Shameful News Industry Willing To Sacrifice Wikileaks To Get Shield Law

from the bad-precedent dept

A few weeks ago, we noted, with some disappointment, that the politicians who had been pushing for a much needed federal shield law for journalism, Senators Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein, were taking the politically expedient route of adding a specific amendment designed to keep Wikileaks out of the bill’s protections. Apparently, a bunch of newspaper folks have stepped forward to support this move. Douglas Lee, at The First Amendment Center has an opinion piece calling those people out for sacrificing their overall principles just to get the shield law approved. The whole thing is a great read, but a few key snippets:

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that representatives of the newspaper industry would have recoiled from working with Congress to deny legal protection to anyone who leaked confidential or classified documents. Today, however, they seem happy to be doing so.

Lee then goes on to quote various industry reps distancing themselves from Wikileaks and putting it down as “not journalism.” He also quotes them admitting that they feel they have to throw Wikileaks under the bus, or the law won’t get passed. He then calls them out on the impact of that decision, hinting at the fact that at least some of this might be due to traditional journalists simply not liking new upstarts that are changing the game — like Wikileaks.

As comforting as it might be to “real” journalists to incorporate editorial oversight into a shield law and to use it to distinguish further between the “us” who are entitled to the law’s protections and the “them” who are not, at least two dangers exist in that approach.

First, does anyone — including the most mainstream of traditional journalists — really think it a good idea that Congress and judges define, analyze and evaluate what is appropriate “editorial oversight”? For decades, news organizations have struggled to resist those efforts in libel cases and, so far, those struggles have succeeded. If those same organizations now invite legislators and judges into their newsrooms to see how worthy their reporters are of protection under a shield law, they shouldn’t be surprised if the legislators and judges decide to stay.

Second, is the free flow of information really served if the act’s protections are denied to those who don’t have or practice editorial oversight? As Schumer acknowledged in his statement, the act already contains language that would limit or deny protection to those who provide or publish classified military secrets. Specifically exempting WikiLeaks and other organizations that might otherwise qualify for protection under the act in at least some cases seems designed not to enhance the free flow of information but to channel that information to mainstream sources.

It is the nature of politics today to compromise principles to get things through, but this move certainly seems unfortunate — and one that I imagine many news organizations will regret down the road.

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Companies: wikileaks

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Comments on “Shameful News Industry Willing To Sacrifice Wikileaks To Get Shield Law”

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Richard (profile) says:

The reality

is that Wikileaks doesn’t need a shield law. It is designed to route around legal measures using technology.

Actually – as the Ponting case showed in the UK – the only thing that is needed is to make sure the final decision gets left to a jury. The jury in that case ignored the law and the judge – and did what was right.

chris (profile) says:

Re: The reality

Wikileaks doesn’t need a shield law. It is designed to route around legal measures using technology.

technology is great and all, but wikileaks real strength is that it isn’t an american operation. it’s based out of sweden and iceland, the latter is working on shield laws and other legislation to become a safe haven for controversial speech on the web:

the american press industry can circle its wagons all it wants, but it won’t have any effect on wikileaks.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: The reality

At present it is convenient to operate out of Iceland/Sweden because that reduces the technological burden and ,makes the site visible on the ordinary web – but Wikileaks could operate from the US if it needed to (or if all countries operated similar laws). The technology is available to make the service itself completely anonuymous if required, not just the informants.

Vincent says:

Re: The reality

Actually, as the article you just linked to points out:

The Conservative government reacted by tightening up UK secrets legislation, introducing the Official Secrets Act 1989. Before the trial a jury could take the view that if an action could be seen to be in the public interest, then that might justify the right of the individual to take that action. As a result of the 1989 modification, that defence was removed. After this enactment, it was taken that ‘”public interest” is what the government of the day says it is.’

Stuart says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree that Fox news is right leaning. Are you saying that MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN are not left wing? You have Chris Mathews semen on your lip. Of course he dose not love you. He gets “shivers running up his leg” for Obama.
At least some of understand that there are 2 bad sides. You are just an idiot wailing against one set of assholes whilst sucking the ass of a different set of the same assholes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Great leaders own their reputation to great storms.

I hope Wikileaks can survive the shitstorm and probably will, does it matter if the law doesn’t give them protection no, would it be good to have it? yes.

The U.S. matter in this case? no.

Besides politics is about little gains, you don’t try to get everything you want, you get one piece of the puzzle at a time. This is how things evolve on the political front and it is slow it can take decades to get everything in place, but it is good that places like Techdirt point out that the job will not be done when the law is passed if it is passed.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fox is the closest thing to Journalists left

It’s sad that the education has gotten so bad, that people think that propaganda organizations like cnn, msnbc, cbs, nbc, abc, the times that are nothing but political water carriers for the left are reporting the news. Like this weekend, 3000 at most come to DC for a Sharpton rally, 350,000+ come to a Beck rally, the main stream media, covers the Sharpton rally, while saying that there were also a few trouble makers at a Beck rally, how is that reporting the news?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Fox is the closest thing to Journalists left

It’s sad that the education has gotten so bad, that people think that propaganda organizations like cnn, msnbc, cbs, nbc, abc, the times that are nothing but political water carriers for the left

If that lot are the left then you’re going to have to invent a whole new vocabulary for The Guardian and the BBC. (and then another one for The Morning Star).

