This piece was published in The Collegian (Grove City College) on December 10, 2010. I was 19 years old when I wrote it. I’m 25 now, and it has once again become relevant.
WikiLeaks.org, media organization of journalist Julian Assange, came under harsh criticism last week for its recent and ongoing release of sensitive United States diplomatic cables. Firmly condemned by several prominent politicians, some called for Assange’s arrest, as secrets of American foreign policy are being made available to every Internet user in the world.
At first glance, it is easy to condemn the methods WikiLeaks employed as it exposed sensitive government material. Echoing the world’s most powerful political figures has always been the easy way out when faced with this sort of moral dilemma.
But the mark of the exceptional man has always been to look beyond first impressions to the underlying truth. In this case, even the most basic investigation of the WikiLeaks’ vision should be enough to convince the strongest critic of the vital importance of preserving and encouraging this new species of journalism.
A healthy free press has historically been the common man’s most powerful defense against the abuses of oppressive government. Indeed, the unique liberty enjoyed by the modern journalist has brought the poorest of people a medium of expression unparalleled in all world history. The dignity of the individual, human rights, and a vicious hate of injustice have no roots in despotic government or powerful regimes, but in the pens of sincere and concerned activists.
Julian Assange recognized this when he formed WikiLeaks in 2006. “The aim of WikiLeaks” he said, “is to achieve just reform around the world and do it through the mechanism of transparency.”
In this he has been very successful. WikiLeaks has received praise from such organizations as the Index on Censorship and Amnesty International for its work in exposing underground human rights violations. It has also served as a blueprint for other journalists seeking to use the Internet to breach the confidentiality of fraudulent establishments to protect human life and dignity.
But when WikiLeaks turned its sights toward the U.S. last week, revealing dishonesty at the federal level, its credibility as a media agency went down the drain. Almost unanimously, Western politicians condemned WikiLeaks, some even going so far as to call for Assange’s assassination. They argue that his efforts endangered innocent lives. Sarah Palin, for example, named him “an anti-American operative with blood on his hands,” and she was joined by others calling for his eventual execution.
But what is the press worth if its operation is subject to government regulation? If government is allowed to silence the press with the force of law, accountability is lost and the government becomes their own interpreter.
Many will argue, however, that secrecy in diplomacy is necessary to ensure an efficient international system. This is a reasonable argument in the modern context; the status quo rests on an intricate network of secrets and political back-dealing.
But as reformers, these journalists’ vision transcends boundaries, seeking a society free from dependence on fragile confidentiality. “It shouldn’t really be ‘should something be kept secret?’” Assange said. “I would rather it be thought, ‘who has a responsibility to keep certain things secret, and who has a responsibility to bring matters to the public?’ Those responsibilities fall on different players. And it is our responsibility to bring matters to the public.”
Just as international politics evolves, so must investigative journalism. WikiLeaks represents the next step in the evolution of the press to maintain its role as the guardian of truth in a world of increasingly intricate politics. If the national interest overrides the role of truth in the world, we are very hopeless indeed – the common man most of all. In this age when the plight of the individual can appear exceedingly insignificant amidst the web of excessive political activity, the free press is desperately needed.
It is only to be expected that the world’s most powerful regimes would condemn the revelation of truth. But it is up to us whether we will consider the facts as they exist, or refuse to accept all who might expose our faults. If we cannot compete with the truth, are we to kill its messenger? Truth is worthless if accepted selectively.
Congressman Ron Paul put it this way: “In a free society, we are supposed to know the truth. In a society where truth becomes treason, we are in big trouble.”