Somehow reminds of Paul Harvey
January 26, 2011 3:15 PM   Subscribe

While Assange mused darkly in his exile, one of his lawyers sent out a mock Christmas card that suggested at least someone on the WikiLeaks team was not lacking a sense of the absurd. The message: “Dear kids, Santa is Mum & Dad. Love, WikiLeaks.” Bill Keller gives his version of the Wikileaks saga. (previously: Everything, but most especially this.) The snark has begun already.

Soon to be in e-book form, apparently:

Bill Keller is the executive editor of The New York Times. This essay is adapted from his introduction to “Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy: Complete and Updated Coverage from The New York Times,” which will be published in e-book form on Jan. 31. For sale at nytimes.com/opensecrets.
posted by Diablevert (55 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
A few newspapers have gained the most. For the next 3-5 years, any time there's a slow news day they can always discover some new gem hidden among the 246,000 unpublished cables (or whatever the number is).
posted by anigbrowl at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2011


The reporters had begun preliminary work on the Afghanistan field reports, using a large Excel spreadsheet to organize the material, then plugging in search terms and combing the documents for newsworthy content.

A spreadsheet is not a database!!!

Jeez.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2011 [19 favorites]


Julian Assange is a sideshow. Talking about him is about as relevant (but way more interesting and compelling to read) as the celebrity gossip in People Magazine. The Wikileaks model of "journalism", however, is much more interesting, unless you're writing from the perspective of an established media presence such as NYT. Then Wikileaks simply becomes threatening.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:30 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


A spreadsheet is not a database!!!

Tell that to my 20 color-tabbed worksheets.
posted by benzenedream at 3:36 PM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


That Christmas card is kind of funny.
posted by Zozo at 3:38 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some background:

It's almost cute how jealous the Times is of Wikileaks. Keller's approved development of a "digital drop box" for anonymous sources, something Al Jazeera started recently as well, so the New York Times won't always be waiting on info from Wikileaks. Or worse, being cut out in favor of other newspapers, as happened with the latest leaks. Now Keller admits the the Julian story has often overshadowed, you know, the fucking leaks. No kidding, if only you were the editor of a big news source and could do something about that! After the NY Times refused to use the word "torture" in their coverage of Wikileaks "torture" leaks, I'm not surprised to see what is essentially ad hominem sniping.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


Shockingly, the son of the former CEO of Chevron and de facto ruler of the nation's leading edition of Pravda does not like subversive outsiders.
posted by notion at 3:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


This link is a useful followup that's been poseted to a couple of the other wikileaks threads: Apparently the military can't draw direct connections between Manning and Assange, meaning there's no case for conspiracy charges against Assange.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:46 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the reference of Pravda is to the NY Times, then that is plain silly.
posted by Postroad at 3:48 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


sorry but I wanted to add this to my comment as an example of how the NYTimes in fact
does not play ball with govt:
https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Pentagon_Papers
posted by Postroad at 3:52 PM on January 26, 2011


U.S. military officials tell NBC News that investigators have been unable to make any direct connection between a jailed army private suspected with leaking secret documents and Julian Assange, founder of the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:55 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Shockingly, the son of the former CEO of Chevron and de facto ruler of the nation's leading edition of Pravda does not like subversive outsiders.

Even more shockingly, when subversives want to get their message out, apparently their first call is to the respective Pravdas of Great Britain, the US and Germany.
posted by roquetuen at 3:57 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


Gawker, of all places, has a good story about this.
posted by orrnyereg at 4:02 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most telling sentences were the first two:
This past June, Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, phoned me and asked, mysteriously, whether I had any idea how to arrange a secure communication. Not really, I confessed.
posted by delmoi at 4:05 PM on January 26, 2011


From Gawker:

But there's something unseemly about Keller attacking him so openly and gleefully. This is the man, for better or worse, whose effort and innovation made possible the little e-book Keller is hawking. He had accomplished reporting feats—in terms of sheer breadth and volume—that no one at the Times ever had, or ever will, match. He had something that the Times desperately wanted, and shared it with them, for free. The fact that he's also an asshole doesn't mean Keller ought to go on braying about it
posted by KokuRyu at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


This newspaper has learned Mr. Assange is eccentric, manipulative, volatile, coy, slouching, smelly, arrogant, could figure as a villain in a Stieg Larsson novel, muses darkly, and is both openly contemptuous of the American government and openly hostile to the Times.

