December 09, 2010
This was a comment left at Larvatus Prodeo but it's so freakin' long I might as well post it here as well. (I also backdated it to Thursday. Hah!) Note how wonderfully my command of English prose is enhanced by typing in the small hours.
The late Chalmers Johnson put together a sort of hypothetical National Intelligence Estimate for Harper's a few years ago. In one of the footnotes he wrote:
National Intelligence Estimates seldom contain startling new data. To me they always read like magazine articles or well-researched and footnoted graduate seminar papers. When my wife once asked me what was so secret about them, I answered that perhaps it was the fact that this was the best we could do.We see something similar in those cables from the ambassadors to State, which are the ones the press seem obsessed with. The apparent expectation is these will be interesting or revelatory because the local operatives have super-secret-special sources and gnarly powers of analysis, but in fact of course they are usually local press reports cobbled together with a bit of gossip. The press focus on them is partly precisely because they're entirely trivial, and partly because the press holds to the bizarre fantasy that the in-going cables provide a window on reality, a source of information both true and not otherwise available. (In the Oz media's case there's also the usual pathetic cultural cringe at work - oh, look what the Americans are saying about us!)
The "Rudd Slammed by US" beat-up is a classic case. Even the SMH's own article included the quote pointing out the characterisation of Rudd as a control freak came partly from media reports, belying the notion that these cables vindicated the media's bullshit narrative that Rudd lost the leadership because of his personality flaws and not because he was proposing policies that pissed off the mining lobby. That the Herald decided this self-exculpatory grift would be the first thing they revealed about the cables in their possession speaks volumes about their degeneration as a news organ, particularly given that they buried the lede - that the US charge d'affaires had sources within DFAT - in paragraph 16. Though, in fairness to them, the next day's story was about similar "secret sources" (interesting euphemism).
The fact is it's not what the embassies are saying to head office that matters, it's the information we're getting about the memos coming the other way. There has been some coverage of this stuff, but not enough, and once reported it's mostly only being repeated by non-mainstream outlets. [But I repeat myself.]
Bernard Keane layed it out today in Crikey. As a result of working with legacy media organs to increase publicity of the publishing of leaks (because hacks are too obsessed with His Girl Friday nonsense like "scoops" to report on the material simply published on the website and available to everybody) Wikileaks have risked the nature of the material being twisted to suit the trivial (and, in the case of the New York Times, pro-imperial) agendas of the mainstream outlets. The obsession with Assange himself is a product of a similar strategy. Having a public face for the organisation was also adopted as a method of publicising the organisation's work - although also to stop idiots claiming falsely to be the group's spokesperson - which strategy has worked, but at the cost of feeding the media's infantile mania for celebrity and, more unfortunately, creating an (albeit blackly hilarious) spasm of magical thinking from state entities and their authoritarian fans. "Hey, if we take out this white-haired freak we can kill the Internet!"
So: summing up - don't judge the importance of publishing the leaks by the trivial press coverage; and don't judge that importance by the glorified press clippings and scuttlebutt being sent from the periphery to the hub - what matters is what we're learning about the marching orders being sent from the hub to the periphery. And there's much more to come.
(Update: Links in Rudd-related paragraph fixed.)