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Why Was The Washington Post Shut Out Of Wikileaks Story? Well…

Today the Washington Post's Paul Farhi reported an interesting tidbit of info about Wikileaks: the media outlet that brought us the go to scandal-suffix "-gate" was shut out of Cablegate.

Initially, Wikileaks' go-to U.S. media organization had been the New York Times. But after the Times published a few too many stories on Julian Assange's rape charges and that sort of crap, he snubbed them and pitched the latest cache of classified documents to CNN and the Wall Street Journal (both of whom turned him down on grounds of the sketchy conditions he tried to set for access—but still, it would have been nice to have been asked.)

Then, though, the Guardian agreed to share its leaks with the Times. When the Post tried to get in on this collectivist data dump, editor Marcus Brauchli is quoted saying today, the Brits snubbed him. Was it because Assange was pissed about this Post story in which Assange was compared—not directly, of course, but by "some critics"—to Saddam Hussein's old information minister? Well, that could be part of the explanation!

But the other 40,000 words or so the Post has devoted to Wikileaks coverage since the beginning of the year should not be discounted. About a month ago I conducted an amateur statistical analysis of Wikileaks coverage, with the intention of quantifying a growing suspicion that the vast majority of Wikileaks press seemed to have pretty much nothing to do with the substance of the leaks themselves. And it turned out I was right! Of more than 60,000 words the New York Times had devoted to the story, less than a third seemed even remotely concerned with what, actually, the leaks had actually said. The rest were mostly empty armchair analysis, largely focused on the sexual orientation and existential angst of young Wikileaker Pvt. Bradley Manning, etc. etc. etc. Assange had a point.

But the Post was a different story. Seriously, some editor must have held some sort of newsroom contest to see who could produce the most stories about Wikileaks without sending any traffic to the Wikileaks (terrorist) website. (There was a slight indication that this might change today, now that Dana Milbank has shown us that just one of the 250,000 new leaks can write your whole goddamn column.)

But before the latest document dump it appeared that a grand total of three stories, comprising 4108 words of the 35,662 words of 2010 Post stories about which Wikileaks was the primary focus, actually required anything approaching a close read of any of the Wikileaked documents. Now admittedly, 11.5% was slightly better than Politico's score, but we'll let them off the hook since I'm pretty sure they were first to report Rep. Peter King's initial call for Assange's execution.

Here's how the rest of the Post's pre-November coverage of Wikileaks breaks down:

  • 20.5% or 7,323 words on… miscellaneous thumbsucker type stories on the political and policy consequences, at home and abroad, of the leaks which can probably be summarized in the words of one July 27 headline, "After war leak, anger but no calls for change."
  • 16% or 5,702 words on… Wikileaker Pvt. Bradley Manning, e.g. how he was being "celebrated as a folk hero" by some despite the fact that his "mental health" had been "doubted" and one profile that began with the lede "Bradley Manning, 22, had just gone through a breakup."
  • 15.8% or 5649 words on what might generally be called sundry leakology e.g. neutral and relatively banal discussion of the basic mechanics and history of leaks, liberal on the references to/quotes from/historical comparisons with Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg
  • 14.2% or 5,064 words… "reporting" on and/or voicing the Pentagon's strong condemnation of the Wikileaks for jeopardizing national security and countless lives by disclosing such a vast trove of damning top-secret, highly sensitive and "explosive" etc. etc. information.
  • 12.9% or 4,607 words on… host of op-ed commentary pieces employing a host of different ways of saying there's nothing in the Wikileaks that everyone in Washington did not know already and no it did not actually require "reading" the leaks themselves to arrive at this conclusion. Richard Cohen, Michael Gerson and Gene Robinson all produced relatively identical variations on the unbylined editorial "Wikileaks 'Truth': Secret History of the Iraq War Turns Out To Be Pretty Familiar" although Anne Applebaum probably deserves some credit for pointing that the reason they all felt this way was mainly that no one really had enough of an attention span to read them, duh. And…
  • 9% or 3,209 words on… Wikileaks internal "affairs" e.g. Julian Assange's rape charge, Hussein comparisons, etc.


  1. #1

    why doesnt assange tell us how he decides who to leak to? i demand transparency!!

  2. #2

    ok i spoke too soon.

    der spiegel says that Daniel Domscheit-Berg will have a tellall book 'inside wikileaks' in early 2011

    "Former WikiLeaks Activists to Launch New Whistleblowing Site"

  3. #3

    I don't consider these conditions particularly "sketchy":

    "WikiLeaks asked CNN and the Wall Street Journal to sign confidentiality agreements that would have entitled WikiLeaks to a payment of around $100,000 if the partner broke the embargo, according to people briefed on the agreement who asked not to be named because they weren't authorized to disclose the information publicly."

    There was an embargo and a penalty if they broke the embargo. If this was the reason that WSJ and CNN refused the cables from Wikileaks, then obviously they felt they could not abide by the embargo.

  4. #4

    Haha, WashPost fails again. Good point Ludd.

  5. #5

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