Sunday, December 5, 2010

On Wikileaks and the Reaction

The hand wringing by Baby Boomers on both sides of the aisle about the recent series of diplomatic cables leaked by the Wikileaks site would be entertaining in it's hypocrisy were it not depressingly indicative on both the state of contemporary media and contemporary politics.

From a generational perspective, Boomer era media blowhards have two darling examples of their own greatness they like to bask in: the Pentagon Papers, a critical piece of leaked documentation that crystallized opposition to Vietnam, embarrassed the Johnson Administration, damaged the people's faith in their government and ultimately led to a timely withdraw from an unwinable war; and Watergate, a story fed mostly by anonymous leaks and stolen files that was used to bring down a morally corrupt hack of a President.

So to hear so many of their ilk, mired in a fading medium with which the public has lost confidence, decry the outrage of leaked information, it's contents, and their potential adverse impact on diplomatic and military operations, sounding exactly like their parents and grandparents did 35 years ago is high comedy.

But things are different now. Setting aside that exact phrase was what people used to justify the Iraq invasion (and you'd really ought to check yourself before uttering that phrase, because things are never truly unique if you pay attention to your history) in this case this statement is actually true. Things are worse. Much worse. The fourth estate, or what's left of it, serves as either a house organ for the Republican Party (Fox, any AM radio station), a special interest channel by and for white people ages 45-64 (any network news program), ambulance chasing and infomercials disguised as news (your local news affiliate), or the marketplace for talking heads to scream past each other context free (everyone else).

Honest, detailed, comprehensive investigative reporting, the kind of which that would have kept us out of Iraq, for instance, is few and far between. There's only one Seymour Hersch. Mother Jones doesn't have that many subscribers. So it falls on organizations like Narco News and Wikileaks to do the work that, once upon a time, our now hobbled, co-opted and largely worthless domestic fourth estate does for us. And that may be uncomfortable. But it's necessary and, much to the chagrin of bleating boomer columnists, the future of journalism.

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