Saturday, June 8, 2013

Should we trust the leakers?

I've been writing about trust lately. A lot of that was spurred by this statement from Glenn Greenwald:
“I approach my journalism as a litigator,” he said. “People say things, you assume they are lying, and dig for documents to prove it.”
There wasn't any context provided to that, so I have no idea how broadly he means "people." Based on his record though, I think we can safely assume that he includes politicians in that category. But it doesn't seem as if he makes the same assumption about leakers.
They did not act with any self-interest in mind. The opposite is true: they undertook great personal risk and sacrifice for one overarching reason: to make their fellow citizens aware of what their government is doing in the dark. Their objective is to educate, to democratize, to create accountability for those in power.

The people who do this are heroes. They are the embodiment of heroism.
Now perhaps Glenn thoroughly vetted the people who are leaking to him and knows that they have no self-interest or nefarious reason for breaking the law...he trusts them. But if so, all we have to go on is his word on that...we're supposed to trust him.

That quote from Glenn about the heroics of leakers was not specifically about those who are leaking to him though. It was a statement about leakers in general. Glenn calls them "whistleblowers" because this is what he believes about them. I would agree - genuine whistleblowers are heroic.

But the truth is - not all leakers are whistleblowers. Most of us are old enough to remember that Karl Rove and Scooter Libby also leaked information to the press about Valerie Plame's covert status at the CIA. And Cheney's office leaked a lot of false information about WMDs in Iraq to NYT reporter Judith Miller. I would call those leakers the opposite of whistleblowers.

To be fair, because of Glenn's assumption that all politicians are liars, he views anyone who leaks information that damages them to be whistleblowers and anyone who provides information that supports them to be leakers. But I'm afraid the truth is a bit more complex. The person who leaked the information to AP about the thwarting of a bomb threat was providing information that both helped the administration (see: we're preventing terrorism) and hurt them (they had just maintained that there were no serious threats since bin Laden's death). But the real outcome of that leak wasn't its political ramifications, it was the outing of our infiltration of AQAP. Hardly whistleblower material.

All this takes me back to the issue of trust. I think it is no more wise to trust all leakers than it is to distrust all politicians. Real investigative reporting should be about doing the hard work of sorting out the complexities. As we watch reporters do that over time - we build trust in what they tell us. Those that rely of preconceived formulas - like Glenn - are going to be wrong at least as often as they are right.

3 comments:

  1. Daniel Ellsberg took great pains to do no harm to ordinary people when he released his copies of the Pentagon Papers. The recent 'leakers' not only take no responsibility (Ellsberg did) but don't vet anything they release. It's just a public dump - and damn the consequences if people die. Assange didn't care. The AP leaker did not care. If the people doing the leaking don't care about whom they hurt - not politicians but the very people already being harmed by world and US policies - then what good are the leaks??? Outrage is useless. Standing alone as a Godaintitawful moment of feel good snottiness, outrage actually gives aid and comfort to the elites. They can then show the utter irresponsibility of the leaker whose callous disregard utterly discredits them and removes all value from the act of exposing information. This kind of irresponsible activity is the province of Operation Rescue and their ilk who pretend to practice "civil disobedience" in closing clinics but then REFUSE to accept responsibility and consequences for their actions. That's not civil disobedience. It's thuggery. Now the faux Left does it, too. We are becoming a nation of theatrical acts rather than courageous resistance. Worse, we are losing all judgement about what IS a courageous act or one that is capable of making change.

    There are no Daniel Ellsbergs anymore that we can see. He's been replaced by juvenile delinquents who just smash things. That's NOT progress.

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    Replies
    1. Wow! Great observations and great commentary.

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  2. This kind of irresponsible activity is the province of Operation Rescue and their ilk who pretend to practice "civil disobedience" in closing clinics but then REFUSE to accept responsibility and consequences for their actions. That's not civil disobedience. It's thuggery...

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    BooM!

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