Reports that he is also a doody-head could not be independently confirmed by press time.

posted by Joe Beese at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2011 [15 favorites]


Any interpretation of the New York Times' official positions on Assange — however they shift — would do well to be put in context by the sleazy hit piece that its reporter John Burns put together back in October 2010.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:30 PM on January 26, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wikileaks would never decide it needed to be behind a pay wall.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:39 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's almost cute how jealous the Times is of Wikileaks

It's almost cute how jealous everyone seems to be of Wikileaks in general, and Assange in particular. Even people like Rachel Maddow, who should still be capping every broadcast with a slow, heartfelt applause of one for what the man and his organization have done, seems at least somewhat offended by him, and the cult of personality that has developed around him.

The reaction he inspires around here is well documented.

I think Julian Assange is taking one for the team, quite frankly. The more he overplays his character, and the more visible a decoy he is, the more his organization can get back to "undermining the vast network of corruptions that comprise 'society' in 2011". All of this focus on the "effeminate cultish leader", and all of this casual Michael Jackson-like defamation of character, is probably going to be good for Wikileaks' ability to carry on in the long-term. Maybe I'm wrong.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 4:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


He had accomplished reporting feats—in terms of sheer breadth and volume—that no one at the Times ever had

Is there really anyone who would describe what Assange does as "reporting"?
posted by neroli at 4:49 PM on January 26, 2011


Is there really anyone who would describe what Assange does as "reporting"?

Well, he certainly often describes himself as a journalist, and Wikileaks, just like a regular news organization works hard to craft some of its info releases - the Apache gunship attack comes to mind - just like the news. The Apache gunship piece was carefully edited and packaged.*

*I got this from the New Yorker profile from a few months ago, but am too lazy to link to it
posted by KokuRyu at 4:56 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't want to be left out if the snark has begun. Here's Keller explaining how much smarter Assange is than anyone at the New York Times:
Assange, slipping naturally into the role of office geek, explained that they had hit the limits of Excel. Open a second spreadsheet, he instructed. They did, and the rest of the data materialized — a total of 92,000 reports from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

The reporters came to think of Assange as smart and well educated [...]
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:00 PM on January 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


neroli: "Is there really anyone who would describe what Assange does as "reporting"?"

The single most important event of the new millennium (and yes I think it is at least of equal significance as Sept 11th), and you're quibbling about whether or not it fits in with a definition of journalism that hasn't changed since the industrial revolution.
posted by danny the boy at 5:01 PM on January 26, 2011 [14 favorites]


I think Julian Assange is taking one for the team, quite frankly. The more he overplays his character, and the more visible a decoy he is, the more his organization can get back to "undermining the vast network of corruptions that comprise 'society' in 2011". All of this focus on the "effeminate cultish leader", and all of this casual Michael Jackson-like defamation of character, is probably going to be good for Wikileaks' ability to carry on in the long-term. Maybe I'm wrong.

Perhaps all the public descriptions of the man are so biased as to invert his true character. This is certainly possible. Perhaps, however, among the distortions there are some shards of truth. Those who've dealt with him paint him as a man mercurial, autocratic, paranoid. His position, of course, might draw out such tendencies in anyone. Nevertheless, these seem unlikely to me to be the qualities necessary to oversee and maintain a cohesive, long-term, organized effort by a worldwide network of collaborators. Assange himself has said that in order for the site to fulfill his aims people must trust it, in certain ways; to me, at this point it seems like the longer he remains the public face of the organization his troubles will continue to damage the creation of that trust.
posted by Diablevert at 5:14 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those who've dealt with him paint him as a man mercurial, autocratic, paranoid.
Well, wouldn't you be paranoid if prominent American politicians had called for your imprisonment, or even extrajudicial execution? How would you feel if one day you felt like you were being followed, and when you asked one of your sources about it, he looked it up and determined you that you were?

