Did WikiLeaks Act Appropriately During the Election?

wikiLeaks

Back in October and November, the Vanguard published two commentaries arguing that WikiLeaks had essentially crossed the line by leaking selective emails that were essentially private, campaign communications into the public.

In the last few weeks there has been discussion and speculation and perhaps even evidence that the Russians were behind such leaks, hoping to influence the US election.

There is a great dialogue to be had here, divorced from partisan politics.

As Glen Greenwald would write in October, “We do need to figure out a way to say both at the same time: Powerful institutions and powerful actors need the kind of transparency these leaks can provide, but at the same time, even people who are in powerful positions and wield influence continue to retain the right to privacy, and there should never be any publishing of personal matters or things that aren’t directly in the public interest.”

Others argue that the public interest per se is advanced through a sort of transparency that these leaks can provide.

They would argue one key issue is the manner of publication and here the importance of journalists and curators to manage publication for material that is primarily about the public interest and public business, as opposed to the recent Wikileaks tactic of massive dumps of all material.

There is a difference, they would argue, between this and what Edward Snowden and Glen Greenwald would do and what journalists are doing with the Panama Papers.  The latter is a difficult case, because the Panama Papers represents a massive dump of private legal documents that is being carefully curated by a massive international collaboration that reveals the extent and mechanisms of the vast global network of the shadow economy.  These are, by law, legal documents protected by numerous privileges which nevertheless must be placed in the public domain.

To advance this conversation, I post a communication from Julian Assange on the US Election, written on November 8 before we knew the result.

Assange Statement on the US Election

8 November 2016

By Julian Assange

In recent months, WikiLeaks and I personally have come under enormous pressure to stop publishing what the Clinton campaign says about itself to itself. That pressure has come from the campaign’s allies, including the Obama administration, and from liberals who are anxious about who will be elected US President.

On the eve of the election, it is important to restate why we have published what we have.

The right to receive and impart true information is the guiding principle of WikiLeaks – an organization that has a staff and organizational mission far beyond myself. Our organization defends the public’s right to be informed.

This is why, irrespective of the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election, the real victor is the US public which is better informed as a result of our work.

The US public has thoroughly engaged with WikiLeaks’ election related publications which number more than one hundred thousand documents. Millions of Americans have pored over the leaks and passed on their citations to each other and to us. It is an open model of journalism that gatekeepers are uncomfortable with, but which is perfectly harmonious with the First Amendment.

We publish material given to us if it is of political, diplomatic, historical or ethical importance and which has not been published elsewhere. When we have material that fulfills this criteria, we publish. We had information that fit our editorial criteria which related to the Sanders and Clinton campaign (DNC Leaks) and the Clinton political campaign and Foundation (Podesta Emails). No-one disputes the public importance of these publications. It would be unconscionable for WikiLeaks to withhold such an archive from the public during an election.

At the same time, we cannot publish what we do not have. To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump’s campaign, or Jill Stein’s campaign, or Gary Johnson’s campaign or any of the other candidates that fufills our stated editorial criteria. As a result of publishing Clinton’s cables and indexing her emails we are seen as domain experts on Clinton archives. So it is natural that Clinton sources come to us.

We publish as fast as our resources will allow and as fast as the public can absorb it.

That is our commitment to ourselves, to our sources, and to the public.

This is not due to a personal desire to influence the outcome of the election. The Democratic and Republican candidates have both expressed hostility towards whistleblowers. I spoke at the launch of the campaign for Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, because her platform addresses the need to protect them. This is an issue that is close to my heart because of the Obama administration’s inhuman and degrading treatment of one of our alleged sources, Chelsea Manning. But WikiLeaks publications are not an attempt to get Jill Stein elected or to take revenge over Ms Manning’s treatment either.

Publishing is what we do. To withhold the publication of such information until after the election would have been to favour one of the candidates above the public’s right to know.

This is after all what happened when the New York Times withheld evidence of illegal mass surveillance of the US population for a year until after the 2004 election, denying the public a critical understanding of the incumbent president George W Bush, which probably secured his reelection. The current editor of the New York Times has distanced himself from that decision and rightly so.

