Thursday, December 16, 2010

In support of journalists serving their vocation

Daniel Ellsberg, who famously leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam war, was arrested today after chaining himself to the gates of the White House. He did so to support Wikileaks and Bradley Manning. Bradley Manning, who's being held in inhuman, mind- and body-breaking conditions at the US military prison in Quantico, Virginia, played the whistle-blowing role Ellsberg played in 1971, while Wikileaks has been playing the role played by the New York Times, which published the Pentagon Papers that Ellsberg leaked. After publishing materials last summer that in another time would have done for the US's war in Afghanistan what the publication of the Pentagon Papers did for its war in Vietnam, Wikileaks then began publishing US diplomatic cables to whom three million people have legal access.

Although the US public sphere has been pretty much able to ignore the devastating revelations made last summer, because the diplomatic cables released have contained sexier material that has created personal embarrassment for some US diplomats, it's been getting greater play in the US media, with calls for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange's blood. Since shared secrets are almost never kept, I find it highly unlikely that secrets shared by three million people are anything but "open secrets"-- i.e., information that is the property of elites who prefer that it be concealed from the people who are actually paying the bills in this country (i.e., everyone who makes less than a million or so a year). But are the US media paying much attention to the really significant stuff? I have my doubts. Surely the media's coverage of Cancun should have reflected what we now know of the lengths that the Obama administration went to make a shambles of international steps to address Global Warming at Copenhagen last year.

To take one example of one of the open secrets found in Wikileaks' ongoing release of diplomatic cables: the extent of US military activity throughout the world. Though I may have suspected that the US was waging its Perpetual War on several fronts (besides the officially acknowledged invasions of Afganistan and Iraq), I never imagined in just how many places in the world the US is carrying out military actions. Wikileaks cables have revealed that the Pentagon alone (never mind what the CIA, the DEA, and other intelligence agencies are up to) is waging covert war in 75 countries. Yes, 75. War, war, and more war is where our tax dollars are going. Which explains why we can't have universal health care, as other civilized nations do, and why we are yanking support from the unemployed, and why there's no money for bridges and other infrastructure, or education, or anti-poverty programs. And so on and so forth.)

Ellsberg timed his civil disobedience with the publication today of a letter from Fairness and Accuracy in the Media signed by numerous journalists and writers:

December 14, 2010

As journalists, activists, artists, scholars and citizens, we condemn the array of threats and attacks on the journalist organization WikiLeaks. After the website's decision, in collaboration with several international media organizations, to publish hundreds of classified State Department diplomatic cables, many pundits, commentators and prominent US politicians have called for harsh actions to be taken to shut down WikiLeaks' operations.

Major corporations like, PayPal, MasterCard and Visa have acted to disrupt the group's ability to publish. US legal authorities and others have repeatedly suggested, without providing any evidence, that WikiLeaks' posting of government secrets is a form of criminal behavior--or that at the very least, such activity should be made illegal. "To the extent there are gaps in our laws," Attorney General Eric Holder proclaimed (11/29/10), "we will move to close those gaps."

Throughout this episode, journalists and prominent media outlets have largely refrained from defending WikiLeaks' rights to publish material of considerable news value and obvious public interest. It appears that these media organizations are hesitant to stand up for this particular media outlet's free speech rights because they find the supposed political motivations behind WikiLeaks' revelations objectionable.

But the test for one's commitment to freedom of the press is not whether one agrees with what a media outlet publishes or the manner in which it is published. WikiLeaks is certainly not beyond criticism. But the overarching consideration should be the freedom to publish in a democratic society--including the freedom to publish material that a particular government would prefer be kept secret. When government officials and media outlets declare that attacks on a particular media organization are justified, it sends an unmistakably chilling message about the rights of anyone to publish material that might rattle or offend established powers.

We hereby stand in support of the WikiLeaks media organization, and condemn the attacks on their freedom as an attack on journalistic freedoms for all.


Daniel Ellsberg
Noam Chomsky
Glenn Greenwald (Salon)
Barbara Ehrenreich
Arundhati Roy (author)
Medea Benjamin (Code Pink)
Tom Morello (musician)
John Nichols (The Nation)
Craig Brown (CommonDreams)
Glen Ford (Black Agenda Report)
DeeDee Halleck (Waves of Change, Deep Dish Network)
Norman Solomon (author, War Made Easy)
Tom Hayden
Fatima Bhutto (author)
Viggo Mortensen (actor)
Don Rojas (Free Speech TV)
Robert McChesney
Edward S. Herman (Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)
Sam Husseini
Jeff Cohen (Park Center for Independent Media)
Joel Bleifuss (In These Times)
Maya Schenwar (Truthout)
Greg Ruggerio (City Lights)
Thom Hartmann
Ben Ehrenreich
Robin Andersen (Fordham University)
Anthony Arnove (author, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal)
Robert Naiman (Just Foreign Policy)
Dan Gillmor (Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship)
Michael Albert (Z Magazine)
Kate Murphy (The Nation)
Michelangelo Signorile (Sirius XM)
Lisa Lynch (Concordia University)
Rory O'Connor (Media Is a Plural)
Aaron Swartz
Peter Rothberg (The Nation)
Doug Henwood (Left Business Observer)
Barry Crimmins
Bill Fletcher, Jr (
Bob Harris (writer)
Jonathan Schwartz (A Tiny Revolution)
Alex Kane
Susan Ohanian
Jamie McClelland (May First/People Link)
Alfredo Lopez (May First/People Link)
Antonia Zerbisias (Toronto Star)
Mark Crispin Miller (NYU)
Jonathan Tasini
Antony Loewenstein

(Organizations/institutions listed for identification purposes only)
For more on the FAIR's efforts, visit the group's website at

Posts in the Pleasures of 2010 series will resume shortly.

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