Wednesday, May 4, 2011

When do you trust a whistleblower?

Hannah Croft

Julian Assange, featured here in a picture from a story in Vanity Fair, is under fierce scrutiny around the world for his work with WikiLeaks. He is the whistleblower who is bringing to light all kinds of things governments around the world are not comfortable with. How long do you trust someone who can apparently escape all repercussions for his actions thanks to the Internet? The World Wide Web has created a safeguard for institutions such as WikiLeaks since it exists in cyberspace, which is not under any particular government institution. While Assange leaks things which are just given to him, he is seemingly escaping punishment, although those that him leak the documents may not escape quite as unscathed.

So, back to my original question, at what point to you stop trusting someone who will face no consequences for his actions? Big name media outlets such as "The New York Times" must face this question as they decide what to do with the information given to them by WikiLeaks. This is a tough decision since they know that whatever piece of information WikiLeaks has decided to grace "The New York Times" with will absolutely be published on their website. As the first article, "How WikiLeaks is Changing the News Power Structure," so aptly puts it, "In striking that bargain, those news organizations found themselves not as gatekeepers of information, but as guests with VIP access." WikiLeaks is completely changing the game by switching these traditional media roles.

Finally, "The Spreading Leaks before Wikileaks" story also breeches a good point when the author closes by saying, "The lesson then, and now, is that when mainstream journalism doesn't uncover abuses, more radical muckraking activists will, sometimes influencing events in ways politicians and generals do not anticipate." I think this is a great and valid point. If the media was doing it's job well enough by truly in depth, investigative journalism, WikiLeaks would not have as large of a role. Of course, it would still have an edge, because most of the documents it receives are illegal, or leaked, but most of them are not important enough to be covered by mainstream media until you get to the big fish such as, "The Afghanistan War Diaries," that has caused so much controversy. If the media were able to have their own contacts similar to WikiLeaks and crack these stories in a little more ethical way, I would argue that the importance of websites like WikiLeaks would drastically decrease.

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