Is the anger justified? Or might it be misdirected?
We are going to examine only those parts of the letter where RSF details their main points of contention with WikiLeaks (letter exerpts in red text):
Jotman's comment: With the help of Google search, I first want to focus on the source of the allegations RSF is making here.  I cannot find where Assange is quoted as having said "ending the war in Afghanistan." Most likely this is a imprecise version of another quote (see ).  The source of the second quote in the above paragraph is the "About WikiLeaks" page on the WikiLeaks website.  The source of the third quote might have been a Washington Post op-ed column by Mark Thiessen. Thiessen wrote:But revealing the identity of hundreds of people who collaborated with the coalition in Afghanistan is highly dangerous. It would not be hard for the Taliban and other armed groups to use these documents to draw up a list of people for targeting in deadly revenge attacks.
Defending yourself, you said that it was about “ending the war in Afghanistan.” You also argued that: “Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future.”  However, the US government has been under significant pressure for some time as regards the advisability of its military presence in Afghanistan, not just since your article’s publication. We are not convinced that your wish to “end the war in Afghanistan”  will be so easily granted and meanwhile, you have unintentionally provided supposedly democratic governments with good grounds for putting the Internet under closer surveillance.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has made clear that his objective in releasing tens of thousands of classified documents was to "end the war in Afghanistan" and "oppose an unjust [war] plan before it reaches implementation." He may well achieve his goal.But did the WikiLeaks founder make that clear? Thiessen has extracted two quotes from an interview published in Der Spiegel Online (to Thiessen's credit he links to the interview). Here are the passages from which Thiessen obtained those quotes; where Assange supposedly "made clear" his objective:
SPIEGEL: Aren't you expecting a little too much?We see that a comment to the effect that "there is a mood to end the war in Afghanistan" -- what Assange actually said -- becomes "your wish to 'end the war in Afghanistan'" in the RSF letter. I believe Thiessen's assumption that "an unjust plan" refers to "an unjust [war] plan" is wrong. I believe that Assange is talking about social reform generally, describing his philosophy about how change comes about in a society, not war planning in particular. Did RSF turn to the selective journalism of a Washington Post op-ed columnist, when it might have gone right to the source document? More on that in a moment.
ASSANGE: There is a mood to end the war in Afghanistan. This information won't do it alone, but it will shift political will in a significant manner....
SPIEGEL: You have said that there is a correlation between the transparency for which you are fighting and a just society. What do you mean by that?
ASSANGE: Reform can only come about when injustice is exposed. To oppose an unjust plan before it reaches implementation is to stop injustice.
The RSF letter continues:
Jotman's comment: On 30 July I wrote a post entitled "White House or WikiLeaks to blame for release of Afghan informants' identities?" I referred to what I considered to have been Assange's best line defense against the Pentagon leaders' (somewhat ironic) charge that he "has blood on his hands." Assange told ABC:It is true that you said that “a further 15,000 potentially sensitive reports” were excluded from the 25 July mass posting, that they were being “reviewed further” and that some of them would be released “once it was deemed safe to do so.”
Nonetheless, indiscriminately publishing 92,000 classified reports reflects a real problem of methodology and, therefore, of credibility. Journalistic work involves the selection of information. The argument with which you defend yourself, namely that Wikileaks is not made up of journalists, is not convincing. Wikileaks is an information outlet and, as such, is subject to the same rules of publishing responsibility as any other media.
Now we contacted the White House as a group before we released this material and asked them to help assist in going through it to make sure that no innocent names came out, and the White House did not accept that request.RSF does not refer to this defense in their Open Letter. Yet, I think it's far and away the most compelling argument in defense of WikiLeaks. At the very least, it shows why the situation, morally speaking, is not anywhere near as simple and straightforward as the RSF letter makes it sound. In my 30 July post I elaborated on why I think this defense has considerable validity.
We told them we were going through a harm minimization process and offered them the chance to point out names of informers or other innocents who might be harmed and they did not respond to that request which was mediated through the New York Times who was acting as the contact for the four media groups involved in this.
RSF asserts that "Journalistic work involves the selection of information." Certainly in the past, on a account of the economics of newsprint, almost all journalism invariably involved a lot of selection. Towards the end of the 30 July post, I wrote:
It's worth noting that WikiLeaks represents a challenge not only to government secrecy, but to a mode of journalism by which a handful of news outlets serve as exclusive gateways to information. WikiLeaks represents a new, more open model of journalism, an open-source approach to the dissemination of knowledge. What distinguishes WikiLeaks from other press organizations is that WikiLeaks is committed to publishing source material.Recall that RSF appeared to have sourced an Assange quote from Washington Post op-ed columnist Thiessen. Thiessen attributed meanings to the WikiLeaks founder's words that may not have been intended. We know this because we, the public, have access to the definitive source of the WikiLeaks/Thiessen quotations: the Der Spiegel Online interview. The interview transcript is journalism, even though its publication involves little if any "selection of information." Journalism is not always selective. Non-selective source material has become an important aspect of online journalism. Furthermore, turning to Thiessen's liberal approach to interpreting Assange, we have an example as to why non-selective acts of journalism are important.
We need both kinds of journalism, highly selective and otherwise. The public needs access to the source materials today because this is the only way that the public -- whether as bloggers, or with the help of journalists -- can hold journalists and publications accountable. That's vital these days when a handful of large media conglomerates -- some with financial ties to the defense sector -- enjoy a too cozy relationship with the US government.
RSF ended its letter with these recommendations:
Wikileaks must provide a more detailed explanation of its actions and must not repeat the same mistake. This will mean a new departure and new methods.Jotman ended his 30 July post with these questions:
Why was cooperation not forthcoming from the White House in this instance?... What did the president know about the names in the Wikileaks documents, and when did he know it?____
Disclaimer: Although Jotman has no connection to WikiLeaks, this blogger received the "Reporters Without Borders" award in 2007 in Deutsch Welle's "Best of the Blogs". Jotman was a contributor to the 2008 edition of the RSF Bloggers Handbook. Jotman has written frequently on this blog in support of both RSF and WikiLeaks, and encourages his readers to support them too.