Media Can't Decide Whether Espionage is Journalism

Imagine the year is 1942 and the German government runs a news bureau in Washington, D.C. collecting government secrets. Even FDR would have laughed at claims they were actual journalists, locked them up and thrown away the key.

He would have been right. There's a huge difference between an individual or an organization reporting abuses in government or business one at a time and the same people stealing enough classified material to run a spy agency.

But sleazy Julian Assange and his spy agency WikiLeaks are trying to pretend they are journalists. He even calls himself 'editor-in-chief,' sort of like Mata Hari calling herself H.L. Mencken or the Rosenbergs claiming to be Woodward and Bernstein. Assange even argued in a recent column that 'WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism.' As a sign just how far that profession has fallen, many in the media are agreeing with the spin.

The Society of Professional Journalists (to which I belong) can't even decide. SPJ President Hagit Limor released a press release and blogged making it clear 'we can't even agree on the most basic question: Is WikiLeaks journalism?'

The why is easy. It seems many journalists are more worried about protecting their industry than national security. Limor claims 'the question of whether WikiLeaks is journalism matters not a whit to the general public.' She followed that line with the journalistic equivalent of the Internet adage that 'information wants to be free.' To Limor, 'the world audience just wants information.'

Well, I guess that makes it all OK. Some traitor can give away U.S. secrets to the world or to a spy agency, but that's fine because the world wants information. I imagine the world wants Limor's bank account information too. Or those of the staff of The New York Times or other news outlets running with this story. Should that information be public? How about every personal e-mail journalists write? We saw what a little sunlight brought to the concept that reporters are neutral when the Journolist story broke.

Unfortunately, SPJ reflects the confusion and self-centered concerns of the profession. Some old school journalists have come out against WikiLeaks. Former Washington Post Managing Editor Steve Coll, now president of New America Foundation, said of WikiLeaks, 'so far it lacks an ethical culture that is consonant with the ideals of free media.' For that seemingly mild criticism, he was in turn criticized by David Samuels in the Atlantic. Samuels claims 'Julian Assange and Pfc Bradley Manning have done a huge public service.'

Samuels is not alone. The Spectator UK headlined one piece 'Yes, Julian Assange Is A Journalist.' Another example of Assange's news support comes from a petition headlined 'Journalists from more than 60 countries join in support for WikiLeaks.' They claim Assange has made 'an outstanding contribution to transparency and accountability on the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.' Of course, most of those supporters aren't from the United States and couldn't care less about our national interest.

The Centre for Investigative Journalism earlier had Assange teach classes over the summer and calls Assange 'the main architect of the remarkably successful public interest project Wikileaks.' The group posted comments from the International Federation of Journalists accusing the United States of 'attacking free speech.' That statement gets to the heart of the issue that criticisms of Assange and Manning 'show a mood of intolerance and persecution that is dangerous not just for the two men but for all journalists engaged in investigating public affairs.' (Italics added.)

In other words, they have to protect their jobs, forget about American lives.

This isn't the first time there's been confusion over whether journalists act as spies. It was a huge concern during the Civil War when generals feared reporters would leak troop movements. Those concerns continued for decades and got even worse as the media took an active role undermining the Vietnam War.

But WikiLeaks is nothing like that. It is an organization based on theft of classified documents that then reveals communications that could cost lives, crush American diplomatic efforts or cause wars. Then when Assange gets in trouble, he threatens to release more data, his so-called 'insurance file' of even more dangerous, but encrypted, information. That completes the circle by adding blackmail to his list of daily activities.

Now the Associated Press is reporting WikiLeaks 'has put out a secret cable that lists sites worldwide that the U.S. considers crucial to its national security.' American officials 'said the leak amounts to giving a hit list to terrorists.' And speaking of terrorists, Assange supporters have attacked websites of 'perceived enemies of founder Julian Assange,' including Hardly Pulitzer Prize material.

That's because WikiLeaks isn't a news organization. It's a crime syndicate that aids the enemies of the United States. It must be shut down and its operatives and helpers jailed at bare minimum.

Dan Gainor is The Boone Pickens Fellow and the Media Research Center's Vice President for Business and Culture. His column appears each week on The Fox Forum. He can also be contacted on FaceBook and Twitter as dangainor.