Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oh, It's an Organ, Alright

I've mentioned before the right-winger I knew in college who delighted in referring to The Washington Post as "The Washington Pravda." This was back in the Reagan years, and he was just reciting standard cant about "the liberal media": he was suggesting that one of the great Establishment newspapers was in fact Working for the Other Side in the Cold War, seeking to undermine all that is Good and Holy and American, etc. As I've also mentioned, many years later, I came to see that he was right, but for the wrong reason: the Post did often function in a manner analogous to Pravda, as a kind of dutiful Establishment organ. His and his comrades' incessant whining about "liberal bias" merely concealed a longing for a newspaper even more devoted to repeating conventional wisdom and even less willing to challenge powerful government and corporate institutions.

I was reminded of this recently as I read Glenn Greenwald's long post about the weird Bradley Manning/WikiLeaks whistleblower case. Pravda on the Potomac's service to power continues apace:

The reason this story matters so much -- aside from the fact that it may be the case that a truly heroic, 22-year-old whistle-blower is facing an extremely lengthy prison term -- is the unique and incomparably valuable function WikiLeaks is fulfilling. Even before the Apache helicopter leak, I wrote at length about why they are so vital, and won't repeat all of that here. Suffice to say, there are very few entities, if there are any, which pose as much of a threat to the ability of governmental and corporate elites to shroud their corrupt conduct behind an extreme wall of secrecy.

What makes WikiLeaks particularly threatening to the most powerful factions is that they cannot control it. Even when whistle-blowers in the past have leaked serious corruption and criminal conduct to perfectly good journalists at the nation's largest corporate media outlets, government officials could control how the information was disclosed. When the NYT learned in 2004 that the Bush administration was illegally eavesdropping on Americans without warrants, George Bush summoned the paper's Publisher and Executive Editor to the Oval Office, demanded that the story not be published, and the paper complied by sitting on it for a full year until after Bush was safely re-elected. When The Washington Post's Dana Priest learned that the CIA was maintaining a network of secret prisons -- black sites -- she honored the request of "senior U.S. officials" not to identify the countries where those prisons were located so as to not disrupt the U.S.'s ability to continue to use those countries for such projects.

Both WikiLeaks and Manning have stated that The Washington Post's David Finkel, when writing his book on Iraq two years ago, had possession of the Apache helicopter video but never released it to the public (Manning: "Washington Post sat on the video … David Finkel acquired a copy while embedded out here"). As Columbia Journalism Review reported, both the Post and Finkel were quite coy and evasive in addressing that claim, pointedly insisting that "the Post" had never possessed that video while refusing to say whether Finkel did. The same thing happened when, on the same day, I called Finkel to ask him about WikiLeaks' claim that they possessed but never released that video. He very curtly told me, using careful legalistic language, that "the Post never had the video," but before I could ask whether Finkel himself did, he abruptly told me he couldn't talk anymore and had nothing else to say, and then hung up on me. My inquiries to the Post were met with a pro forma response that "The Washington Post did not have the video, nor did we sit on anything," but these Journalistic Crusaders for Transparency refused to answer my question as to whether Finkel himself did.

So: it looks like the Post—sorry, someone AT the Post, which is totally and completely different—had the damning video of U.S. forces in Iraq doing exactly what residents and Reuters said that they'd done, but he/it dutifully decided to just sit on it. Smell that liberal bias!

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