Jack Shafer makes the best case I’ve seen for being pro-Wikileaks. But I think at best he makes a good argument for the upside of a bad thing.
I think this is a very weak link in his argument:
Information conduits like Julian Assange shock us out of that complacency. Oh, sure, he’s a pompous egomaniac sporting a series of bad haircuts and grandiose tendencies. And he often acts without completely thinking through every repercussion of his actions. But if you want to dismiss him just because he’s a seething jerk, there are about 2,000 journalists I’d like you to meet.
There’s a sleight of hand here. Who “dismisses” Assange? His chief critics don’t dismiss him, they want him in a cage (at least)! And his critics don’t have a problem with him because he’s a seething jerk. They have a problem with him because he’s putting American lives at risk and deliberately undermining the United States (not to mention a Democratic administration I thought liberals supported). I have no doubt that there are 2,000 journalists out there who are competitive with Assange in the seething jerk department, but that is not the relevant metric, not least because Assange isn’t a journalist!
Shafer begins the paragraph calling him an “information conduit,” a nice, bloodless, term for Assange, but he ends the paragraph comparing him to run-of-the-mill journalists. Last I checked, American journalists were supposed to care about some things other than being mere “information conduits.” Shafer acknowledges Assange doesn’t consider the repercussions. That, of course, is an antiseptic understatement. The question is whether Shafer has considered the repercussions.
Indeed, the problem with Shafer’s argument is that he’s trying to bleach out the evil that Assange is doing. If Assange simply released, say, a “kill list” of Iraqi, Iranian and Afghan informants with their home addresses, it would be easier to see the villainy behind Wikileaks, but because Assange makes Iraqi, Iranian and Taliban forces work a little extra hard to sift for that info, we get gauzy libertarian defenses of his project because it promotes distrust in government. Who was brimming with trust in government until Wikileaks came and lifted the scales from our eyes? Shafer? I don’t think so.
Again, I applaud Shafer’s effort, but he comes up short.