By: Howard Witt
An Internet activist with a clear political agenda posts a strategically-edited snippet of seemingly-explosive video on his website and sits back to enjoy the media fireworks.
Sounds like Andrew Breitbart, right?
But let’s not forget that Julian Assange, over at Wikileaks, did precisely the same thing back in April with the infamous “Collateral Murder” video of an attack by a U.S. Apache helicopter crew. Wikileaks claimed its edited version of the video “[depicted] the indiscriminate slaying of over a dozen people” in a Baghdad suburb — and the mainstream media quickly fell all over itself to help disseminate the damning excerpt.
It turned out, of course, that a viewing of the longer, unedited version of the video showed a “fog of war” situation that, while troubling, was considerably less clear-cut.
Now comes Wikileaks with this week’s massive document dump of a trove of secret Pentagon cables from Afghanistan, framed by precisely the same undisguised anti-war hype that was on display with “Collateral Murder.”
“This is the equivalent of opening the Stasi archives,” Assange told a press conference in London. “… There does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material.”
And once again, prominent media outlets and commentators are breathlessly fanning the story — and earnestly genuflecting toward Assange with bold pronouncements that Wikileaks represents some exciting new paradigm in the evolution of media, that it’s smashed the traditional media’s stranglehold on information, blah blah blah.
Well, with all due respect to our esteemed media colleagues, here at Stars and Stripes, we are not buying what Wikileaks is selling — or, more precisely, giving away for free.
This is not, I hasten to add, because Stars and Stripes is the Pentagon’s house organ, which we most certainly are not. [We do receive a subsidy from Congress, via the Pentagon, to help us defray the extraordinary costs of delivering a daily newspaper into the hands of frontline troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. But we are editorially independent, by Congressional statute — and we recently received both a Polk Award and a National Headliner Award that recognized our work holding the Defense Department to account.]
No, we didn’t pursue the Wikileaks wares because we didn’t see much new or particularly revelatory that we and many others haven’t already been reporting for months.
The counter-insurgency strategy appears to be faltering? Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself conceded that, in vivid detail, in his memorandum to the president that was leaked last year.
American troops are sometimes naive about the tribal politics in the villages they are trying to protect? Who hasn’t been writing about that?
Outlying firebases turned into death traps for under-supported U.S. troops? Sebastian Junger just wrote the book and made the movie.
Pakistan’s intelligence services are not-so-secretly supporting the Taliban? That one’s been known for more than a decade.
WikiLeaks is no different than scores of other highly politicized Websites peddling activist agendas, even if many WikiLeaks acolytes in the media try to persuade us otherwise.
And as Andrew Breitbart so famously said, “Context is everything.”