The Corner

‘Ace’ Assange, Newsman of the World

The Guardian, like the New York Times, has surrendered itself to the assumed “importance” of the cables published by Julian Assange on WikiLeaks. As I mentioned last week, the paper has nearly a dozen men and women crawling through e-mails and documents and in the process uncovering very little of any possible news significance (other than the names of individuals thus placed in harm’s way). In just the last few days alone, we’ve learned that Cuba’s going broke, that the Pope’s a little leery about Turkey joining the EU, and that there’s an allegedly corrupt British banker doing a fiddle in Kazakhstan.

Journalism’s given itself over to a self-described “editor-in-chief” (actually, a “newsman,” according to the Spectator’s unattached porch dog, Alex Massie) who makes no obvious editorial judgments at all about the data he publishes, thus forcing his feeder trail of journalists to practice the same kind of journalism. Here, for example, is a shocking headline from the Guardian:

WikiLeaks cables paint bleak picture of Tajikistan, central Asia’s poorest state

This is now part of the journalistic portfolio of the paper’s poor Luke Harding, assigned the task of typing the obvious and putting his name on it:

A series of leaked US diplomatic dispatches released by WikiLeaks paint a bleak picture of Central Asia’s poorest state. They note that it suffers from “earthquakes, floods, droughts, locusts and extreme weather” and is situated next to “obstructive Uzbekistan”, “unstable Afghanistan” and the “rough, remote” Pamir mountains next to western China.

Also, the president of the place is “venal.” Is even one word of this news to the Guardian’s readers? Is this a bleak picture before now unpainted? Journalism’s embarrassing marriage to WikiLeaks is no longer about reporting. It’s about indexing.

This is like publishing fortunes from all the Chinese cookies on the planet: maybe something will eventually prove to be surprising. Here’s all the Guardian’s work so far. And there is indeed news in this nearly endless list. Apparently, there’s a loony first lady in Central Asia someplace. Also: Eritrea’s impoverished, Burma’s run by madmen, there’s corruption in Kenya, Himalayas have broken out in Tibet, and I did like Xan Rice’s keen analysis of the effect of warthogs on runways in Zimbabwe. (Without changing topic much, here’s a parody of the Guardian’s editorial team inflating their own importance.)

The French press has been a little less transfixed, mostly because the French media sees France through eyes glazed with torpor anyway. Besides, most of the cables leaked about France have been unremarkable. But there is one report in Libération that you’d think would have at least stoked the self-interest that characterizes journalists everywhere. The headline: “French media severely criticized by Americans.”

Now it can be reported: WikiLeaks has revealed that the U.S. embassy cabled Washington with the  news that “leading journalists usually come from the same élite schools that produce most government leaders.”

As a result, the cable says, French journalists don’t see it as their primary role “to monitor those with power. They see themselves instead as intellectuals given to influencing readers with analysis of events rather than with the reporting of facts.” In other words, they all think they’re Timothy Garton Ash.

Of course, you don’t have to read Parisian papers to see this phenomenon. You can read New York’s own French paper. But it is just one more newsworthy revelation from the portable desk of global journalism’s ace newsman.

Denis Boyles — Dennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...

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