News Organizations Publish WikiLeaks Documents With Caution, Innovation

Elusive WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is scheduled to appear in London on Monday with Daniel Ellsberg, best known for leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971. The appearance follows the Friday release of about 400,000 classified documents related to the war in Iraq.

Ellsberg spoke with “Democracy Now” about the leak of these documents:

“It is a leak on a scale I couldn’t have done 40 years ago without scanners and digital capability. … I’m glad to express my support of what WikiLeaks is doing and its sources in particular. … It is the wrong secrecy of information like this that got us into Vietnam and Afghanistan and Iraq or has kept the war going in Afghanistan.”

Ellsberg also tweeted (through his son): “I’ve waited 40 years for a release of documents on this scale.”

WikiLeaks partnered with traditional news organizations in releasing the documents, as it did in July.

The New York Times once again published an introductory note to readers explaining how it handled the documents.

“As it did with the Afghan war logs, The Times has redacted or withheld any documents that would put lives in danger or jeopardize continuing military operations. Names of Iraqi informants, for example, have not been disclosed. WikiLeaks said that it has also employed teams of editors to scrub the material for posting on its Web site. …

“The New York Times told the Pentagon which specific documents it planned to post and showed how they had been redacted. The Pentagon said it would have preferred that The Times not publish any classified materials but did not propose any cuts.”

The Guardian made data drawn from the documents available for download, provided maps of the Iraq deaths and created an interactive package that tells the story of 146 deaths in a 24-hour period (136 Iraqis and 10 Americans), along with a narrative account of that same day.

Msnbc.com reports that Al-Jazeera broke the embargo on the documents just before they were scheduled to be released.

“Al-Jazeera, one of the news organizations that it had given the documents weeks ago, broke WikiLeaks’ embargo by publishing a six-minute video on its website late Friday afternoon. The New York Times, The Guardian of Britain and Le Monde, which also received the material under the embargo, followed swiftly with their extensive prepared reports.

“Der Spiegel of Germany and Channel 4 of Britain, which also participated, said they would weigh in Monday. CNN said it had been invited to participate but declined because of ‘conditions’ attached to the material, which it didn’t specify. …

“The Guardian and Le Monde have historically been regarded as liberal newspapers, while Al-Jazeera, a television network based in Qatar, was widely denounced for what critics saw as an anti-U.S. bias after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a characterization it disputes.”

WikiLeaks worked with OWNI to create a crowdsourcing application for the Iraq War documents. In a story about the collaboration, a writer for OWNI describes the terms of the arrangement:

“We decided to work for WikiLeaks despite not knowing what kind of stories the files contained, because we were given the assurance that no lives were going to be put at risk by the release of the logs. Had it been otherwise, we would probably not have done it. All in all, the four conditions we established before coming to London were met:

1. We had six days and a free hand on the development;

2. We had no knowledge of the data before the official release date (or as little as was needed from the technical aspect);

3. We knew for sure that several newsrooms were working on the logs and that sensitive information had been retracted;

4. We wouldn’t have to host the app. A ruling by France’s supreme court in January, 2010, is phrased in such ways that a host is now responsible for all content on its servers. Had we hosted the app ourselves, likely within hours of launch the police would demand we take it offline. We had to look to freer countries for hosting. WikiLeaks told us to look at Bahnhof.se, their own host, famous for having its servers buried deep in a nuclear shelter.

Assange himself surfaced for the release of the documents. However, he walked out in the middle of an interview on CNN after London-based correspondent Atika Shubert persisted in asking Assange about allegations of sexual assault in Sweden.

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