29 Nov 2010 | 715 words | media wikileaks

So twitter (and the CNN programming in this generic bar in the European Quarter of Bruxelles that i am currently sitting in) are abuzz with #cablegate (twitter) / U.S DOCUMENTS EXPOSED (CNN) and nobody really questions if this whole affair (the leaking of those documents) is even remotely relevant. me thinks it is not. if this ‘unprecedented leak’ has any significance at all that would be that it illustrates (once more) that the news media have completely lost it and that signal has definitely lost it to noise.

So what is at stake here? an ‘unprecedented leak‘ of formerly secret (or better: not freely available, since something that 3 million people have access to can hardly be called secret) diplomatic communications between the US state department and the diplomats working for the state department. for the news media there are two triggers-words here that make this a irresistible target: ‘secret’ and ‘unprecedented’ both of them attract media like shit attracts flys on beautiful summer days.

The substance of that leak? almost nothing, at last not anything that the public has a good reason to want to know. this is where this leak differs from the iraq and the afghanistan files that predominantly dealt with facts many of which had been willfully kept secret from the public.

Instead of dealing with descriptions of facts the leaked diplomatic cables are consisting of opinions communicated internally among the people working for the state departement. it is highly absurd to see the media (and many activists) get all wound-up about the fact that the internal style of communication of the state department is different from how the organisation communicates with the public1). happens all the time2. yes there is some interesting stuff in there, but it is hardly newsworthy by itself. most of what has been disclosed so far is of the nature ‘that soandso has told me that soandso thinks thisandthat about soandso’. this can hardly be called news and any serious news outlet should have probably limited its’s coverage of the leak to noting the fact that the cables have been posted online, explaining the circumstances and pointing the audience to the URL of the cables.

Yes there are some interesting statements in there and there are some juicy characterizations to be found, but on the other hand it is not exactly news that Guido Westerwelle appears to be3 incompetent (to the credit of wikileaks this simple statement finally can be made on wikipedia in accordance with wikipedias editorial guidelines), that berlusconi is4 vain and that the behavior of arab leaders can be at times questionable.

None of this really challenges how we should look at the world around us and if the past performance of the the news media gives us and indication, all of it will be forgotten well before xmas. unlike the spiegel claims this is not how america sees the world: the cables are individual observations by state department employees and they surely contribute to americas worldview, but so do a lot of other things like satellite images, telefone taps and analysis of publicly available facts such as economic growth or percentage of GDP spend on military equipment…

In the meanwhile this ‘unprecedented’ leak will have made it much harder for real whistleblowers to gain the attention of the news-media (or wikileaks) for some time to come. also, personally i would have preferred not to know that ghaddafi uses botox

  1. Which makes me wonder what the media and the twittervesre assumed to be contained in diplomatic cables before these cables became public? ↩︎

  2. This morning a i had a meeting with two representatives of another organisation. after the meeting i reported back to my colleagues who were not present at the meeting making statements about the intentions and demeanor of the people i had met with that i would never make in front of those people. i am pretty sure their report to their colleagues contains statements about my intentions and demeanor that they would not make in front of me either. ↩︎

  3. Now here we have an issue that would warrant some serious journalistic inquiry: is there any evidence that he is indeed incompetent? ↩︎

  4. By contrast this clearly is a factual statement, the real question being, why does the italian electorate accept his conduct? ↩︎