Woodward And Wikileaks
People have varying beliefs about Wikileaks, obviously, and it's fair that your mileage may vary. But it's unacceptable that we still have people out there spreading falsehoods about it as Jeffrey Toobin did on last night's Spitzer Parker (with Naomi Wolf and Clay Shirky.)
TOOBIN: If you intend to simply blow out 250,000 documents that are at tremendous -- putting individuals at risk, the United States government employees at risk, people who cooperate with the United States government at risk, that is not up to Julian Assange. That is up to the United States government.
WOLF: Scooter Libby did that.
SHIRKY: But Assange went with -- went with "Guardian," went through "Spiegel." In this case, the "Times" by proxy and they redacted some of the documents and held some of the documents back.
TOOBIN: Some of it. They redacted some of it.
I don't know why people persist in saying this, but it reveals either bad faith or just sheer journalistic malpractice at this point. And I think it's at the heart of much of the dispute because it seems to have been believed quite widely at the time the diplomatic cables were first released, and it has colored the reaction to it.
Clay Shirky went on to correct Toobin, but his views on this are so set in stone that it made no difference. And he ended up intellectually twisting himself into a pretzel and revealing himself to be quite the authoritarian because of it, which is ironic to say the least, since he's supposed to be a journalist and a legal scholar:
SPITZER: And back to Woodward, where does Woodward fit in to this?
SHIRKY: So I think that Woodward is not a criminal for publishing leaked documents but I also think that Assange is not a criminal for publishing leaked documents. However, I also, also think that if I'm wrong about that, that the way in which I would be wrong is going through the court system. Not through an extra legal running of WikiLeaks off the network.
The damage to me -- Jeffrey to your earlier point about the slippery slope, the non-slippery slope argument is the State Department has currently committed itself to making it very difficult for autocratic governments to force information off the Internet. And we're suddenly providing not just a recipe but a rationale that's making everyone from Lubchenko (ph) to Kim Jong-il laugh.
TOOBIN: But see, you know, again, this is a slippery slope argument.
TOOBIN: It is, it is. Because the fact that someone takes United States government documents, secret, no foreign distribution, and says that shouldn't be on the Internet. To say that North Korea shouldn't have a free press, to say that Russia shouldn't allow journalists to -- I mean, I think it is easy to draw a distinction between the two.
WOLF: Jeff, can I talk about the Espionage Act because that's really what's at stake now that they've invoked it. I predicted in my book "The End of America" that sooner or later, journalists would be targeted with the Espionage Act in an effort to close down free speech and (INAUDIBLE) of government. And we have a president for that. In 1917, the Espionage Act was invoked to go after people like us who are criticizing the first World War. Publishers, educators, editors. Wait, and people were put in prison. They were beaten. One guy got a 10-year sentence for reading the First Amendment. And that intimidation effectively closed down dissent for a decade in the United States of America.
The Espionage Act has a very dark and dirty history. And when you start to use the Espionage Act, to criminalize what I'm sure you've handled classified documents in your time as a serious journalist, you know perfectly well that every serious journalist has seen or heard about classified information and repeated it. When you start to use the Espionage Act to say reporting is treachery, reporting is spying, it's espionage, you criminalize journalism. And that's the history that our country has shown.
TOOBIN: I recognize there is that history. And I'm familiar with the red scare, too. America is different now.
WOLF: Oh, it's worse in some ways.
TOOBIN: Well, I would disagree.
SPITZER: I want to ask Jeff a question though, because I want to come back to this Woodward distinction. You would agree with Clay and Naomi, I think, that Julian Assange would be precisely Bob Woodward if he had been the recipient of these documents, is that correct?
TOOBIN: I'd have to know a lot more.
SPITZER: But it might be the case.
TOOBIN: It well might be the case.
SPITZER: OK. So you're sort of clear articulation of the beginning that he clearly violated something maybe not so much.
TOOBIN: I'm not sure. Certainly the attorney general of the United States seems to think criminal -- criminal activity was involved here. But I think the wholesale taking of enormous quantities of classified information and putting it on the Internet, even if you don't put all 250,000 documents on, I think that is a meaningful distinction from what Bob Woodward does.
SPITZER: It seems to me that Bob Woodward arguably did something much more egregious. He took real-time decisions about why we were going to war in Afghanistan, the discussions are rationale, where we would go spoke to the most senior political and military officials in the nation and blasted that out in the book. A clear distinction.
TOOBIN: Well, again, there is a distinction in part because the president of the United States and the vice president are allowed to declassify anything they want at any time for any reason. So if the president declassified --
SPITZER: A lot of people who didn't have that power were sourced in that book. Seemed to be speaking in clear violation. They, in fact, should be subject to criminal investigations.
TOOBIN: I always wondered why -- why Woodward gets away with it. It's an interesting question.
This is where the argument takes you folks, whether you like it or not. Toobin struggled mightily to figure out a way out of that without sounding like a total dolt and he was unable to. If you think that Assange is guilty of a crime then Bob Woodward (and countless other investigative reporters) are guilty too. There just isn't any way around it.
I recommend that you read the whole exchange because it was very revealing. Shirky has taken the most nuanced view although to me it's become nearly incomprehensible as it's evolved. Naomi Wolf is a Wikileaks supporter (and has made some controversial statements as to the Assange Swedish charges, which were not discussed at all since they were irrelevant to the issue.) Toobin and Parker are both antagonists --- and both trafficked in bizarre fearmongering and relied on awkward assertions of American exceptionalism to make their points. It's interesting how that shakes out.
*And by the way --- if I ever have to hire a TV lawyer for some reason, Spitzer, not Toobin, is my guy. His cross examination of Toobin there at the end was brilliant.
Annual Holiday Fundraiser going on right now. If you can help support the blog, I appreciate it. Cheers!