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Fox is the closest thing to Journalism left (WRONG! they only cover what you think is journalism)

It’s sad that the education in the US has gotten so bad, that people think that proganda organizations like fox news, cnn, msnbc, abc, cbs, nbc, etc, actually report news.

They are sponsored outfits, that only cover stories that are convenient for the companies that own them, or buy ad-time on those networks.

Meanwhile in the rest of the world, most of us tend to listen to all sides before forming an opinion. And usually the truth is somewhere in the middle.

rotten dirty bast3erd says:

Re: Fox is the closest thing to Journalists left

@ while saying that there were also a few trouble makers at a Beck rally, how is that reporting the news?

oh, whinge whinge

the anti-war rallies year after year have attracted hundreds of thousands. When did *any* of the mass media report on this at all? how was that reporting the news?

winkileaks? snore — oh aren’t you the clever one! LMAO — at you.

out_of_the_blue says:

"News Industry Willing To Sacrifice Wikileaks"

Wrong take from the start. “Mainstream” news never embraced Wikileaks, so getting rid of it is a plus to them. But perhaps you mean “sacrifice” in the Aztec way, as routine — and perhaps Wikileaks is a specially prepared victim for just the purpose of creating two classes of “journalists”: legitimate and subversive.

I incline to the view that Wikileaks is an intelligence op, and that it’s being used for several goals at once.
1) Wikileaks is a secret organization with large but unknown funding.
2) The initial helicopter massacre video, and all following, are small dirty war details that don’t undermine the very presence of US there.
3) Much of the document release suggests reasons for starting wider wars in Pakistan and Iran, rather than ending the wars.
4) Assange wouldn’t be difficult to nab, yet he’s making public appearances.
5) The “insurance” file: if they’ve anything and are legitimate, they’d better dump it before *all* wind up in a secret prison.
6) The alleged concern for informants and possibly working with the Pentagon to redact the documents. — Er, insane. How does Wikileaks know who the informants are? And if they exist, are they really likely to be identified? And why this *possible* concern for traitors to their own country, in preference to the general populace which is *actually* and *daily* getting blown to bits by US forces? — Adds up to overwhelming indication that an intelligence service is running Wikileaks, putting protecting informants first.
7) Now Wikileaks is being used to put across the notion of “legitimate” journalism, or not.

Christopher (profile) says:

Re: Re: "News Industry Willing To Sacrifice Wikileaks"

Agreed. This ‘evidence’ that he gives is nowhere close to being overwhelming, and to bust his allegations.

1 is because the person who is giving the funding would be harassed by the government if they were made public.
2 does undermine the war and the presence of the United States.
4 is the most egregious here, because Assange has committed no crime and if he was ‘nabbed’, there would be a public outcry that might lead to Europe and other countries going to war with the United States.
5 I cannot comment on, because no one knows what is in the insurance file. As to the ‘secret prison’ thing…. BWAHAHAHAHA! If they even TRIED to touch this man, WAR WAR WAR, JUSTIFIED WAR ON THE UNITED STATES!
That is one time that the United States would get a SEVERE whooping from other countries around the world.
6 is bogus. “Redacting’ shouldn’t be done, even by the PENTAGON. The fact is that allowing our government to have ANY secrets for anything but an extremely SHORT (1 day) period of time allows some BAD SHIT to happen.
7 is bogus because Wikileaks IS legitimate journalism. The people who are saying they AREN’T are just pissed off that Wikileaks has exposed what a FARCE the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are.

Remember Donaue and Politovskaya says:

Re: "News Industry Willing To Sacrifice Wikileaks"

I agree on you that mainstream newspapers do not like Wikileaks as Wikileaks is competitor to them – it is free source of information, which does not pay to the reporters their salary or owners of mainstream industry their revenues.

Since Donaue was taken down during reign of Cheney – Bush was just a puppet – due lack of patriotism, the only credible person fighting for truth, and opposing the liberatrian “Free Market” – free market which has nothign free in it like the Free Market implementation in Argentina and Chile had proven. Yes. Those who are rallying for Free market were behind military coups of Argentina and Chile – and they have no will at all to spread democracy if they are not gaining money out of it.

And I agree, Wikileaks is Intelligence Operation, but most investigative reporting can be seen as Intelligence Operation. They share too many facets with each other. On the other hand, I think the investigative reporting reportin has disappeared in major braodcasters of USA. Docudrama has replaced Documents – and Docudramas are as factual as Reality TV is – “slightly” dramatized and edited reality.

Has everyone noticed how all news industries backing the current economic dogma has started to revision the language into something which resembles Orwellian 1984 New Speak.

