Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reporting Manning and WikiLeaks, new media trumps old

Who would have thought that the biggest story of 2010 would turn out not to have been broken by "the newspaper of record," but a motley assortment of new media outlets?   Who would have thought that online publications would be spearheading the lion's share of the real investigative journalism concerning WikiLeaks?

The big question of 2010 is how WikiLeaks obtained 250,000 diplomatic cables.  Today, the US government apparently wants to show that Julian Assange conspired with Private First Class Bradley Manning to obtain the cables.   And where must a reader turn for investigative journalism on this story?   You will want to start with Salon (here and here), BoingBoing, Gawker, CNET (here, here, and here), and Fire Dog Lake (here, documentation here, here, and here).

Ironically, concerning the matter of WikiLeaks' relation to Private First Class Manning, presumed "leaker" of 250,000 diplomatic cables, the role of the New York Times and Wired is more reminiscent of how WikiLeaks operates than any classic model of investigative reporting (WikiLeaks being a journalistic organization that publishes material devoid of context or accompanying analysis).

Yet, certainly with respect to one of the most important stories of 2010, comparing the NYT and Wired to WikiLeaks is grossly unfair to WikiLeaks.  WikiLeaks provides us with entire source documents (example). This means that in so far as information consistently gets redacted from the cables to protect innocent parties, readers of WikiLeaks cables can at least see how much info has been removed, and where.   

On the other hand,  Wired's approach to the story has been to relay a few excerpts of an extended online chat between Manning and Lamo, the former hacker who "outed" Bradly Manning.   To this day, Wired is sitting on vast portions of unpublished conversation logs between Manning and Lamo absolutely relevant to story of how WikiLeaks obtained the cables.   Nor has Wired released transcripts merely showing where a determination had been made that content of a private nature had to have been redacted.  Wired is silent.  The New York Times might have provided necessary context when its own reporter interviewed Lamo, but did not.  For example, Times readers were not informed that Lamo, its source for the its Dec. 15 article on Manning, had a criminal record and had recently been consigned to involuntary psychiatric care.   Jane Hamsher of FDL writes, "There are many inconsistencies in Lamo’s many stories, as Marcy Wheeler has documented, yet the normally excellent Charlie Savage lets Lamo serve as sole source for a highly dubious story in the pages of the New York Times."  The paper's only recent investigate article on the WikiLeaks-Manning connection is an example of context-deficient reporting, largely devoid of analysis.

If Watergate happened today, its all too easy to imagine where we wouldn't read about it first.

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