I find watching the emerging news coverage of Cablegate fascinating because it offers a wonderful opportunity to watch how the powerful slowly start mutating a news story to suit their own ends.
For example Sky News just had a report where they called the latest leak a “gift to terrorists” because it gave a list of vulnerable areas around the globe which, if attacked, could have devastating consequences for America. They even called on a respected terrorism expert, John Gearson, to explain how dangerous the new leak is.
Heck, is it any wonder that Wikileaks is becoming utterly despised around the globe?
If one moves away from the sound-bite news and looks at what serious journalists, bloggers, and human rights campaigners have been saying then one discovers that the vast majority of the reaction to Cablegate has been positive.
But that isn’t what one sees, at least not usually.
Because when people watch TV news, or Google for news, what they are likely to see are what we might call “front page” news coverage: attention seeking, superficial coverage from large, high profile news organisations. And this coverage has been carefully influenced to give a perspective on Wikileaks that is decidedly negative.
This narrative starts on the fringes, with those people who we expect to be outraged, getting outraged. In this case it was Senator Joe Libermann, Secretary Clinton, various indentured PR servants and anyone who has a hard-on for America.
These people, regardless of the intelligence or relevance of their ideas, are then given sufficient air time to provide a “counter point”. One example is the Washington Post giving Op-Ed space so that Marc Thiessen, a former speech writer and groupie for George Bush, can talk about how Wikileaks is fighting a “war against America”.
(As a side note: Thiessen really doesn’t understand how the Internet works. He wants the US government to somehow “destroy” the website. Because, you know, it’s not like Wikileaks is being mirrored in over 500 different places. And it’s not like the information isn’t already available on bit torrents and other P2P systems.)
This counter point contains many things asserted without evidence (“Cablegate is endangering lives!” “Wikileaks supports terrorism” etc.) and a hint that the site is becoming unpopular as a result.
Over the next days and weeks these points are repeated so often that one starts to assume that they are true, regardless of evidence, or contrary voices.
So let’s take another look at the Sky News report.
The story was about how dangerous the new Cablegate leak is.
This is interesting for two reasons:
1) There is no “new leak”. It’s part of the same leak we had yesterday. The only thing that has changed is that this part of the leak is easier to spin.
2) The anti-terrorism expert that Sky talked to said, very clearly, on air, that terrorist groups the world over pretty much already know which targets they are going to hit and that in this regard the Cablegate leaks will be at worst “unhelpful”.
But unless you’re paying attention you might miss this point. Because the rest of the segment, and the segment after it, consists of repeatedly stating, usually without argument or evidence, that Cablegate is endangering lives, and that Wikileaks is becoming despised around the globe.
Colour me unconvinced.
And colour most of the news media “credulous”.
[Standard Disclaimer: this post was entirely my own opinion and was not paid for in any way, directly or otherwise, by anyone or anything that stands to gain in any way from the ideas expressed herein.]