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The WikiLeaks Fallout: What Happens Next?

6 Dec 2010

With the amount of press and opinions generated recently by the cables leaked by WikiLeaks, the question now becomes what will happen when the dust settles.

Though it is true that though such leaks can adversely affect the government and national security, so far the reactions from the government seem to be blown out of proportion. As Kiron Skinner notes in a CNN op-ed, “Historical analysis cautions against accepting a single document as a smoking gun. It compels the investigator to study primary and secondary sources, and it is a reminder that what is left unstated in a document may be far more revealing than what is stated.”

Much of what is revealed by WikiLeaks seem to appear only in bits and pieces and no one, thus far, seem to be able to provide complete contexts and stories on the leaks besides headlining limited statements from them to generate press. More importantly, the press struggles to read the numerous cables published on WikiLeaks and contextualize the data for its readers; but the truth remains that contexts are limited and occasionally conjectural. The leaks left a confused jumble that prevented us from saying anything worthwhile at all.

In spite of that, this has become a major story dominating the news channels and political debates, especially on whether the leaks constitute as spying, or merely a rendering of government transparency.

As is, with the war on terrorism and already heightened security, this debate has potential consequences on press coverage and free speech: could we see reduced privacy for citizens of the United States?

Timothy J. McNulty of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism muses over the possible outcome of this massive information leak:

Journalists take comfort in the saying about sunlight being the best disinfectant, and usually that is true. Abraham Lincoln expressed the same sentiment this way: “Let the people know the facts and the country will be safe.” I know there is risk in having these illegally obtained insights into government discussions and calculations, but we should not allow others to use this to attack a free media or to create more government secrecy.

What does your average citizen know about how the government operates? Pretty much nothing. Non-C-SPAN viewers hardly know what happens behind the scenes: the stories, the filibusters, the deals. Does it mean that the government should be entirely transparent? Probably not. Should it be more transparent? That is debatable.

But in the end, the most important problem that WikiLeaks scandal sheds light on is not government transparency, but the question of constitutional rights: does the American government’s denouncement of the cables imply a denouncement of open expression? Perhaps it was right time to learn about the wiretapping and espionage conducted by the U.S. government, perfectly timed to coincide with the cultural moment of intrusive TSA pat-downs. Do we really want more restrictions placed on us, the private and free citizens of a supposedly democratic nation? The American citizen seems to acquiesce to government reductions of privacy easily enough. How far will we go in the name of national security? Our xenophobia may get the best of us.

If this doesn’t bother you, you might as well move to China.

[Ed. Note: Should this even truly be an American issue? As redditor koonat points out: “Arguments hinge on some idea that [the WikiLeaks cables are] doing damage to the USA…This is a GLOBAL issue.”]

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 6 Dec 2010 2:54 PM

    All we need is for the US to have a Tiananmen event and the transformation will be complete.

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