What is Wikileaks, and how is its existence impacting traditional journalism?
CNN has compiled an excellent list of “fast facts” about WikiLeaks, which it describes as “an organization that facilitates the anonymous leaking of secret information through its website.” Wikileaks was founded in 2006 by Julian Assange, “activist, computer programmer and hacker.”
December 2007 – WikiLeaks posts the U.S. Army manual for soldiers dealing with prisoners at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay.March 2008 – WikiLeaks posts internal documents from the Church of Scientology.September 2008 – WikiLeaks posts emails from the Yahoo email account of Sarah Palin.November 2008 – WikiLeaks posts a list of names and addresses of people it claims belong to the far-right British National Party.November 2009 – WikiLeaks posts what it claims are 500,000 messages sent during theSeptember 11, 2001 attacks.April 5, 2010 – A classified military video is posted by WikiLeaks. It shows a US Apache helicopter firing on and killing two journalists and a number of Iraqi civilians in 2007. The military claimed that the helicopter crew believed the targets were armed insurgents, not civilians.May 2010 – The US military detains Manning for allegedly leaking US combat video, including the US helicopter gunship attack posted on WikiLeaks, and classified State Department records. Manning was turned in by Adrian Lamo, a former hacker, who Manning confided in about leaking the classified records.July 6, 2010 – The military announces it has charged Manning with violating army regulations by transferring classified information to a personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system and of violating federal laws of governing the handling of classified information.July 25, 2010 – WikiLeaks posts more than 90,000 classified documents relating to the Afghanistan war in what has been called the biggest leak since the Pentagon Papers during theVietnam War. The documents are divided into more than 100 categories and touch on everything from the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Afghan civilian deaths resulting from US military actions.October 22, 2010 – WikiLeaks publishes nearly 400,000 classified military documents from theIraq War, providing a new picture of how many Iraqi civilians have been killed, the role that Iran has played in supporting Iraqi militants and many accounts of abuse by Iraq’s army and police.November 28, 2010 – WikiLeaks begins publishing approximately 250,000 leaked State Department cables dating back to 1966. The site says the documents will be released “in stages over the next few months.”November 28, 2010 – The WikiLeaks website suffers an attack designed to make it unavailable to users. A Twitter user called Jester claims responsibility for the attack.December 1, 2010 – Amazon removes WikiLeaks from its servers.April 24, 2011 – Nearly 800 classified US military documents obtained by WikiLeaks reveal details about the alleged terrorist activities of al Qaeda operatives captured and housed in Guantanamo Bay.September 2, 2011 – WikiLeaks releases its archive of more than 250,000 unredacted U.S. diplomatic cables.October 24, 2011 – WikiLeaks announces that it is temporarily halting publication to “aggressively fundraise.” Assange states that a financial blockade by Bank of America, VISA, MasterCard, PayPal and Western Union has cut off 95% of WikiLeaks’ revenue.December 16, 2011 – Manning’s Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing that will determine whether enough evidence exists to merit a court-martial, begins.February 23, 2012 – Manning is formally charged with aiding the enemy, wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet, transmitting national defense information and theft of public property or records.February 26, 2012 – WikiLeaks begins releasing what it says are five million emails from the private intelligence company, Stratfor, starting with a company “glossary” that features unflattering descriptions of US government agencies. The authenticity of the documents could not be independently confirmed.July 5, 2012 – WikiLeaks begins publishing more than 2.4 million emails from Syrian politicians, government ministries and companies dating back to 2006.February 28, 2013 – Manning pleads guilty to some of the 22 charges against him, but not the most serious charge of aiding the enemy, which carries a life sentence.June 3, 2013 – Manning’s court-martial begins.July 30, 2013 – Manning is acquitted of aiding the enemy, but found guilty on 20 other counts, including violations of the Espionage Act.August 21, 2013 – A military judge sentences Manning to 35 years in prison.August 22, 2013 – Through a statement read on NBC’s Today show, Manning announces he wants to live life as a woman and wants to known by his new name, Chelsea Manning.April 23, 2014 – A Kansas judge grants Manning’s request for a formal name change from Bradley to Chelsea.July 22, 2016 – WikiLeaks releases nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic National Committee staffers. The emails appear to show the committee favoring Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sandersduring the US presidential primary.October 7, 2016 – More than 2,000 hacked emails from Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta are published by WikiLeaks. The emails include possible excerpts from closed-door speeches. During the Democratic primary, Sanders asked Clinton to release the transcripts from her speeches but she declined. WikiLeaks claims that it has more than 50,000 of Podesta’s emails and pledges to continue releasing batches of documents during the weeks leading up to the election.
But, how would we classify Wikileaks? Is it a blog? Is it social media? I’m not sure that the organization itself fits squarely into any of the traditional categories we’ve been discussing in class. But, Wikileaks does have a very real relationship with journalism. I might argue that relationship is somewhat antagonistic, if not directly confrontational, largely because the organizations seeks to provide information that many believe traditional journalists should be covering, but are not. Wikileaks has come under immense criticism from all numbers of stakeholders, for its sharing of classified and sensitive information. Its recent involvement in the release of emails associated with Hillary Clinton, both from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and through the use of her private server while serving as Secretary of State, have once again landed Wikileaks at the epicenter of condemnation.
The Sunlight Foundation critiqued the DNC leak, through an article titled On Weaponized Transparency, by charging that WikiLeaks poses a similar threat to privacy — if not a greater one — as the government agencies it rails against, by failing to withhold information such as credit card data. In posting its article, the Foundation further noted, “The Center for Responsive Politics reported that the DNC asked the White House to reward donors with slots on boards and commissions without exposing unnecessary personal information.”
This brings into question some of the other elements we’ve been discussing in class, as well as tying together other elements of my portfolio. As we think about whether or not print journalism is dying, and consider the numbers of people who now obtain their news from online sources, what role does an organization like Wikileaks play? And, how does this organization create additional opportunity for this type of reporting?
While Assange and his work has many supporters as well (iconic Australian journalists Laurie Oakes, John Pilger and Phillip Knightley), his critics seem to outnumber them. One Australian author wrote a scathing piece about Assange, dispelling the notion that Wikileaks is a news organization, as well as the insinuation that Assange is a journalist, pointing out that “there is a vast difference between untreated “data dumps” and journalism.” Also, Wikileaks has collaborated closely with traditional media sources to release its leaks, which may suggest that the death of print journalism is less imminent than some people would say and “actually speaks very highly and speaks well of the continued power of traditional news media.”