Of all the knocks on Assange , calling him "paranoid" is probably the weirdest.
posted by delmoi at 5:19 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, wouldn't you be paranoid if prominent American politicians had called for your imprisonment

Heh, if only. A lot of them have called for his outright assassination.
posted by spiderskull at 5:22 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, the New York Times keeps the government and the war machine in check, does it?

The Times on the Iraq War
The Times on Afghanistan
Pentagon Censorship of the Gulf War

The Times enthusiastically regurgitates blatantly false propaganda:
After the end of Iraqi occupation, the New York Times (2/28/91) offered this two-sentence retraction, buried five-sixths of the way through an article: "Some of the atrocities that had been reported, such as the killing of infants in the main hospitals shortly after the invasion, are untrue or have been exaggerated, Kuwaitis said. Hospital officials, for instance, said that stories circulated about the killing of 300 children were incorrect."
The Times accidentally forgets to mention that National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft was the chair of major Kuwaiti corporation while profiling his career.

The Times decides that polls on Iraqi opinion are less important than pro-American anecdotes.

The Times buries and minimizes Afghan casualties at the start of the War.

The Times issues a mea culpa on it's coverage of WMDs in 2004. If you'll recall, that was the "single issue" that led to our invasion which lost the lives of thousands of US servicemembers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and will cost about 1.4 trillion dollars by 2015. Oh, and guess who didn't want to audit Judith Miller's reporting? None other than Bill Keller.

Yeah, they're doing a heckuva job holding the government to account cashing in on big news stories that are about to be covered by other papers. As a bonus, it lets them pretend they have credibility.
posted by notion at 5:23 PM on January 26, 2011 [23 favorites]


I should note that I don't see it as a straight conspiracy. The kinds of people the Times usually hires will be entirely devoted to worshipping power well before they arrive there, but in addition to being institutionally incapable of real skepticism, there have been plenty of cases of editorial censorship to protect powerful interests.
posted by notion at 5:35 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should note that I don't see it as a straight conspiracy. The kinds of people the Times usually hires will be entirely devoted to worshipping power Assange well before they arrive there, but in addition to being institutionally incapable of real skepticism, there have been plenty of cases of editorial censorship to protect powerful interests Julian Assange.

At least we know who is paying the bills for the NY Times. Also if I invite the Times over for the weekend it will come in a bag, be polite, and has never once molested me while I was asleep. Also through its public editor it is even willing to respond to its critics.
posted by humanfont at 5:52 PM on January 26, 2011


At least we know who is paying the bills for the NY Times. Also if I invite the Times over for the weekend it will come in a bag, be polite, and has never once molested me while I was asleep. Also through its public editor it is even willing to respond to its critics.

An overwrought and poorly written hit piece? Who do you work for, the Times?
posted by notion at 6:00 PM on January 26, 2011 [7 favorites]


If NBC is right that the government still has no evidence linking Manning to Assange - after increasingly ruthless attempts to manufacture it -I imagine they will be all the more... hopeful that Sweden will imprison him for rape.

By "they", I meant the government, of course.

Who did you think I meant?

posted by Joe Beese at 6:10 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Keller really ends up looking terrible by any standard, to any imaginable reader, here — using his position at the paper to publish all this petty, vindictive, after-the-fact, ad-hominem carping in the first person, while simultaneously using it to plug a future book cheerfully tacked to Assange's coattails? It's almost like he's trying to destroy his own public image — or more likely is so ensconced among other constitutionally uncritical sycophants to power that he's actually somehow unaware how much of a shithead he appears here.
posted by RogerB at 6:47 PM on January 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


Well, wouldn't you be paranoid if prominent American politicians had called for your imprisonment, or even extrajudicial execution?

If I was ignorant enough to think that the blatherings of radio hosts and senile senators were American policy, yes I would.
posted by gjc at 6:52 PM on January 26, 2011


so ensconced among other constitutionally uncritical sycophants to power that he's actually somehow unaware how much of a shithead he appears here

The article's tone made me think of a high school girl nervously reassuring her judgmental friends in the popular set that there's no way she liked that geeky boy.

