Wikileaks: handle with care

So says busy CF Capt. Bruce Rolston, dashing off a message that says “context…will have to wait” before immediately providing some useful context. Wikileaks refers to the data dump as a “diary”; but when we normally encounter this term, what’s being referred to is a continuous narrative record kept by a single person and updated and corrected on the fly. The “Afghan war diary” is more like a scrapbook of initial event reports, assembled with little post-hoc correction and with a certain amount of non-expert annotation and categorization. There is value in piercing and documenting the fog of war, but there’s a reason they use the term “fog”. Documenting it is not the same thing as dispersing it.

The media navel-gazing over the Ultimate Meaning of Wikileaks seems a bit over-the-top in the year 2010. I don’t mean to suggest that a really well-hidden drop box for brown envelopes isn’t a useful thing, but is it novel in principle? Jay Rosen’s description of Wikileaks as “the World’s First Stateless News Organization” was quickly met with variants of the observation that the internet itself is “stateless”, and doesn’t have a head office that can be raided or bombed. All this tut-tutting about “accountability” has been familiar since the grunge years, and in our grandparents’ time the world lived with news empires that were “stateless” in a much more alarming sense—that is, because they were global powers unto themselves, and the opinion-shaping abilities of elected politicians and bureaucracies simply hadn’t yet caught up. How “accountable”, in the sense Colleague Potter frets over, were William Randolph Hearst or Lord Beaverbrook or Leopold Ullstein?

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