Thursday, May 5, 2011

How do you fix a leak?

Kim Amedro


Sadly enough, and in testament to this age of news, I first heard of WikiLeaks through some people talking while I was walking somewhere. Furthermore, the first “news story” I stumbled upon the subject was on “The Daily Show” via Jon Stewart. It was bizarre to think of A) just how fast news spreads these days as evidence of Twitter timelines regarding Bin Laden’s death and B) how oddly permanent the news is once it hits the web. There’s no retraction you can run and no way to squash just one outlet.

As Myers pointed out, this changed the power structure of the source and the media. It is “extra legal.” The internet isn’t a nation or a single person. It was designed to protect information from being destroyed from a single point of generation. But, it is ultimately pointed out that Wikileaks still needed these major names to give them credit or legitimize them in the eye of the public. Still, to think that a person could hold that much sway over government and journalism is pretty incredible.

While I was first shocked that anyone could hack into and disseminate such close guarded info, rehashing the Pentagon papers put this “craziness” back into perspective. This wasn’t a new occurrence. Secret documents simple don’t stay completely secret, especially when it deals with human rights.

It is sad that such a “radical,” as organization or affiliate has the ultimate discretion of the news. Luckily reputable papers cared enough to track down the info and analyze it as well—while being very open. However, it is good that this happened. Whether it’s ethical on how they obtain the information is to be determined, but the truth is the truth. And even false reports generate thinking and debate, which is ultimately what news hopes to inspire.

Runaway General

As I read this narrative piece of journalism, something was reminiscent of “Shattered Glass.” I couldn’t stop thinking of Hayden Christensen, or a melodramatic version of Stephen Glass, retelling his version of the Republican convention. I love narrative or interpretive journalism, so long as everything matches up factually. Of course, that’s going to be hard in this case because it seemed like nothing was really out of line. It was pretty believable, the language and behind the scenes views he expressed. But, most sources were “an adviser.” A lot of info came from a “he said, she said” place except those of McChrystal. I guess people truly let their guard down when you become so involved with a piece and follow that area of news for a while—like a beat, there is a reputation there, a sense of vulnerability is exposed. I remember when this surfaced—again through Jon Stewart actually. But I actually didn’t remember all the facts. I was a little relieved, having started to look up reactions to the article, to find that I was indeed aware that this happened. I wasn’t that lacking in keeping up with media coverage.

The surrounding language behind the observation was in true, RS style raw and edgy spiced with a tad of snarky opinion. In comparison to the discussion of WikiLeaks where much was discussed about fact-checking and how these major media outlets were able to cross-check most of the documents, I began to wonder how the RS did it for this piece.

Within the piece itself and its content, I was able to connect some recent news stories I have been reading to McChrystal’s policies. Most notably the recent discoveries on how soldiers "evaluate" detainees for release or "assess their risk" at Guantanamo Bay.

Then I started re-evaluating how media outlets get this info. I think it was very smart how the Times handled the WikiLeaks: with transparency and very open communications. I found an article in Newsweek that told of how Hastings got access to the inner circle around McChrystal. Hastings answers: "Part of it was the circumstances. They were in a different environment. They were in Paris. But you would really have to ask them why they gave me the access that they did"(Newsweek). Apparently, he just emailed McChrystal's "people" and they flew him out to Paris. He claims it's just "journalistic twists." But, I still couldn't get to the bottom of the fact-checking. I guess Hastings simply had a reputable career at Newsweek prior. However, you really start to think about the credibility tof journalism versus the credibility of secret sources. Of course documents can be verified, but they could potentially be counterfeit. Then again, those that reveal bad news and shady details of unreleased mistakes are obviously not going to get comments from those involved. I almost think that counts as some sort of verification that the official sources can’t make any comment on the matter. More verification came when the government appealed to other news organizations to try and persuade WikiLeaks to stop or at least start showing a little restraint.

The Verdict

The RS stuck by this story as investigations couldn’t prove otherwise. As previously stated, all the General said was that the profile “fell short.” I think in some psychological evaluation, there’s a little guilt in there somewhere and despite the blatant use of criticism from the writer himself, I want to defend the reporting. While it is also laced with opinions of others, and some locations, as it is after-the-fact, there’s no real concern of military secrecy here. No documents to really be nervous of and no specific strategy or at least none that I feel would harm intelligence operations—maybe morale of the troops though.

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