You have to believe me! I was only hanging out with him so he'd help me with my homework!
posted by Joe Beese at 6:55 PM on January 26, 2011 [6 favorites]


Also, the NYTimes sat the the NSA warrantless wiretapping story until after the 2004 elections.
posted by formless at 7:04 PM on January 26, 2011 [8 favorites]


A few articles from the NY Times that spring to mind as evidence of its continued value to the american public as a source for high quality journalism and information.

-NSA Domestic Surveillance Program
-Pentagon Engaging in Domestic Propaganda on a Wide Scale
-Massive Failures in Enforcing the Clean Water Act
posted by humanfont at 7:30 PM on January 26, 2011


A quote from the ebook, quoted from the Gawker story:

[Times reporter Eric] Schmitt told me that for all Assange's bombast and dark conspiracy theories, he had a bit of Peter Pan in him. One night, when they were all walking down the street after dinner, Assange suddenly started skipping ahead of the group. Schmitt and Goetz stared, speechless. Then, just as suddenly, Assange stopped, got back in step with them and returned to the conversation he had interrupted.

Wow, what a crime against humanity that is. I'd rather trust my fate to someone who hasn't let the world get him down than most of the folks in charge of it now.
posted by JHarris at 7:42 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


A few articles from the NY Times...

THE NYTIMES IS TOO AN AWESOME PAPER

Is that the same NSA Surveillance story that Keller spiked until after the 2004 elections?
posted by rhizome at 7:51 PM on January 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I should note that I don't see it as a straight conspiracy. The kinds of people the Times usually hires will be entirely devoted to worshipping power well before they arrive there, but in addition to being institutionally incapable of real skepticism, there have been plenty of cases of editorial censorship to protect powerful interests.

It's all a little more complicated than that, Mr. Chomsky.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:14 PM on January 26, 2011


KokuRyu: You'll have to provide a better explanation before I can be convinced.
posted by notion at 8:21 PM on January 26, 2011


Is that the same NSA Surveillance story that Keller spiked until after the 2004 elections?

Let's consider this alternate reality where the times published with fewer sources and less details in October 2004 vs. December 2005.

Option 1: John Kerry says something so totally tone deaf that we end up with legislation worse than the FISA act amendments of 2008? As it was independent voters apparently were so supportive of the program that both major party candidates ended up voting for legislation that gave telcos immunity and granted explicit power to the President to do it.

Option 2: A temporary spike in outrage hands the election to John Kerry via Ohio and a near tie in the popular vote (perhaps a slight lead for Bush). In his first term we have continued operations in Iraq and Afghanistan amidst a deteriorating security situation. Following his pre-election promises we send him more troops. Perhaps we get a "surge" effect early, or perhaps things don't line up magically with the tribes turning on Al Qaeda. 2 years later Republicans crush democrats in the midterms over Katrina and the ongoing war. Using their majority positions in both houses they have spent the first two years investigating kerry, and the last two totally frustrating his legislative agenda. The single Kerry term ends with the sex scandal of his vice president John Edwards who apparently is so morally bankrupt that he cheats on his wife while she is dying of cancer. The housing crisis and meltdown still happens, but it is blamed entirely on the democrats as the party in power. The result is president George Allen 2008-present with an overwhelming Republican majority.
posted by humanfont at 8:29 PM on January 26, 2011


Option 3: John Kerry invests heavily in cybernetics research. Capitalism is replaced by an optimization driven, centrally managed economy, ushering in an unexpected new age of 'post scarcity'. Driven by vastly increased funding to all sciences, in 2006 researchers create a computer several times as intelligent as a person. The computer, or 'Hal', as it is affectionately known, wins the primaries as a Democrat, and goes on to win the 2008 election. Singularity achieved June 2009.
posted by Pyry at 8:46 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


[hey folks -- callouts really need to go to metatalk or email, comment trawling is poor form, even if you're pissed at someone. Carry on.]
posted by jessamyn at 8:49 PM on January 26, 2011


In this alternate reality October 2004, does the Alfie remake do better at the box office?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


"HAL became operational on 12 January 1997"
posted by clavdivs at 11:49 PM on January 26, 2011


You know, the cablegate browsing sites are not running on Excel. ;)

Btw, there is still no word on the upcoming Bank of America leak, but Rudolf Elmer has given wikielaks more information on Julius Baer clients using Cayman Islands accounts for tax evasion. Let's hope wikileaks handle's this well enough that BoA's spin crashs & burns.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:20 AM on January 27, 2011


Assange's barrister Geoffrey Robertson has received and award from the NY Bar Association.