The US public defends free speech more passionately, but the First Amendment only truly lives through its repeated exercise. The First Amendment explicitly prevents the executive from attempting to restrict anyone’s ability to speak and publish freely. The First Amendment does not privilege old media, with its corporate advertisers and dependencies on incumbent power factions, over WikiLeaks’ model of scientific journalism or an individual’s decision to inform their friends on social media. The First Amendment unapologetically nurtures the democratization of knowledge. With the Internet, it has reached its full potential.

Yet, some weeks ago, in a tactic reminiscent of Senator McCarthy and the red scare, Wikileaks, Green Party candidate Stein, Glenn Greenwald and Clinton’s main opponent were painted with a broad, red brush. The Clinton campaign, when they were not spreading obvious untruths, pointed to unnamed sources or to speculative and vague statements from the intelligence community to suggest a nefarious allegiance with Russia. The campaign was unable to invoke evidence about our publications—because none exists.

In the end, those who have attempted to malign our groundbreaking work over the past four months seek to inhibit public understanding perhaps because it is embarrassing to them – a reason for censorship the First Amendment cannot tolerate. Only unsuccessfully do they try to claim that our publications are inaccurate.

WikiLeaks’ decade-long pristine record for authentication remains. Our key publications this round have even been proven through the cryptographic signatures of the companies they passed through, such as Google. It is not every day you can mathematically prove that your publications are perfect but this day is one of them.

We have endured intense criticism, primarily from Clinton supporters, for our publications. Many long-term supporters have been frustrated because we have not addressed this criticism in a systematic way or responded to a number of false narratives about Wikileaks’ motivation or sources. Ultimately, however, if WL reacted to every false claim, we would have to divert resources from our primary work.

WikiLeaks, like all publishers, is ultimately accountable to its funders. Those funders are you. Our resources are entirely made up of contributions from the public and our book sales. This allows us to be principled, independent and free in a way no other influential media organization is. But it also means that we do not have the resources of CNN, MSNBC or the Clinton campaign to constantly rebuff criticism.

Yet if the press obeys considerations above informing the public, we are no longer talking about a free press, and we are no longer talking about an informed public.

Wikileaks remains committed to publishing information that informs the public, even if many, especially those in power, would prefer not to see it. WikiLeaks must publish. It must publish and be damned.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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33 thoughts on “Did WikiLeaks Act Appropriately During the Election?”

    1. South of Davis

      Davis asks:

      > Did WikiLeaks Act Appropriately During the Election?

      I’m sure that many thought that like the mainstream media the “appropriate” thing to do would be to cover up any bad things the preferred party does and only post bad stuff about the racist and misogynist party.

  1. Robert Canning

    And what is the Democratic Party – “really”?  What smoking gun was there? What terrible revelation was there? Not much, really. A bunch of email messages from the heat of a campaign and basically gossip. I haven’t seen any indictments yet.

    Excuse the sarcasm, but nobody, IMO, learned anything really new from the Wikileaks reveals than they could easily have learned from reading Politico or other political newsletters.

    And isn’t it curious about the timing of the leaks and that they only targeted one side of the campaign.

    1. Barack Palin

      Lots of damaging info came out.  Debate questions being fed to Hillary, collusion between reporters and the DNC and Podesta, the rigging of the primaries by the DNC, Clinton Foundation shady foreign donations, etc…

      It’s a long and ugly list.

    2. Barack Palin

      And isn’t it curious about the timing of the leaks and that they only targeted one side of the campaign.

      As stated in the article:

      we cannot publish what we do not have. To date, we have not received information on Donald Trump’s campaign, or Jill Stein’s campaign, or Gary Johnson’s campaign or any of the other candidates that fufills our stated editorial criteria.

       

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        And that’s the problem. It’s a twofold problem – one is that they are being leaked stuff from one side and one side only. The second is, the question as to whether such private communications amount to public interest.

        1. Barack Palin

          Obviously the private communications amounted to public interest, just look at the response.

          As Assange stated, he can’t leak what he doesn’t have.  Was he supposed to withold the goods on HRC and the DNC because he didn’t have any good leaks on Trump and the GOP?   Maybe there wasn’t anything there anyway?

          You have written articles where you say it’s not always the job of the news to be fair and present both sides when one side obviously is in the wrong.  So are you backtracking on that now because your side got exposed?

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I could fairly easily come up with scenario’s where there are heavy responses to issues that are not of public interest. This is clearly a subjective measure based on the differential responses of people.

