Shane discusses Wikileaks
Scott Shane, of the New York Times’ Washington Bureau detailed the sequence of events leading to the Wikileaks crisis, offering an inside perspective of the White House’s reaction and subsequent actions, as well as his candid opinions, during his lecture at the College on Monday, April 11.
A reporter for the Times since 2004, Shane has gained a reputation through various exposé articles concerning United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Shane is visiting the College for the week as part of the Goldfarb Center sponsored Lovejoy Journalist-in-Residence program.
Wikileaks is an international non-profit organization that publishes submissions of media from news sources, news leaks and other anonymous sources. Launched in 2006 by the Sunshine Press Organization, Wikileaks rose to international acclaim in November 2010, when it began releasing classified U.S. State Department diplomatic cables submitted to the site by disillusioned Private Bradley Manning. The contents include unsolicited commentary from diplomats in various foreign countries regarding their hosts, including a plethora of information that would certainly embarrass the U.S. government.
From the beginning of his lecture, Shane explained that he was going to recount the story as it was, assuring the audience that he welcomed all questions, especially the challenging ones. His speech was more than a detailed explanation of the Wikileaks chronicles; Shane also offered insights as a professional journalist. Side notes, which advised the audience of appropriate journalistic techniques and conventions, punctured his narrative.
Shane began by addressing the ethical dilemma both he and the Times faced upon initially receiving the collection of classified diplomatic cables from the U.S. government. Emphasizing that journalists must be held morally accountable for their publications, Shane noted that he consulted with the U.S. government before publishing each article. Admitting that he possessed secret documents that the government did not want published, Shane recounted the tense meetings he had with apprehensively guarded White House officials.
Although he solicited the Times’ opinion, Shane noted that it was, ultimately, up to his discretion to choose what was published in the paper. He detailed the redaction progress, saying that the only information eliminated was the names of people that would be hurt otherwise. As a reporter dedicated to “ferreting out the secrets and putting them in the newspaper,” Shane said that it was his job to run stories, even when they embarrassed the U.S. government and strained its foreign relations.
Shane emphasized the “power of the detail,” recognizing that the articles published represented a fraction of the total cables, and that although not all the contents were newsworthy, they were definitely fascinating. Of the stories he chose to publish, Shane said that “newspapers have the power to get society motivated” and that “America deserves to see its tax dollars at work.” By similar logic, he defended the actions of Manning as a concerned patriot upholding freedom of the press.
Shane also hypothesized on the implications Wikileaks will have on the future of the press as well as government policy. While he admitted that newspapers can be sensationalist in the content of the story, he reasoned that this is only because reporters are catering to the preferences of the readers. Shane doubts an “Age of Wikileaks” will ensue, because he believes that the government will simply have to become better at guarding its secrets, since there will always be people attempting to unearth them.