Former Swedish judge Sundberg-Weitman speaks out on the handling of the Julian Assange case.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:20 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Of course what Assange does is journalism, something the New York Times needs to be reminded is not just a business but a profession.

He could be the world's biggest douchebag in person. He's still a hero to me.
posted by spitbull at 5:34 AM on January 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


The military aren't the only ones who can't find any laws Wikileaks has broken. The independent investigator Visa hired (Teller AS) came up empty-handed, too. Visa's own investigations are still continuing, however. Link.
posted by Marla Singer at 7:03 AM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


The independent investigator Visa hired (Teller AS) came up empty-handed, too.

Corporations investigating private citizens seems a lot more concerning and newsworthy than what Keller did here. This seems like the kind of story that real journalists should be pursuing, if the NY Times had any real journalists.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:11 AM on January 27, 2011


He could be the world's biggest douchebag in person. He's still a hero to me.

Quoted because I can only give you one favorite.

Corporations investigating private citizens seems a lot more concerning and newsworthy than what Keller did here. This seems like the kind of story that real journalists should be pursuing, if the NY Times had any real journalists.

It does feel creepy. Still though, it's entirely legal. Insurance companies do this shit all the time.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:17 AM on January 27, 2011


Corporations investigating private citizens seems a lot more concerning and newsworthy than what Keller did here.

Well, in point of fact, the agency Visa hired was investigating the group Wikileaks, not Assange the individual.

But even so, how do you propose to disallow investigation of individuals by corporate entities when private investigators make their living by investigating people? How can you legally say it's OK for Sherlock Holmes to investigate individuals, but not for Snoopypants Inc to do so? And much more importantly, the work that good journalists do overlaps considerably at times with the work that private investigators do, so to even think of outlawing such investigations is to tread down a mighty slippery slope.

Anyway, this third party agency was paid money by Visa to find some law, any law, that Wikileaks was breaking or possibly even just bending. They spent some six weeks investigating their little hearts out, then ultimately filed their report: "Wikileaks is clean, btw thanks for the money!" That's gotta make a Wikilieaks supporter smile.
posted by Marla Singer at 9:59 AM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, in point of fact, the agency Visa hired was investigating the group Wikileaks, not Assange the individual.

I have little doubt that their investigations were into the people behind WL, as much as the financial angles.

But even so, how do you propose to disallow investigation of individuals by corporate entities when private investigators make their living by investigating people?

I don't think it can be stopped, but it should be more widely reported when a large corporate entity starts going after private individuals, just because they are in a non-profit group whose activities could impede on Visa and its shareholders. It is the imbalance of power that seems troubling.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:11 AM on January 27, 2011


He could be the world's biggest douchebag in person. He's still a hero to me.

When I was younger I thought that I might one day want to do something original and decisive to change the world - obviously for the better. I wasn't sure what that thing would be. But as I got older and learnt more about the way the world worked - never black and white, always shades of gray - I realised that to change the world in any appreciable way, you'd have to piss a lot of people off, and have a lot of people denouncing you. Because every shade of the opinion rainbow is out there, and they all have broad brushes and lots of paint. There would never be any objective conclusion on your interventions, just argument, noise, attempts to justify, never resolved. No-one agrees on anything, and change is seldom welcomed.

Which is to say that to have any significant impact on this world as an individual you have to be a certain kind of person. Extremely strong in some areas, probably woefully deficient in others. An outlier. Assange is one of those people.

I am not one of those people, thankfully, and so I'll have to content to sit on the sidelines and think up colour metaphors.
posted by memebake at 1:35 PM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Humanfont: So that's a "yes?"
posted by rhizome at 11:40 AM on January 30, 2011


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