David Carr spoke with a handful of media thinkers and leak experts — Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and Daniel Ellsberg — about the journalistic consequences of yesterday’s big news: The War Logs (that’s what we’re calling the release of nearly 92,000 confidential documents instead of “this generation’s Pentagon Papers”).
There is a spirit of old media–new media togetherness. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange collaborated with traditional print-media outlets to publish the documents when he could have just posted them to the web himself. But Mr. Assange wanted great journalists with him (The Times, The Guardian adn Der Spiegel) when he broke the news, so he gave the documents to them a month before he posted all the documents on the internet.
“It’s a reminder, if we need one, that technology has diminished our control over what the world knows,” Mr. Keller told Mr. Carr, adding “Ellsberg needed The New York Times to get the word out. WikiLeaks doesn’t. But it’s also a reminder that serious, experienced journalists taking time to practice their craft still bring immense value to information.” (Mr. Keller expressed surprise to The Observer during the 2008 campaign that technology had diminished The Times‘ control over what the world knows).
Mr. Keller was adamant in a Q& A about The War Logs story that The Times was not partnering with WikiLeaks around the story.
To say that it is an independent organization is a monumental understatement. The decision to post this secret military archive on a Web site accessible to the public was WikiLeaks’, not ours. WikiLeaks was going to post the material even if The Times decided to ignore it … The administration, while strongly condemning WikiLeaks for making these documents public, did not suggest that The Times should not write about them. On the contrary, in our discussions prior to the publication of our articles, White House officials, while challenging some of the conclusions we drew from the material, thanked us for handling the documents with care, and asked us to urge WikiLeaks to withhold information that could cost lives. We did pass along that message.
Mr. Ellsberg said earlier this year that if he were to leak the Pentagon Papers in 2010, he would go straight to the internet. But even if Mr. Ellsberg or Mr. Assange no longer need outlets like The Times, the fact-checking and analysis that accompanied the document dump yesterday is a reminder of why sources should want journalists.