Last Night

Last Night: WikiLeaks Freaks

By Laura Hawkins December 13, 2010

On Friday, I nerded out at Seattle Public Library, where a panel of local journalists—Sarah van Gelder, the editor-in-chief at Yes! magazine (a leftie nonprofit publication); Mike Fancher, retired executive editor of the Seattle Times; and Brett Horvath, director of the Leaders Network (which mysteriously doesn't exist on the Internet)—convened to hash out the many facets of the great WikiLeaks debate.

Meanwhile, on the interwebs, thousands of folks were signing a petition to "stop the crackdown" on WikiLeaks.

It surfaced pretty immediately that people were not so much pro-WikiLeaks as pro-leaks in general. “The more leaking that goes on, the more everything becomes transparent,” van Gelder said, to nods of agreement. But although most audience members seemed in favor of what Horvath repeatedly referred to as "radical transparency," several were eager to profess they were as skeptical of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as they were of the government itself.

Not an unfamiliar sentiment. Why, asked Horvath, should one person—a guy who “exhibits many signs of megalomania”—get to decide what information becomes public knowledge? And to whom is Assange held accountable?

One can generally count on journalists to be obsessed with access to information, and to be severely disturbed when any entity—government or otherwise—appoints itself as the gatekeeper of said information. For that reason, it surprised me a little when several audience members—including a former White House assistant—questioned whether the public really needs access to a profusion of backroom conversations. "How much do we honestly need to know?" one participant asked.

Few of us have the time or desire to sit down and read all the unabridged embassy cables in their entirety, but for them to be removed by government mandate—for sites like WikiLeaks and OpenLeaks to be censored, or essentially shut down—seems to me like the certain death of free speech. Human rights groups have said their main concern is that civilians would be put in danger (in this case, Afghani informants working for the U.S. military), yet Amnesty International and the Pentagon both refused to go through the documents themselves and redact any potentially endangering information (i.e., names).

The hypocrisy here is profound, and even if WikiLeaks shouldn't be the rightful holder of all classified documents, for the U.S. government to call it a "terrorist" organization or call for assassination attempts on its founder is beyond alarming. WikiLeaks is not publishing blueprints for nuclear weapons. Whether or not we agree with his editorial methods (or lack thereof), we ought to at least commend Assange for creating this venue for government transparency.
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