Perspective: 1987 Panel On The Press, National Security, And Official State Secrets

from the the-more-things-change dept

As we observe what we can in the Bradley Manning trial, it is difficult not to also consider where the mainstream press and Wikileaks fall on the spectrum of their duties to the public and, if any, to the governments whose secrets they expose. In the opinion of some, the media in the United States has done a wonderful job of abdicating their responsibilities, both in covering what Manning exposed and in honestly covering his trial and motivations. Wikileaks, for their part, is both a new type of media animal and a foreign website, raising all kinds of questions about whether they should be considered "media", whether they have any responsibility to the US government, and what their motivations for releasing the secrets Manning provided them were.

It is somewhat instructive to learn that these are questions that are not being raised for the first time, however. In this video of a panel hosted by the Writers Watch Legislative Conference in 1987, several members of the media attempt to tackle the question of how media members should treat secret information when it is provided to them by their sources. It is an hour long but, if you're interested in the topic of what the media's role should be in serving the public, it's worth every second.
Watch the whole thing and come to your own conclusions, but, strictly in my opinion, Christopher Hitchens steals the show at the end, after the other panelists take the position that media should, to some degree, defer to government on the issue of their secrets, launching into an explanation of how state secrets are handled in Britain, the culture of censorship that grew up around their lack of rights, and whether or not Americans should want the same for their own society. A couple of highlight quotes include.
"You should never allow yourself to forget when considering official secrecy and its analogues that you are the intended target of official secrecy and those that doubt it and those that swallow the patriotic defenses for this sad construct are preparing in their minds and trying to prepare in your minds to become model citizens in a national security state. And that's a destiny that I think you should reject while you're lucky enough to be able to do so."
And:
"I regard in fact official secrecy as a negation of the proper conduct and supervision of national security."


That these words came almost two decades ago while we now find ourselves in what can only be described as the furtherance of the then secretive American government is a sad, sad thing.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    jameshogg (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:12am

    "Well, they're informants. So, if they get killed, they've got it coming to them. They deserve it." - Julian Assange on why revealing Afghan fighters' names to the Taliban is acceptable collateral damage.

    I doubt Hitchens would have praised this. There are some things that the government, like it or not, does have to keep secret if it is to be in the moral right.

    I'm all for revealing crimes committed within the secret boundaries of the government... but don't carelessly and recklessly reveal EVERYTHING kept secret by a government just because you can. That's nonsense. Choose carefully what you can and cannot reveal.

     

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      Jay (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:22am

      Re:

      National secrecy is all about one thing...

      Keeping a government official from being implicated for his own crimes.

      Richard Nixon was the king of this from 1946 to 1973 with a TON of campaign maneuvers and sabotage that would have gotten him imprisoned were he not to become the president.

      The government has NO right to secrecy unless they have already turned into a plutocratic republic.

      The "secrets" they actually have tend to be about who is paying off whom, who's in who's back pocket and other issues like corruption and wrong doing. When these things come to light, do you really think the public isn't going to rebel? They've been wanting a government that is "of the people, by the people, for the people" not "of the rich, by the corporations, for the enslavement of the poor"

       

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        jameshogg (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:45am

        Re: Re:

        "National secrecy is all about one thing..."

        It is about numerous things, actually.

        http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7704611.stm

        Hardly anyone is in praise of the government at moments like these. The protest is, quite rightly, "how could you be so stupid to lose our personal data?"

        We all recognise that governments have to respect our privacy. And that can mean not cocking up like this. The government can be in the moral wrong for revealing private information that it shouldn't be.

         

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      John Fenderson (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 9:48am

      Re:

      "Well, they're informants. So, if they get killed, they've got it coming to them. They deserve it." - Julian Assange on why revealing Afghan fighters' names to the Taliban is acceptable collateral damage.


      Assange claims that this was a fabricated quote and that he's never said anything like this.

       

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        jameshogg (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 3:17pm

        Re: Re:

        Well there are many credible sources out there strongly indicating that he did say this. Assange also said he would sue the Guardian for libel but did not do so. And considering the insane libel laws of the U.K. which I'm glad to say have just undergone a step towards reformation, he would have had a strong case against the Guardian even if what the Guardian claimed was true - that's just how insane those libel laws are.

        I don't think he can nor should be prosecuted under any kind of espionage/secrets act. The First Amendment would quite rightly protect him, because failure to do so would lead to slipperiness in which the government could abuse the opportunity.

        But it doesn't change the fact that Assange is still a dick.

         

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          John Fenderson (profile), Apr 26th, 2013 @ 10:04am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Well there are many credible sources out there strongly indicating that he did say this.


          As near as I can tell, all of the sources citing this got it from the same single source, and secondhand at that. So I don't know whether he said it or not, but planting a quote like this is a standard political dirty trick, so it smells suspicious enough to require actual proof before taking it seriously.

          But it doesn't change the fact that Assange is still a dick.


          Maybe he is, but that's totally irrelevant.

           

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        Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 7:07pm

        Re: Re:

        and i, for one, believe him

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:30am

    depends. there ARE good reasons for keeping information secret (for example, identifying people in Witness Protection or spies- they could reasonably be killed as a result of the information. It's not always easy to tell- some intelligence can allow the source to be identified w/o actually naming the source.) if it's merely embarrassing, though I don't see a problem.

     

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      Dark Helmet (profile), Apr 25th, 2013 @ 6:41am

      Re:

      "depends. there ARE good reasons for keeping information secret"

      I can't imagine anyone who could POSSIBLY disagree w/this. The issue isn't some black and white stance on whether all or nothing should be secret. The point of the article, and the one Hitchens made quite well, is that the reins on State Secrets has to be EXTREMELY tight, or else you end up with the London Post Office being a classified location that nobody is allowed to refer to in court....

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 8:24am

      Re:

      Sadly, none of the durrent bunch have to do with honesty, and everything to do with keeping the populace afraid.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 7:04am

    That these words came almost two decades ago while we now find ourselves in what can only be described as the furtherance of the then secretive American government is a sad, sad thing.

    Actually, that should be almost three decades ago.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 25th, 2013 @ 12:44pm

    simple, does the government belong to you or do you belong to the government?

     

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