            I agree with you that it is not always the jobs of the news to be fair and balanced, but those are all examples where creating a balance creates a false equivalency. In this case, what we have is an assymetical story where we have a whole bunch of dirt on one side by virtue of a leak, we know if we had a leak from the other side we would have something similar, but we don’t have access to the information. In this case, the leak itself is one-sided and producing the distortion. In the argument you cite from me, it’s the opposite effect, the attempt to balance creates the assymetry. Not the same issue.

        2. Barack Palin

          The Vanguard’s guiding principles:

           

          Fairness – The Vanguard‘s overriding goal is for all involved to believe our coverage was tough, but ultimately fair.  We eschew conventional notions of false balance – adding statements that do not add to the reader’s understanding of the story for the sake of balance.  We also eschew the notion that balance equals accuracy.  Sometimes fair and balanced is actually less accurate.  Instead, we view our primary job with respect to fairness is to accurately depict the competing positions, make reasonable efforts to gather responses to those who are the subjects of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in our stories.  Whatever is quoted or interpreted should be as faithful to the intended meaning as possible.  Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth and hold those who are in power accountable for their decisions in ways that are tough but ultimately accurate.

        3. South of Davis

          David wrote:

          > one is that they are being leaked stuff from one side and one side only.

          They couldn’t “leak” anything about the big corporate funded Republicans trying to kill the Trump campaign since they were going on national TV and telling the American public that is what they wanted to do.  They needed to “leak” the info that the big corporate funded Democrats wanted to kill the Bernie campaign…

      2. Robert Canning

        Part of my problem with Bernie folks and folks of a conservative persuasion is that the facts don’t really support their arguments.  Where are the indictments from all those Republican Attorneys Generals. Debate questions?  Oh come on, that’s really spectacular! “Collusion” between reporters and Podesta.  I bet if Wikileaks had been fed stuff about collusion between Kellyanne Conway and reporters they wouldn’t have reported that too?  Reporters develop relationships over time and use them. Ask David how he gets some of his information.

        IMHO, these are mountains out of mole hills. Where is the info about a “Plumbers” squad, or break-ins, and “real” crime? Fixing the elections? Where are the facts? What evidence is there?

        1. South of Davis

          Robert wrote:

          > Part of my problem with Bernie folks and folks of a conservative

          > persuasion is that the facts don’t really support their arguments.

          > Where are the indictments from all those Republican Attorneys Generals.

          The corporate sponsored “Republican” Attorney Generals are probably on vacation playing golf with their “corporate sponsored” Democrat friends and don’t want to indict their friends and/or get their “corporate sponsors” mad at them.  I read a good interview with Bernie in a Rolling Stone that someone left at the gym yesterday and agree with him that the regular people need to start paying attention (and start voting) to get any real change for the better…

  2. ryankelly

    I believe that Wikileaks is now just a tool for people who want to manipulate others.  News media should start every report that uses Wikileaks as a source to annouce it at the beginning of the news item, so we can turn it off or change the channel, if we choose.  I don’t feel better informed or victorious.  I feel distrustful due to being treated like a pawn in someone else’s game.  I hate our choice of President and don’t feel that it was an informed choice, so Wikileaks failed in its core mission.

    1. Robert Canning

      So, do you think it is OK to report on aspects of a candidate’s character that may imply that he/she may be unfit for the job? When does it become newsworthy? When people step up and become public figures – like and Clinton and Trump have been for more than 30 years – they put themselves in the spotlight and give up some of their privacy in return for saying to the public that they should be trusted.  The public has a right to know who the people running for President are and what they stand for and what their history has been.

  3. Sam

    So leaking out a tape of someone saying horrible sexist things in private and then reporting it on a website is OK.
    Taking someone’s private personal tax returns that someone anonymously sent you six weeks before the election and publishing those, also OK.
    Taking someone’s personal email someone anonymously sent you four weeks before the election showing that a candidate was given debate questions in advance and publishing the email, this should never ever be done because it is an invasion of that person’s privacy!
     

      1. Barack Palin

        When people step up and become public figures – like and Clinton and Trump have been for more than 30 years – they put themselves in the spotlight and give up some of their privacy in return for saying to the public that they should be trusted.  The public has a right to know who the people running for President are and what they stand for and what their history has been.

        Yes, and that’s exactly what Wikileaks did, it exposed the dark underbelly of the DNC and HRC.