S says:

Everyone is happy to point out the shortcomings and biases of mainstream media like Fox, ABC and NYT. There is some merit in this arguement.

How is Wikileaks any different? In the last six months it has only done anti American establisment articles.

Wikileaks has not done a single article on Sweden, United Kingdom and Germany in the last 6 months. Could it be because their Editor in Chief has absolute Editorial power with no accountability and he happens to live in these countries (apart from Iceland?). Can we seriously believe that no one has leaked anything about such big countries in Europe?

We can sue NYT and a jury may rule in our favour. Try that with Wikileaks and you won’t even know who worked on an article about something that went wrong in Belgium.

Gawker has set up a set where people can send in stories about what really happens within Wikileaks. Lets see what kind of info is made public about Wikileaks.

Keep our Government and mainstream media under scrutiny. And do the same for Assange.

S says:

Re: Re: Same with you

And your assetion without evidence makes you ? What evidence do you have to back your arguement? Do you have access to what was leaked to Wikileaks and can be sure there is nothing about Germany and UK?

This is the problem. With Assange as God in chief, both of us can not be sure what was leaked and what was published

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Same with you

And your assetion without evidence makes you ? What evidence do you have to back your arguement?

My assertion and argument was that you didn’t provide any evidence. So now you’re asking me prove that you didn’t? What are you, some kind of troll?I think it’s pretty obvious from your post. If you’d like to point out where you actually did, then please do. Otherwise, you’re just digging your hole deeper.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

yes it dose and yes it has its just that the usa is ment to be a leader of the world but the leadership is well flaud and wen a supper power fights with weaker oponents.if any of iraq or afgh had a real wmd then u clowns wouldnt have went to war 12 saudi,s were in the so called terror strikes why did u invade those places.anyway wiki dose rerport on other countrys its just u only see what u want 2

Marcel de Jong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s amazing how people think that Wikileaks is a newspaper.
They merely distribute content that get leaked by whistle blowers.
And if the recent batch of leaks only show the bad side of the US government, then that’s what’s happening.

Who knows, next week, they’ll report something damning on the German government. Or perhaps show the missing photos from Srebrenica from the time when the Dutch forces were there to keep the peace.

CJ (profile) says:

oh someone is mad!

It’s the news media! They can’t deliver the good honest news to the public. They are so caught up with Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and the like… Plus trying to out do their rivals with the petty loud crap, they don’t know how to deliver the real news anymore. Now they want to take their frustrations out on wikileaks. They can’t stand the thought of a website becoming so popular.

Hopefully the Judge presiding will realize it.. for what it really is.

Christopher (profile) says:

Compromising principle to get things through is NOT acceptable in my book. The fact is that Wikileaks is a good site, even after all this hullabaloo about them making US Armed Forces documents public.

They are one of the ONLY organizations that are taking government to task for their rampant, unnecessary secrecy, which leads to NUMEROUS instances of the Armed Forces trying to hide massacres, killings of innocents, etc.

whoever anywhere says:

this article

??wtf “shouldn’t be a shocker”, the lack of logics IS in fact even quite a shocker. journalists know that they need this platform if they want to move on with re to their own quality, if prefering concrete topics.

“shouldn’t be a shocker”. well, depends on to whom. a country where you can call yourself a “christian” and run to the church every sunday in order to be elected, but then you have no logics shock if you allow lawyers to call a murder “juristically clean and legal” after letting the witnesses swear on a bible which usually – due to it’s basic rules – forbids the witness to take part in a court case with a murder aim…

in such a country maybe “not a shocker” but believe us – pips who read this page from other parts if this world:
a) faint
b) fall down (carefully onto a couch)
c) get a heart attack
d) and need a few hours to return to work…

seriously, QUITE QUITE QUITE a shocker for normal pips. (i.e. thinking ones.) (those without cheese.)

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Proofreading

Your article would benefit by a bit of proofreading.

It was proofread, actually, but mistakes get through. Normally, people point out what the typos/mistakes are so we can fix them.

We encourage that sort of thing. Simply saying that there are errors without pointing them out comes off making you look bad. Pointing out the actual errors would go a long way towards helping us fix them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Those guys are willing to publish anything they find.

You don’t know much about them, do you?

First, they don’t go out and “find” stuff. They publish stuff that is sent to them.

Second, of what is sent to them they only publish what meets their standards.

You could avoid looking so foolish by finding out what you’re talking about *before* popping off about it.

ergo, not the same as journalists.

You mean like The National Enquirer, etc.? Or maybe like The New York Times, with writers that just make stuff up or parrot copyright industry talking points? Those journalists? Thank goodness Wikileaks seems more reliable than those “journalists” then.

mhenriday (profile) says:

The best comment I've seen on corporate journalists'

relations with and attitudes toward Wikileaks, was actually penned to reflect another case, viz, Michael Hastings’s Rolling Stone article on Mr Stanley McCrystal. Here a link ( ) to Dwayne Booth’s cartoon, which says all that needs to be said on the subject….


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