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WikiLeaks Tragedy
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Last Light Of Real Journalism Just Went Out

By James Donahue

The news this week that Julian Assange, the creator and editor of the controversial electronic whistleblower site Wikileaks and his staff have chosen to publish the publication’s entire collection of secret U. S. diplomatic cables along with the names of the sources, has probably put that interesting experiment in journalism out of business.

Wikileaks said it made the decision after about half of the documents with the names of their      sources were discovered on a public Internet server. Wikileaks and all of the mirror publications and websites connected with Wikileaks have all disavowed responsibility for leaking the information.

Consequently more than 250,000 cables, the entire cache downloaded from government files and made available to Wikileaks last year, is now public record. Not only this, but the people involved in making them secretly available to Wikileaks, are also named and perhaps subject to prosecution.

The cables include private communiqués between State Department officials and political figures in embassies around the world. There also were documents revealing misbehavior on the part of American soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and allegations that U.S. troops murdered innocent civilians and then attempted to cover up their crimes.

That these sources have been named should be sending shivers up the spines of everyone involved in supplying cables to Wikileaks. Everyone knows the story of Bradley Manning, the U. S. Army soldier charged with downloading the passing classified military data to Wikileaks while stationed in Iraq. Manning has been held in a military prison awaiting hearing and possible trial on numerous charges of “aiding the enemy,” a capital offense that could make him subject to the death penalty.

With the names of all of Wikileaks’ whistleblowers now made public, the case against Manning may appear to dim in comparison to the volume of potential legal cases the government may bring against those involved in the Wikileads revelations.

To date, however, none of the published information appears to have done anything more than prove to be an embarrassment to certain high ranking public figures and governments for misbehavior, often at public expense. This was information that never should have been declared classified. Revealing these documents to public scrutiny certainly does not warrant imprisonment or the death penalty.

That this information got in the hands of some irresponsible individuals who chose to make it public was a thoughtless action that defied all of the rules of journalistic ethics.

Since founding the WikiLeaks site in 2006, Assange has introduced a new spirit of real journalism to electronic media. This occurred at a time when major media outlets have obviously sold out to corporations and are no longer practicing real journalism. The public is told only what corporate officials want the people to know and nothing more.

Because of his work, Assange has received numerous awards and nominations for awards for excellence in journalism. In 2009 he won the Amnesty International Media Award after publishing material about extrajudicial killings in Kenya. He also was awarded the Readers Choice award for Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year.

Before the current barrage of controversial cables, WikiLeaks published information about toxic waste dumping in Africa, the Kaupthing and Julius Baer banks, and Church of Scientology manuals. He began getting in trouble after the cables started exposing the extreme waste of money, lives and resources in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Assange also says he is in possession of documents that will shed sunlight on big banking operations.

All of this was made possible because of the promise of anonymity awarded all that “leaked” copies of secret documents, letters and transcripts to Wikileaks. Now that Assange has been forced to reveal his sources, any new information is bound to disappear.

Every working journalist uses “sources,” or anonymous shadow figures to find out what is happening behind the closed doors of government, big corporations, and other places where suspicious activity may be happening. And when challenged, real journalists have chosen to go to jail rather than disclose their sources to judges and other authority figures. In this profession, protecting sources has been of the utmost importance. We can’t get the story if our word can’t be trusted.

Assange’s action this week has obviously signed the death warrant for Wikileaks and possibly all of the other new journalism sites of that yoke. And it will mean that the steel wall between officialdom and the general public has been raised that much higher than it already was.