When a leak ceases to be a leak

I’m a little late to the ball with this, but after seeing Julian Assange on The Colbert Report last night, a few of my feelings regarding the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” video began to crystallize.

Now, before I begin, I have no serious issue with what should have happened when WikiLeaks came into possession of this video. I do believe that people have a right to know what is really happening in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while I know that a lot of the good that is happening in these theaters of war is rarely covered because these stories are not sensational enough for American audiences (and, in some ways, any good we do in the Middle East is mitigated by all the horrendous missteps and mistakes we’ve made for decades and continue to make), there are many incidents like those recorded by the Apache helicopter that are also not covered, that never have a chance to enter into our discussions of the war.

That said…

The fact that WikiLeaks would not only edit, but title the video — a point that Stephen Colbert wonderfully hit home — is disgusting, not to mention completely ridiculous: once you edit and title a video, you are no longer “leaking” it, you are putting a spin on it, or, as Colbert said, “editorializing” it. It is no longer a leak, but a story with a slant. This is no different than someone — be it the editors of that damned liberal rag The Washington Post or those far-right Teabaggers over at Fox News — sensationally titling a leaked video of a health care summit, perhaps calling it either “A Great Moment in American History” or “The Creation of Death Panels.” Just by reading the title, I am already prejudiced when I watch the video, be it for or against the media outlet for titling it as such.

Worse still, it appears that Assange wasn’t even honest about what was in “Collateral Murder” in his discussion with Colbert last night. The True/Slant article, however critical of Assange, recognizes the need for outlets like WikiLeaks, noting quite aptly that “it would have been a fine thing for the public to have learned of MKULTRA, Tuskagee, COINTELPRO, Operation Ajax, and other state-sanctioned acts of malevolence early enough to have put an end to them, rather than years later and by way of such things as the Church Commission or delayed declassification.”

Another solid article to come in the wake of the WikiLeaks video is Christopher Dickey’s Newsweek piece “What Combat Looks Like.” Focusing primarily on war photographers and using that lens to view “Collateral Murder,” Dickey makes some profound points about the nature of war and the risks many journalists and photographers take to cover them. Instead of reacting to the sensation WikiLeaks has (perhaps purposefully) created, Dickey focuses on grim realities, and does so in such a way as to not treat his readers like susceptible sheep. This is a big step up from WikiLeaks’ recent tactics, behavior that relegates them to the same level as a media outlet like Fox News.

If WikiLeaks wants to inform the American public, then do just that — don’t attempt to manipulate our feelings regarding these leaked documents and videos by editing and titling them.

All this is enough to prove true Hunter S. Thompson’s cynical pronouncement that “Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism.”

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