        1. Robert Canning

          “Dark underbelly” – what was so egregious? Congress never found any reason to cite her for contempt or suggest that charges should be brought.  The FBI (nominally neutral) suggested that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring criminal charges. Given the history of electioneering and political game playing in our presidential elections over the years, what did she do that was so egregious?

          We may not like her (she wasn’t my favorite either) but I don’t believe you can make a decent case she was criminal?

        2. Barack Palin

          They let her slide because of her position in society.  We have people now serving jail terms who did far less than she when it comes to classified information.  And we’re not talking just about HRC, the emails exposed some of the dealings of the DNC which were very shady to say the least.

        3. hpierce

          Yeah, just like “the Donald” is sliding… a Democrat until a few years ago… three wives… always looking for bigger bra cup sizes, narrower waists… younger… facts are superfluous… say what “sells” as part of the “Art of the Deal”… yeah, got that… the strategy won on all levels…

          A very conservative, evangelical, Republican message… worked… gotta’ love conservative Republicans… Guiliani and the “Newt” also have been married thrice… hell,  Newt set the standard for conservative Republicans, messing around while his wife was fighting for her life with cancer… great “family values” which  conservative Republicans would have us all espouse (pun intended)…

          The Donald appears to have no values other than “it’s all about me”… we’ll have to see how he acts.

        4. Barack Palin

          “Robert… don’t ‘feed’ gremlins after midnight… bad results…”

          You know Hpierce, so far on this thread everyone is having a discussion with no name calling.  I and Robert Canning can disagree with each other but we haven’t reverted to demeaning each other.  Then you show up.

          If you wonder why the Vanguard might be changing its comment policy a good place for you to start would be a mirror.

        5. hpierce

          Super sensitive, BP?  Did I reference you?  I think not… my comment was generic…

          “Paranoia runs deep”…

          Was not aimed at you… was generic… get a freaking clue… grow up…

          See your references in this thread…. HRC (Human Relations Commission?)… was that aimed at an individual… get your own mirror…

    1. Sam

      So, do you think it is OK to report on aspects of a candidate’s character that may imply that he/she may be unfit for the job?

      Yes I do. I think seeing emails from a candidate to her daughter that show the candidate was not being honest with the public is important just like hearing tapes of what another candidate says privately about women is important. I just haven’t seen any stories about how bad the Washington Post was, only about how bad WikiLeaks was during the election.

      1. South of Davis

        Sam wrote:

        > I just haven’t seen any stories about how bad the Washington

        > Post was, only about how bad WikiLeaks was during the election.

        You won’t find them here on David’s left leaning blog, but if you go to right leaning blogs that cheer for their “team” you can read stories like that all day (just like if you go to New England Patriot blogs you can read how the “other guys” were just going after Tom Brady with “inflategate” and if you read a NY Jets blog all you will read about is how Tom Brady and the Patriots are big cheaters and “inflategate” is just the tip of the iceberg of all the ways they cheat)…

  4. Frankly

    It is breathtaking how those on the left argue out of both sided of their mouth to get their way.  Trump was lambasted by the left for not agreeing to accept the election results, and then they melt into a screaming tantrum after they lose claiming the election was rigged, or hacked or UNFAIR!

    With respect to the leaked emails, look at it this way, the mainstream media including the majority of entertainers that are limousine liberals gave unfair advantage to Hillary and the Democrats.   So at worst the leaked emails were an equalizer.

    But what is evident and disturbing in this argument from the left is the transparency of their mindset that winning is more important than truth.  That means justifies ends.  That politics is just a competition that they, the left, felt like they had a stacked-deck and could comfortably claim righteousness in their ideological position.  This election, and those over the last six years, basically shattered that feeling, but instead of accepting it and looking inward to discover what was wrong, they are seeking one excuse after another to try and hold onto what was always a level of vapor.

    When you gamble and lose, eventually you need to stop gambling and play a different game.

  5. Frankly

    No more posting on the VG for me after the change.   It has been fun.  My work is done.

    But as a nice parting shot to those people wondering what might happen to all the previous hope and change they bought into, here is what real hope and change looks like…

    I will continue to evaluate this list, but from my initial review I support most of it.

    https://meadows.house.gov/first-100-days

    Business and the economy is going to love this stuff.

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