Friday, December 10, 2010

WikiLeaks, Assange, Transparency, and Accountability

What was the source of dramatic tension in All the President's Men? The reporters had the basic story early on. The tension came from editor Ben Bradlee's requirement that reporters Woodward and Bernstein independently confirm the elements of the story.

What's that you say? No need to confirm the WikiLeaks documents. Well, you're right about that. They were what they were, although there have already been phony dumps if what we hear out of Pakistan is correct. But what about that tricky editing thing? If you believe, as all but the most naive and radicalized among us do, that there's a legitimate need for governments to keep some things secret, particularly as it applies to foreign affairs, then there simply MUST be a filter.

(Yes, you read me right. If you don't believe that there are legitimate secrets, you are naive, radical, and frankly downright dangerous. So you can stop right here, hack my computer, and put me and my 14 readers out of business.)

And the filter that I’m talking about needs to be publicly accountable. To those who say that there is no equivalency between the governments keeping secrets and the lives of the individuals reporting them, I say, "Why the hell not?" We elect the government. They are, to at least some extent, an extension of our will. Our elected officials and those that they appoint serve at our pleasure, and are therefore accountable to us even if only in the most removed sense. And as public officials, their lives are subject to public scrutiny. It comes with the package.

What of Assange and those who believe that ALL must be transparent? What do we know of them? To whom are they accountable? If the answers to those questions are Nothing and No one, then there are no limits. They are just as much above scrutiny as they claim that the government has become. I don’t see that as a good thing.

All our freedoms are limited. The Second Amendment does not grant my neighbor the right to construct a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. The freedom of expression of your fist ends at the point of my chin. And IMHO opaque, unrestrained journalists do not have the right to demand total transparency from my government.

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