The release by WikiLeaks of the emails of leading figures within the Democratic party establishment and the Hillary Clinton campaign (pretty much the same thing) has provoked howls of outrage by Democratic supporters who see in the timing of these releases, just before the election, a sinister plot. They have darkly insinuated that the documents are fake or that WikiLeaks and its head Julian Assange are tools of Russian president Vladimir Putin who is using them to damage Clinton and thus help his good buddy Donald Trump. Some Democratic partisans have even challenged the authenticity o the emails, even though that was put to rest when Trump raised them in last Sunday’s debate and Clinton did not challenge the contents.
There is no evidence of any of these allegations against WikiLeaks. As far as I am aware, WIkiLeaks has a perfect record when it comes to the authenticity of the documents it releases. Furthermore, they have made no secret of the fact that they time their releases in order to get the maximum effect, a practice that is routinely adopted by news media, governments, and business. Conversely, the late Friday evening information dump of bad news so that it gets little coverage is a well-known phenomenon.
Glenn Greenwald provides a point-by-point rebuttal of the charges made against WikiLeaks. Greenwald quotes David Barstow who was one of the journalists who published the 1995 tax return of Donald Trump that came from an anonymous source.
Last week, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter from the New York Times, David Barstow, was interviewed about his decision to publish Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return even though he has no idea who sent the tax return to the paper, what their motives were, or whether that person committed any crimes in obtaining it. It’s well-worth listening to this 2-minute audio as Barstow explains why, as a journalist, he does not care at all who his source is, what motives they have, or whether they acted criminally in obtaining the information:
As Bartsow points out, some of the most important sources in the history of American journalism had horrible motives. For that reason, “What really matters to me is: is this information real, and if so, is it newsworthy?” That is the only consideration for real journalists.
Greenwald says that there are five things to bear in mind whenever we hear of situations like this and think that we are witnessing something unique.
- A source’s motives are irrelevant in deciding whether to publish.
- Journalists constantly publish material that is stolen or illegally obtained.
- The more public power someone has, the less privacy they are entitled to claim.
- Whether something is “shocking” or “earth-shattering” is an irrelevant standard.
- All journalists are arbiters of privacy and gatekeepers of information.
The criticism that the WikiLeaks releases are harming Democrats in general and Clinton in particular is a curious complaint, as if that organization should factor in domestic US politics in its actions, and favor one party or even one individual within that party. Would these same people be complaining if the organization got hold of and released Donald Trump’s tax returns (or other damaging documents) before the election, thus harming his campaign? Indeed, even within the Democratic party, would Sanders supporters be complaining if the same damaging information, that shows the cynical behavior by Clinton and the party, had been released early in the primary season when it might have helped him? I seriously doubt it.
Clinton and Democratic party supporters have a right to be worried about the impact of the releases on their candidate’s chances and one cannot fault them for wishing that this had come out after the election. But those of us who believe in greater transparency should not allow short-term political expediency to cloud our judgment. It is wrong to try and discredit WikilLeaks by issuing baseless allegations against it just because the information that came out harms the Democrats, just as it is wrong for Trump to try and discredit the women who have stepped forward to substantiate the groping and assault charges made against him by issuing baseless allegations about them.