleged sex offender and world-class narcissist Julian Assange coined a phrase to describe the practice of accepting and publishing stolen documents that puts lives in danger and threatens national security: “scientific journalism.” Having made enemies from Washington to Moscow and beyond, Assange is now in full martyr mode, portraying himself and his pals at WikiLeaks as crusaders courageously trying to make the world a better place by delivering facts into the hands of ordinary people like you and me. Here’s how Assange described his brand of “journalism” in an op-ed piece published in The Australian yesterday entitled “Don’t Shoot the Messenger for Revealing Uncomfortable Truths”:
WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?
Even if we were to ignore the propriety of publishing illegally-obtained documents and the morality of putting lives at risk in the name of a twisted form of journalistic purity, Assange’s arguments still don’t hold up. Any time a journalist or a media outlet obtains information, it has to make editorial decisions about how to use that information. What stories do you highlight, and which get less attention? What context do you provide and who provides it? Where do you try to focus your audience’s attention? Like every other media outlet, WikiLeaks has to make such decisions; decisions which inevitably involve the prejudices, judgment and knowledge-base of the editors who make them. The proposition that WikiLeaks is simply a resource for those interested in the truth does not hold up to any kind of scrutiny.
WikiLeaks says that it obtained more than 250,000 State Department cables, for example. Did it simply release all of those documents and allow its readers to figure out who was reporting the news accurately? Of course not. Had it done so, the deluge of information would have been too great for anyone to comprehend. Instead, WikiLeaks did what journalists do: Assange and his cronies made editorial decisions based on which cables, in their judgment, would have the most impact and create the biggest buzz. They provided trusted partners like The New York Times and The Guardian with selected cables that would create blazing headlines. They decided which cables to release at their own site and they offered commentary intended to steer their readers in a particular direction when those readers digested the contents. Assange doesn’t want his followers to judge for themselves, he rather wants them to agree with Julian Assange’s judgment and offer him a deafening round of applause.
In what was perhaps the most egregious example of Assange’s editorial bias, WikiLeaks’ prejudices and duplicity were on full display in the video “Collateral Murder.” Having obtained raw video of an engagement between a US Army Apache helicopter and Iraqi insurgents, Assange didn’t simply air the raw video as received and let the viewer “judge for themselves.” Instead, as a story in The New Yorker detailed, Assange and his cronies spent hour upon hour going over the grainy black and white footage, deciding which portions to publish, which to discard and how to best explain what the edited footage they would release meant, in order to deliver the message they preferred. At no point did they consult with anyone who has been in combat, in order to understand the context of the engagement or how it would have looked to the crew of the Apache. Indeed, the title for the video they chose presupposes a conclusion. Huddled in their hideout in Iceland, the last thing Assange and his pals wanted was for viewers to evaluate the veracity of WikiLeaks’ claims. They rather put in long hours of work in order to ensure that they produced a product that would be fully consistent with their worldview.
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