CNN Books Three Liberals to Discuss WikiLeaks, No Conservatives


CNN's Larry King provided more proof that his network does indeed "play favorites," contrary to the claim of their recent ad, by bringing on three liberals on his program on Monday to discuss WikiLeaks' latest document release. Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers infamy praised Julian Assange as a "truth-teller," while Michael Hastings of Rolling Stone defended the website.

Former Clinton administration official James Rubin joined Ellsberg and Hastings for a panel discussion during the first half hour of King's 9 pm Eastern hour program. The outgoing host turned to Ellsberg first and asked as his second question, "Knowing how you release things, what should not be reported?"

The Vietnam-era hero of the left referenced a more recent cause celebre of his ideological peers in his answer and mouthed their talking point on it:

ELLSBERG: Oh, all kind of things-

KING: Like?

ELLSBERG: Mostly things that are above the classification of this- communications, intelligence, the names of covert agents, for instance- Valerie Plame's name should not have been revealed by Scooter Libby or Karl Rove or Dick Cheney. That was irresponsible. In fact, I don't think I ever had a colleague who would have done that. She was doing important secret work, which required her true identity being secret, and they destroyed her career.

King then sought Rubin's take on it. He actually blasted WikiLeaks:

RUBIN: ...I think what I make of it overall is that somehow, an organization that was originally intending, perhaps, to affect the debate in this country about the Iraq war, say- or the war in Afghanistan, has somehow morphed into an anti-American organization whose very purpose appears to be to weaken the ability of State Department diplomats to do their job, and the irony, Larry, is that diplomats at the State Department have really not many tools at their disposal. It's not like the Pentagon that has weapons or the Treasury Department that has financial wherewithal. The State Department's basic tool is the trust it develops with foreign governments, diplomats in those countries, human rights workers in those countries, or others who are sharing information based on trust, and no matter what any of the organization's proponents will say about this or supporters, in one way or another, the trust between the United States and many foreign governments has been weakened. It hasn't been destroyed forever, but it's been weakened, and I think there will be occasions when things that might have happened otherwise, whether that's attacking a terrorist cell in Yemen or sharing the views of the king of Saudi Arabia, things that would have been said before may not be said, and that can hurt us for no apparent purpose.

Unsurprisingly, Hastings, whose writing on former General Stanley McChrystal helped end the Army officer's career, came to the website's defense later in the segment:

KING: Michael, what are your thoughts? Do you think WikiLeaks is anti-American?

HASTINGS: No, not at all, and I'm a fan of the State Department, but this idea that this WikiLeaks dump is going to undermine American credibility overseas, I think, is somewhat laughable. I think we need to put this in the larger context of responsible foreign policy, and over the past decade, we've seen a war launched in Iraq that was totally irresponsible, while we ignored a war in Afghanistan for eight years, and now we learn in these documents that we're spying on our- we're telling our diplomats to spy on our allies, which is also seems to be somewhat irresponsible. Those things and our unilateral action we've taken over the past decade have done much more to undermine American standing with their allies than WikiLeaks and Julian Assange could if they published 100,000 documents every day for the next 20 years.

Ellsberg then added his own praise, not only Assange and his website, but also the member of the military who leaked all the documents in the first place:

KING: The Obama administration is scrambling, of course, to deal with the fallout from this latest document released by WikiLeaks. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has condemned the disclosure- watch.

SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: So let's be clear. This disclosure is not just an attack on America's foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community, the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity. I am confident that the partnerships that the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge.

KING: Daniel, doesn't she have a point?

ELLSBERG: Well, I think there hasn't been a secretary of state since the Second World War who wouldn't have said exactly the same words about the Pentagon papers. And as a matter of fact, the secretary of state then, Secretary Rogers and the latest Secretary of State Henry Kissinger did say almost exactly the same words. That's why they saw me as the most dangerous man, I'm sure, in America. I'm sure they see Julian Assange now as the most dangerous man in America. The truth-teller is potentially embarrassing-

KING: It doesn't-

ELLSBERG: Likewise, Bradley Manning.

Fourteen minutes into the hour, the Rolling Stone contributing editor returned to criticizing Rubin's "anti-American" label for WikiLeaks and parroted one of their talking points:

HASTINGS: I have a pretty clear idea how things go in diplomatic circles, and I've been a firsthand witness of failure of diplomacy many times over the past few years. I'd like to point out that protecting the king of Saudi Arabia, one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and sort of concocting a scheme so he can lie to his population to protect our interest, and then doing the same thing with Yemen as Daniel Ellsberg mentioned, to sort of cut these backroom deals where these authoritarian leaders are lying to their population on our behalf is the most undemocratic thing one can imagine, and I think trying to smear WikiLeaks as anti-American this or that totally misses the point. This is an organization that supports democracy, that supports freedom and supports transparency, and when WikiLeaks breaks stories about China and Russia and other governments, we applaud them. And I think we have to hold ourselves to the same standards, and I don't think that we're- that the fallout that's being claimed about the damage this is going to do is going to actually come to pass, as it hasn't in the previous two cases with Iraq and Afghanistan.

King, acknowledging that it was "two against one," with Ellsberg and Hastings defending WikiLeaks, gave Rubin some additional time later in the discussion to criticize the website:



KING: All right, Mr. Rubin, it's your platform. Mister- I don't want to have ganged up on you, but Ellsberg and Hastings are in agreement, and it's two against one, so go.

RUBIN: (laughs) Okay, Larry. Well, they do appear to be in agreement about the Iraq war being a bad thing for the United States, and they may even agree on Afghanistan for all I know. But that's not really the point, and I think people who are against the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have every right to be against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

People who don't want the king of Saudi Arabia to lie to his own people should go out and do something about it. But the point here in that we're the United States, we're trying to respect the views of other governments and people from the left, which your two guests clearly are, have long said the United States shouldn't impose our will on other countries and our culture and our attitudes. The king of Saudi Arabia, the president of Yemen- this is their culture. This is their way they want to do business. We have to respect that. I can assure you that the U.S. government would prefer to be able to acknowledge publicly the extent of its cooperation with Saudi Arabia and Yemen, but those governments don't want to. And so, if Mr. Assange or Dan Ellsberg or Mr. Hastings want to go report on something happening in Saudi Arabia, let them do that.

The United States government has to protect our own people, and one of the ways- not the only way, but one of the ways it does that is to make arrangements with foreign governments to act against terrorists, and Mr. Hastings seems to have a very casual view of all of this and he's sure, based on all the things that he knows in his life, that none of this will make any difference. And I'm telling you, having actually served in government, having spent eight years in the State Department, but also being a pretty big advocate of freedom of the press, that sometimes secrets actually matter and to draw a broad brush and just throw out 250,000 documents without reference to any specific policy you're opposing or supporting without reference to any particular goal other than secrecy being unraveled for its own sake, seems to me to be missing the purpose of good journalism.

Bob Woodward did good journalism. He uncovered Watergate. Other reporters in recent times for other newspapers have done great journalism. This is not great journalism. This is stealing documents and putting them out on the Internet.

KING: Well-

RUBIN: And that harms the ability of the United States government to protect its people and many other human rights workers and others around the world that presumably Mr. Hastings and Mr. Ellsberg would be supportive of, who have shared-

KING: Okay.

RUBIN: Their information with the U.S. and now, we're reading about it in The Guardian or the Der Spiegel.

The MRC's Rich Noyes noted on November 12 that CNN certainly "played favorites" with the guests they booked during the month of October. During the last four full weeks prior to the midterm election, 61% of the network's guests were liberal or Democrat. Only 39% were conservative or Republican.

- Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.