Michael Gurstein on Sat, 5 Feb 2011 10:11:39 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> FW: [TriumphOfContent] Diplomat Carne Ross Asks: Are the Cables Too Important to Leave to WikiLeaks, the NYTimes, and The Guardian to Sift? (TechPresident.com)

If anyone like me has been asking themselves what happened to Wikileaks here
below is an answer.  (BTW, the discussion below confirms my
ective-use-exploring-the-limits-of-open-government/> analysis (following
Jonsdottir) of the real value of wikileaks being their linkage to "local"
initiatives rather than to the MSM.  
-----Original Message-----
From: TriumphOfContent@yahoogroups.com
[mailto:TriumphOfContent@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Steven Brant
Sent: Friday, February 04, 2011 2:34 PM
To: Steven Brant
Subject: [TriumphOfContent] Diplomat Carne Ross Asks: Are the Cables Too
Important to Leave to WikiLeaks, the NYTimes, and The Guardian to Sift?


Personal Democracy Forum:  Tech President

-important-leave-wikileaks-nytimes-and-guardian-si> Carne Ross Asks: Are the
Cables Too Important to Leave to WikiLeaks, the NYTimes, and The Guardian to

Micah L. Sifry <http://techpresident.com/blogs/micah-l-sifry>  | February 4,
2011 - 2:55pm | Email  <http://techpresident.com/forward?path=node/19083>

I spent yesterday deep in the weeds of WikiLeaks post-mortemizing, first at
an invitation-only session run by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press,
Politics and Public Policy, at the Harvard Kennedy School and then in the
evening at a jam-packed public event hosted by the Columbia University
Journalism School. You can read my live notes from Harvard here
<http://piratepad.net/jIW6RyXMHg>  and Columbia here
<http://piratepad.net/k54oW3Q9Ww> . This is what happens, I guess, when you
write a quickie book on the topic (pre-order your copieshere
<http://www.orbooks.com/our-books/wikileaks/> ).

I was struck by two things across both events, which featured top editors
from the New York Times and the Guardian, and in the case of Harvard, a
strong contingent of former top government officials. First, that too much
of the Eastern Establishment (for the lack of a better term) thinks this
WikiLeaks thing is mostly about them and their roles--"Did the Times editors
do the right thing in publishing their stories?" "Did the Times 'sully' its
reputation by working with Julian Assange, a man with 'an agenda'?" "How
badly has this actually harmed American diplomacy?" And so on.

At best, the Eastern Establishment seems resigned to not being able to
prosecute Assange in a serious way, because of how that would also damage
more "respectable" journalism, and seems to be hoping this will all go away
soon. "The less attention paid to Assange, the better," if you will. But as
I said up at Harvard at my first chance to comment, it was as if we were all
patrons of a polite country club where a streaker just ran past on the lawn,
and our main topic of conversation was how to fix the club's fences. The
notion that the fences were actually gone, or that the public might actually
like seeing the emperor with his clothes off (sorry, I know this mangles my
metaphor) just wasn't on their minds. Oh, and more sherry, please?

My second observation is how little people are thinking about the full
meaning of the cables, the full archives of which both the Times and the
Guardian actually have, we're now finally being told. We're hearing a lot
right now about how the Times and the Guardian managed their often rocky
relations with Assange, and in the case of the Times also how they've
navigated their relations with the US Government too. Bill Keller in
particular seems anxious to reassure Washington that the Times can still be
trusted. And yet both he and David Sanger, who was the center of attention
at the Harvard colloquium, have admitted that despite their best "news
judgment" they didn't realize the importance of the cables on Tunisia or

"Was Tunisia in [our] initial coverage?" Sanger asked of himself,
rhetorically. "Not a word. I wasn't smart enough to look for it." Keller,
after hearing Alan Rusbridger of the Guardian describe that paper's
invitation to its readers to suggest topics to search in the cable archives,
said, "I wonder if somebody would have teased out the cables on Tunisia."
Said Sanger, "We focused on subjects that were most in the news. Clearly we
didn't spend enough time on the material on Egypt," he added.

Indeed, what is yet again becoming painfully clear is that the Times'
editors all too often think like the powerful people they cover. To them,
the close relationship between Washington and the authoritarian regimes of
Tunisia and Egypt wasn't really "news." The fact that a US Ambassador might
write a candid description of Tunisian government corruption and that the US
would continue sending fresh infusions of foreign aid there just isn't news,

And that brings me to today's
-be-left-wikileaks-new-york-times-guardian-etc> post by former British
diplomat Carne Ross, who in my mind has been raising many of the most cogent
questions about Cablegate. Ross asked the first audience question at last
night's Columbia event, and as he explains in his post, Keller and
Rusbridger's responses left him convinced that neither paper is truly up to
the task of divining all the news in the huge 250,000 document caches they
are holding. He writes:

Despite these evident weaknesses in the Guardian's and Times' comprehension
of the data, both Rusbridger and Keller repeated that they would not
countenance releasing the whole stock of cables.  Rusbridger claimed that
the public would not understand them and that there would therefore be
little news in them (perhaps he was jet-lagged but I really did not
understand his point).  Keller contradicted him and said that he thought
that lots of people would rummage around in the data, including experts,
causing a "cacophony" (heaven forbid!).  But he suggested, as he has before,
that the public cannot be trusted with the data (but of course, he did not
need to add, the New York Times can be).
All in all, Keller and Rusbridger gave a rather unimpressive exposition of
these papers' handling of the most important release of diplomatic and
political data in recent times.  I should add that both were notably
dismissive and critical of Assange.   Keller in particular went out of his
way to make some silly and sneering remarks about Assange, which reflected
rather worse on Keller than they did on Assange himself. Keller described
Assange as a mere "source" and one got the impression that Keller was
distinctly unhappy with WikiLeaks' assault on the authority of newspapers to
disseminate only what they see fit as news.

Ross concludes with two very important insights:

Neither the newspapers nor WikiLeaks have the capacity fully to analyse the
full stock of leaked cables, thanks to the sheer volume of cables but also
their extremely broad and manifold political significance. Nonetheless, the
newspapers have decided to stop reporting the cables, and believe that they
have no duty to release further cables to the public. Secondly, neither
newspaper necessarily has the capacity to understand the potential impact of
the cables.  This is because the data is simply too complicated and
voluminous for any one authority to claim to understand in full.

And, as we have seen from both the Tunisia and Egypt cases, if you are not a
member of the Eastern Establishment, which unfortunately takes as given all
kinds of "stable" aspects of U.S. foreign policy, you may discover news in
the cables that the Times and even the Guardian can't quite see. Can we
imagine some kind of system for vetting the as-yet unread cables for that
kind of news, while insuring that individual names and details are properly
redacted? That's Ross's critical question and it's the most important one
I've seen in weeks on WikiLeaks.

Steven G. Brant
Founder and Principal
Trimtab Management Systems
303 Park Avenue South, Suite 1413
New York, NY 10010
(646) 221-1933
Skype:  stevengbrant
http://bit.ly/1cA8YD (memorial essay to Russ Ackoff)

"Human history becomes more and more 
a race between education and catastrophe." 
- H. G. Wells 

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