Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Nonprofit whistleblower site behind the “biggest leak in intelligence history”



WikiLeaks, which earlier this year drew headlines for releasing footage of a U.S. attack that killed an Iraqi journalist, has published “The Afghan War Diary,” a collection of over 91,000 classified military documents on the war in Afghanistan, which has been called a journalistic triumph, even as it is criticized by for putting “the lives of Americans…at risk.”

In order to generate publicity, the documents were released to The New York Times, The Guardian, and the German paper Der Spiegel last week, with the only restriction that outlets wait until July 25 to publish stories. The documents include reports of civilian deaths at the hands of coalition forces, signs that Pakistan has aided the insurgency, and reveal the existence of a black ops unit charged with assassinating senior members of the Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

The U.S. government has condemned the leak, saying that it puts national security at risk, and the U.K.’s security minister says the leak is worrying because “military systems have to be secure because people’s lives are at stake,” The Guardian explains. According to The New York Times, a White House memo said that “wikileaks is not an objective news outlet but rather an organization that opposes US policy in Afghanistan.”

However, many have called the documents this generation’s Pentagon Papers, referring to the 1971 classified report on the Vietnam War, and praised the leak as a victory for old-fashioned investigative journalism. Others are impressed with the new way that WikiLeaks does journalism: their information is crowdsourced from anonymous leakers, they publish raw documents (so-called “data journalism”), and they are what NYU professor Jay Rosen calls “the world’s first stateless news organization,” putting the site out of the reach of government restrictions.

Whatever type of journalism you call it, WikiLeaks has succeeded in generating considerable international media coverage for the documents. The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal describes the formula as “the rogue, rather mysterious website provided the raw data; the newspapers provided the context, corroboration, analysis, and distribution.”


Other Related Headlines:
» Afghanistan war logs: Story behind biggest leak in intelligence history (The Guardian)
» Iceland aims to be global press freedom sanctuary (Knight Center)
» The Man Behind Wikileaks: A Julian Assange Cheat Sheet (Vanity Fair)

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