Even to someone who voted to remain in the EU, and someone who would have voted for Jill Stein were I American, it was blatantly obvious to anyone the mainstream media (even The Guardian and The Independent) was acting as PR for Clinton and the DNC, unloading its juvenile, pseudo-progressive and condescending rhetoric on those who opted for Trump. Of Clinton’s faults and the mounting evidence of patholigical corruption being exposed by Wikileaks and the alternative media, there was barely a cursory mention in the mainstream. And just like the Brexit referendum thing here in the UK, there was a piss poor standard of journalism and analysis on what the candidates were actually campaigning for. This is my counter-argument to Yeynep Tufekci’s opinion piece in the New York Times, titled ‘WikiLeaks isn’t Whistleblowing‘.
The problem with appointing the mainstream media organisations as the curators and gatekeepers of leaked material is already apparent, as it’s certain they wouldn’t have exposed anything of substance, and anything that was exposed would have been managed as PR, in a very damage-limiting way. We can look to the Ed Snowden and Greenwad arrangement for an example – it’s unknown how many documents are in the Snowden archive, but it’s unlikely that a large majority of the material would ever see the light of day. Sure, there was outrage and some good came of it, but we get only selected excerpts without the context needed to make a proper judgement – who created the documents, why were they created, and who were they created for? If that standard was applied to the Clinton emails, it would be difficult to rule out competing interpretations and objectively say the DNC was involved in any wrongdoing.
So, the alternative was to pass the leaked material to WikiLeaks, but Tufekci argues:
‘[…] the release of huge amounts of hacked data, with no apparent oversight or curation, does the opposite. Such leaks threaten our ability to dissent by destroying privacy and unleashing a glut of questionable information that functions, somewhat unexpectedly, as its own form of censorship, rather than as a way to illuminate the maneuverings of the powerful. […] Wanton destruction of the personal privacy of any person who has ever come near a political organization is a vicious but effective means to smother dissent.’
Apart from the veracity of the Clinton/DNC/Podesta emails never having been questioned, this would be a perfectly valid argument if it wasn’t a lame attempt at framing WikiLeaks’ reporting as an attack on the small guy. Obviously the Clinton Foundation and the DNC weren’t merely political campaign groups. They were the establishment, taking large sums of money from questionable sources, and mired in corruption and criminal activity, and seemingly above the law. The American people certainly had a right to know about this before casting their votes.
If Tufekci wanted to make comparisons with the Soviet regime, why look further than the ‘chilling effect’ of mass surveillance, or the authoritarian behaviour of arrogant self-entitled ‘social justice warriors’ towards anyone who dares to even use the wrong pronouns.
This leads to the question of whether WikiLeaks could operate the way it does and claim the moral high-ground on the issue of privacy. What is the tangible, defining difference between publishing the emails of a DNC campaign manager and publishing the emails of Joe Average? At what point could such exposure be definitively in the public interest? How could dumping information, with little or no thought to whether it might endanger lives, be justified?
‘The answer is not simply to tell people to stop writing things down. “Don’t discuss things over email if you don’t want to see them on CNN” is the new “don’t wear a miniskirt if you don’t want to get assaulted.”’
Perhaps it is the right answer, though. The reality is that all communications are intercepted, not even banks and ISPs seem able to prevent data breaches, and the exposure of wrongdoing is now a common motivation among malicious hackers and insiders. Anyone with an ounce of sense would minimise the risks. The Wikileaks dumps wasn’t the first, and it certainly won’t be the last. That’s the reality, and we must adapt to it somehow.