Daily Telegraph deputy blogs editor Will Heaven has question the decision by Wikileaks to selectively leak its Afghanistan war fails to three newspapers in advance of the public release.
Wikileaks is a website with no political agenda, its founder Julian Assange would have you believe. So I’m puzzled by today’s ‘Afghanistan war log’ story. It doesn’t strike me – or many of my colleagues – as politically neutral to feed such sensitive information to three Left-leaning newspapers: namely The Guardian, The New York Times, and Der Spiegel. Even more puzzling that Wikileaks would choose, very deliberately, to contravene its own mission statement – that crowdsourcing and open data are paramount.
By selecting three like-minded newspapers, Julian Assange has politicised the information. Wikileaks has effectively achieved the polar opposite of crowdsourcing, demonstrating precisely why selective disclosure is a far more subtle – and far more dangerous – method of operation.
Whatever the motives of Wikileaks and Assange, The Guardian has done an awesome job of telling the story – it‘s online coverage in particular is a masterclass in digital journalism. The interactive maps displaying some of the key documents are particularly impressive.
Assange has suggested that the Afghanistan leaks are comparable to the Pentagon Papers, documents released by the New York Times in 1971 on the US war in Vietnam.
Richard Tofel, of ProPublica, is one of numerous commentators who doesn’t think the story is on the same scale.
In terms of important disclosures, it’s not even close, with the historical importance of today’s documents likely to be relatively minor, and that of the Pentagon Papers enormous. The most significant revelations today include the Taliban’s limited use of heat-seeking missiles (which had been previously reported, though little-noticed), and the Pakistani intelligence service’s constant double-dealing and occasional cooperation with the Taliban (long the subject of news stories, and even of some official complaints).
In 1971, in contrast, the Pentagon Papers revealed a host of important discrepancies between the public posture of the U.S. government with respect to Vietnam and the truth – from the Truman administration, through the times of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson.