Jack Shafer: "I love Wikileaks for restoring distrust in our most important institutions."

"If you want to dismiss [Julian Assange] just because he's a seething jerk, there are about 2,000 journalists I'd like you to meet."—Jack Shafer, Slate.com.


  1. I’d have to say that some of the reading was interesting, but not sure if it was worth rousing the ire of the US State Dept..

    Seems like the “cablegate” Cable Viewer (cablegate.wikileaks.org) is no longer available– at least I can’t get to it.

    fwiw, one cable from the Astana Embassy in Kazakhstan, describing the lavish lifestyle of some of the officials there, read more like a Perez Hilton blog post.

    1. Yeah, this whole release is kind of like a huge batch of Gawker posts, except instead of celebrities backbiting each other, it’s high-ranking govt officials. As fascinating as it’s been, I’m not sure it’s doing more good than bad. There hasn’t been any big whistleblower moment worthy of intervention. It just sort of makes everyone involved feel bad.

      I wish Assange would exercise more judicious restraint with his releases. I’m sure the Iraq War docs leak totally uprooted the lives of many friendly informants. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people end up dead because of Wikileaks some day. And I suspect Assange would be totally OK with it — just collateral damage.

      1. I would agree that it reads like a TMZ report, hw2084. The one thing that I hope comes out of it is more qualitative reporting up the chain inside our foreign service.

        I understand the need for these characterizations and stereotyping– it goes toward “profiling” leaders and ultimately ends up as a remote psych eval that goes into the CIA dossier for all these foreigners. The problem is that 1) it’s completely subjective, 2) it’s capricious, and 3) ultimately, it may do as much damage to forwarding relations as it does bring insight.

  2. It’s good to see a cat among the pigeons. Too many of us believe that governments act in our interest and that everything is OK.

  3. Problem is that distrust seems all to often to lead to demands for dismantle, rather then attempting to fix the broken parts.

    To attempt to quote a certain bulldog, “democracy may be the worst kind of government, except for all that have come before it”.

  4. “but not sure if it was worth rousing the ire of the US State Dept.”

    The entire point of terrorism is to instill fear… to that point I am glad at least somebody on this planet has the balls to stand up to the US State Dept. FWIW, the foreign policy of this nation has been totally bat-shit insane since 1898 (Spanish American War, for those out there that don’t do well on history exams). There are too many instances to list but suffice it to say, being THE global superpower tends to break nations (again non-history buffs, Rome, Britain.) The US needs to have a wake up call that goes something like “Yes, hello… this is the rest of the world. And we are just calling to tell you that we would appreciate it if you would stop being such a bunch of dicks. And if that’s not clear enough for you, then please just fuck right off.”

    “democracy may be the worst kind of government, except for all that have come before it”.

    Yeah… too bad this isn’t a democracy. Because if it were, do you really think all of this horse-shit would have gone on for so long. This is a republic… Ah fuck it… Take it away Gore Vidal, “We should stop going around babbling about how we’re the greatest democracy on earth, when we’re not even a democracy. We are a sort of militarized republic. The founding fathers hated two things, one was monarchy and the other was democracy, they gave us a constitution that saw to it we will have neither. I don’t know how wise they were.” Nuff Sed.

    1. What I’m saying about “not worth rousing the ire” is that it doesn’t expose any goings-on that are real news to anyone that would bother to delve into these details, not that people seeking the truth should be afraid to challenge authority.

      But I’d agree that not only has US foreign policy been kind of wacky, but it has always been the aspect of government that is most out of control of the electorate. Some of this information seems well gathered and succinctly put, one pundit mentioned that if anything it seemed to provide evidence that we actually have some smart people working in the diplomatic corps.

      But it doesn’t come close to proving that, at the end of the day, this flow of data is being cleverly cherry picked and woven into some grade-school-level jingoist narrative designed to placate and manipulate the masses, where black hats and white hats are placed firmly on the best characters’ heads.

      More that the variety and complexity of the issues prove how futile and stupid that narrative-crafting exercise would be.

  5. Peter Beinart’s “The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris” gives a great consistent description of US history since 1898.

  6. The US State Dept is a bureaucracy, and a pretty stilted one at that. For anyone here who has presented to “upper management”, I would think these dispatches sound familiar. As Utenzil says, some of these people actually sound pretty smart (they should be– the test to get in is killer hard). Unfortunately, the bureaucratic inertia (or lack of inertia?) demands that people write communiques that reduce things down to simple terms, stereotypes, and self-fulfilling characterizations.

    Remember all those times your boss asked you to explain your project using some sort of car analogy? It’s that– but with our foreign policy and lives on the line.

    Oh, and I am not sure our foreign policy went bat-shit in 1898, that’s just when we started going outside our borders. We’d been going bat shit on the Native Americans since… well, day one in 1620.

  7. A lot of this stuff is the candy that Old Man Cheney used to lure Beltway journalists and pundits into his grey van a few years ago. Afterwards they told themselves they were special and privileged, so a lot of them are understandably unhappy now that anyone can have the candy for free.

  8. Most people who really shake shit up are assholes. Doesn’t necessarily make them wrong though.

    Thanks for the link arikol. Required reading if you want to understand what this stuff is all about.

  9. “doesn’t expose any goings-on that are real news to anyone that would bother to delve into these details”

    Real news being defined as what? Genuinely curious as to what you would call “Real” news. And the people now delving into this are ordinary people and real journos. Transparency is important to good government. And these cables, no matter what they are is a huge dose of transparency. The interesting thing to see is if the powers that be can handle this sort of thing. Because if they can’t then they really have only one option. Step down in favor of somebody that can operate with actual transparency.

    “[…]started going outside our borders. We’d been going bat shit on the Native Americans since… well, day one in 1620”

    I suppose you could call that foreign policy, just so long as it is understood who the foreigners in that story were/are.

    1. Because you say you’re genuinely curious, what I’d say was more along the lines of real news would be clear evidence of indifference and lack of professionalism (for example, a diplomat complaining to the effect of “Dude, the Minister of Defense for ..what is this place again, Dorkistan?… anyway.. he went on and on about the helicopter purchase thing to the point that I barely got to the buffet!”) or clear evidence of out and out corruption (“the GOI slipped me $50K, so you get $15K of that like we agreed” btw, does anyone else chuckle about the abbreviation for Gov’t of Israel being “GOI”?). Evidence of absolute evil (“we’ve arranged for pre-teen liaisons to entertain the PM”) would really be real news, or verfication of any of a number of conspiracy theories (“the transmission from the orbiting alien ships indicate that they support the re-valuation of Chinese currency”) would be stunning news.

      I do agree about the transparency aspect– some of it is very interesting, even though a fair amount of it is water under the bridge.

      Being critical of the ‘lone superpower’ has become something of a global pastime, but the fact is that the *vast* majority of the governments represented in the UN are autocratic, nepotistic, opportunistic and manned by people who don’t think twice about helping themselves first.

      Maybe a bigger issue is that no one has raised about this: everyone believes it is actual, real data. But someone hoping to discredit the US in a calculated manner could slip in a set of falsified cables in order to raise an uproar, and chew up US government cycles in the denying of it.

      And because of that last part, it is less ‘real’ news.

      1. And, having said all that, the mistaken identity kidnapping and interrogation of the guy who got dropped off in Albania is a combination of incompetence and deception, and has other evidence to back it up, and so is real news.

        The word that Amazon was leaned on to stop hosting wikileaks and complied is real news.


      2. Agreed, all of those “news” items would be pretty decent examples of “real news.” Given that we still don’t have the whole picture though what’s to say that something along those lines won’t shake out soon or in another release?

        Something that is real news that has come out of these cables is their release at all. And I know the US Gov’t is taking on the persona of a rabid dog to find the source and string him/her up from the nearest tree. However, a better question from my perspective is why in the greatest country on Earth (haha) a) does this happen b) is the system so messed up that people feel the need to leak c) and if this sort of drivel is the standard (or even prevalent enough to be “interesting” to some) what does that say for the level of decorum and honor among those in power?

        “[…]the *vast* majority of the governments represented in the UN are autocratic, nepotistic, opportunistic and manned by people who don’t think twice about helping themselves first.”

        Yes, I agree, and this statement also seems to apply to US first and foremost. In addition to that, authority must be questioned and if it can’t support its claim to power then it should be replaced. If the US wants to continue being the world authority then it should have no problem demonstrating to the rest of the world that it deserves that authority. Currently, I don’t think they have demonstrated anything more than its ability to represent fully that snippet drawn from your comment.

        The cup of freedom must be replenished from time to time.

  10. I don’t know if he’s a “seething jerk” but check out this web archive of his blog from 2007, especially the August 29 post:


    If writing pretentious twaddle is a criminal offense in any of the countries he’s leaked documents from, I expect that extradition proceedings are already underway.

    Self titling this page of pap “IQ.org” should in itself be worth a ten year add on to the sentence.

  11. I think Julian Assange is doing an important thing, and I support it and generally believe that Wikileaks really is important and relevant and should continue to operate. However, the reason the State Department wants to keep the cables secret is exactly because of articles by people like Jack Shafer, who use relatively mundane news for sensationalism, blowing it out of proportion and out of context so that they can grab a few thousand more readers for their article.

    If we restore moderation and proportion to our news reporting, then stuff like the “secret” cables mean very little in the spectrum of news. But if we viciously distort every story for the maximum outrage, then obviously it needs to be secret. I hope that the blogging press if not the print and broadcast media press realizes that context, moderation, and proportion are important factors to every story.

    Diplomacy is messy, like politics, it’s fairly disgusting and unpalatable and just icky all around. If we want transparency, we need to accept a certain level of complexity and acceptance of the weird ways that deals get made in the real world.

  12. On the topic of US foreign policy, how far is the coast from the heartland? and then to the nearest other coast. For the heartland the only foreign nations that one need to care about is Canada and Mexico as they have an actual border with USA. The rest is just to far away…

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