Of course Wikileaks matters, profoundly

While the New York Times releases a book about Wikileaks and editor Bill Keller feels the need to smear Julian Assange while saying how much he loves America, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is far more nuanced in his explanation of the relationship between corporate media and Wikileaks:

The challenge from WikiLeaks for media in general (not to mention states, companies or global corporations caught up in the dazzle of unwanted scrutiny) was not a comfortable one. The website’s initial instincts were to publish more or less everything, and they were at first deeply suspicious of any contact between their colleagues on the newspapers and any kind of officialdom. Talking to the State Department, Pentagon or White House, as the New York Times did before each round of publication, was fraught territory in terms of keeping the relationship with WikiLeaks on an even keel. By the time of the Cablegate publication, Assange himself, conscious of the risks of causing unintentional harm to dissidents or other sources, offered to speak to the State Department – an offer that was rejected.

WikiLeaks and similar organisations are, it seems to me, generally admirable in their single minded view of transparency and openness. What has been remarkable is how the sky has not fallen in despite the truly enormous amounts of information released over the months. The enemies of WikiLeaks have made repeated assertions of the harm done by the release. It would be a good idea if someone would fund some rigorous research by a serious academic institution about the balance between harms and benefits. To judge from the response we had from countries without the benefit of a free press, there was a considerable thirst for the information in the cables – a hunger for knowledge which contrasted with the occasional knowing yawns from metropolitan sophisticates who insisted that the cables told us nothing new. Instead of a kneejerk stampede to more secrecy, this could be the opportunity to draw up a score sheet of the upsides and drawbacks of forced transparency.