Nov 292010
 
Authors: Jim Sojourner

I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty stoked to play Robin to Vladimir Putin’s Batman. I mean, have you seen the man shirtless? And those steely eyes? Rawr. Color me hot and bothered.

Personal fantasies about the realpolitiking Russian prime minister aside, I’m betting President Dimitry Medvedev wasn’t thrilled to find himself compared to the caped crusader’s girlishy sidekick on the front page of the New York Times this week, courtesy of WikiLeaks’ latest round of leaked documents. Or in the Washington Post. Or in England’s The Guardian. Or on Al-Jazeera’s website.

OK, let’s be honest. He probably wasn’t thrilled to find himself on the front page of every major national news organization that I’ve looked at in the world. You can’t buy that kind of fame.

Within the more than 250,000 new pages of diplomatic cables published, U.S. diplomats said, among other things, Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman,” Italian Prime Minister Silvio Burlosconi is “feckless, vain and ineffective as a modern European leader” and Afghan President Hamid Karzai is “an extremely weak man who did not listen to facts.”

Ouch. Looks like sitting down at the negotiating table today, tomorrow or next week could be a little awkward.

High-ranking U.S. officials have said this latest WikiLeaks release has the potential to do more damage than any of its previous releases. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the release an attack on the world. It’s easy to see why with the sheer amount of embarrassing information contained in the pages of the release.

What’s more difficult to see, or to figure out, is whether or not the cable leak is a good thing. I, for one, am torn.

On one hand, I believe in transparent government. I believe in truth. In order for democracy to function the way it should, we the people must have information at our fingertips. We need to know what our government does, why it does what it does and by what means it does what it does. We need to be informed.

We need to be informed to vote. We need to be informed to protest. Information is king.

But on the other hand, the latest WikiLeaks leak really doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. The U.S. pursues policies that benefit its national interests? Shocker. American diplomats don’t think much of some foreign leaders? No way.

On the whole, the latest leak doesn’t make us more informed. It plays to our voyeuristic, celebrity gossip culture, and it embarrasses our diplomats by disclosing information that, by and large, has little relevance to policy decisions. As I noted earlier, it’s hard to sit down with somebody who you inadvertently insulted on the front page of every major news publication in the world and hash out a diplomatic solution to anything.

So I have trouble figuring out whom, exactly, the WikiLeaks leak serves.

Is WikiLeaks a good thing or a bad thing? In this case, at least, I’m inclined to think the leak has done more harm than good. Maybe next time it will do more good than harm. It’s hard to say when hundreds of thousands of pages are thrown to the Web with no discretion.

There was a time –– a time long gone in this digital age –– when media outlets stood as the guardians of information. They took the time to filter it, determine what was important, what was useless and what was just straight up embarrassing. Media outlets, not some unaccountable Internet organization, determined what was published and what wasn’t, and they didn’t have the luxury of lazily throwing it all up on a website.

Now, I realize that’s a lot of power to trust to a few individuals. Maybe it’s too much power. Maybe it was a better way to distribute information. Or maybe it was worse.

Maybe –– probably – it doesn’t really matter anymore. Information spreads rapidly and inexpensively in the digital age. Without total Internet regulation, controlling information or restricting public access isn’t possible any longer.

The latest WikiLeaks leak has certainly done some damage to U.S. diplomatic relations, and, through it all, I’m not sure we’ve learned anything useful except that little is private anymore.

So I guess that’s really the WikiLeaks lesson for our government: Don’t be more open, and don’t be more honest; just keep your secrets, well, more secret.

Are we really better off?

Managing Editor Jim Sojourner is a senior journalism major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:55 pm

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