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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Assange and professionalism journalism will unravel

David Carr, columnist for the New York Times, repeats a warning I have sounded — that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has a strong activist agenda combined with a lack of concern for the consequences of publishing secrets that may, in the long run, do more harm to the WikiLeaks phenomenon than government attacks. 

Carr writes that the fruitful hybrid journalism that conjoins activist hackers and mainstream newsrooms to publish the Wikileaks-supplied documents won’t be easy in the future because Assange is a “complicated partner” who does not share the values and aims of professional journalism.  For Assange, “transparency” is the “ultimate objective” to deprive illegitimate state actors the secrecy they need to continue their questionable behavior. Mainstream media do publish secret information like WikiLeaks, but they regard the state actors (or states) in question as legitimate (if imperfect) political entities that have at least some legitimate secrets.  http://nyti.ms/gLdQTk

I have said — and continue to worry — that this difference in values will soon force professional newsrooms to limit, stop, or reconsider cooperation with Assange and future Wikileaks-like web sites because of their strong activist belief that all secrets should be published — potentially harmful consequences be damned. The best way for this new trend in whistleblower journalism to continue to have widespread public support is to balance, carefully, the freedom to publish with minimizing harm to innocent third parties and individuals named in secret documents, and by making sure the information won’t assist terrorists. I simply don’t believe that this balancing act is a concern of WikiLeaks, nor do I expect it to guide any new stateless web sites.

A parting of the ways looks likely down the road, perhaps after a release of documents leads to the death of people. I  say this with concern because I support the publication of the diplomatic cables.

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