Wikileaks as outsider threatens insider rules

The Wikileaks story over Afghanistan continues to reverberate around the world.

The latest angles, analysis and stories here, here, here, here, here and here.

A powerful explanation of how Wikileaks is changing the rules of the game is writer Jeff Sparrow in ABC Unleashed:

…The release of the Afghan logs constitutes a damning indictment on the traditional pillars of journalism. Wikileaks is a tiny organisation: basically, a bunch of computer nerds supported by a handful of volunteers. Yet, in the short period of its existence, it has broken an extraordinary number of big stories, from the ‘Collateral Murder’ footage of the Apache helicopter in Iraq to corruption in Kenya. As one admirer put it, “Wikileaks has probably produced more scoops in its short life than the Washington Post has in the past 30 years”.

It is, quite simply, remarkable that the New York Times, with its global staff and budget, is depending on revelations from a few people with a website.

What’s the explanation for Assange’s success? Most importantly, Wikleaks practises outsider journalism in a time when many reporters prefer to boast about being insiders. That is, in recent decades, journalism has evolved from its origins as a fairly disreputable trade to become a profession that grants its most high-profile practictioners equal status with those on whom they report. Senior reporters are themselves political players. They know all the candidates personally, they mix with them socially – and they justify that proximity as a way of extracting information.

The problem, of course, is that journalists accustomed to walking the corridors of power are quite likely to end up sharing the attitudes and sensibilities of those they’re supposed to scrutinise. Not surprisingly, within the US, sections of the media have been more concerned to argue that the war logs should never have been released than they’ve been to dig deeper into what the files reveal.

In that respect, Wikileaks represents a very different model – basically, the journalist as outlaw. Julian Assange will not, one imagines, be receiving any invitations to White House parties. Indeed, he seems to be in serious danger of detention or worse.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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