Monday, July 18, 2011

Phone Hacking Scandal Brings Out WSJ’s Fear of WikiLeaks

by Kevin Gosztola
Fire Dog Lake: The Dissenter 

As the News Corp phone hacking scandal continues to grow and envelop US newspapers and media organizations, which are owned by Rupert Murdoch and part of the News Corp family, the management of each of these papers and organizations are working overtime to defend Murdoch from the criticism. And, in a recent editorial addressing the business of news and those who are criticizing members of the News Corp family, the Wall Street Journal delivers a dig against papers like The Guardian that have done business with WikiLeaks.

The editorial argues the phone hacking scandal “years ago at a British corner of News Corp. to the Journal” is possibly being used to “injure press freedom general.” It agrees that the phone hacking is “deplorable” and those responsible are likely to be prosecuted. It suggests News of the World violated its readers’ trust. But, at the same time, the editorial asks, “Do our media brethren really want to invite Congress and prosecutors to regulate how journalists gather the news?”—a question that foretells of the next Tea Party battle cry: “Keep your government hands off my newspaper!” (And, of course, I’m talking about the Tea Party defending the New York Post, not the Wall Street Journal. You have to like to read to care about protecting the WSJ from the government.)

Here’s the section where the WSJ editorial staff take a cheap shot against newspapers like The Guardian that have worked with WikiLeaks. After outlining how News Corps has invested in the WSJ, making it possible for foreign coverage to expand, for digital delivery to be launched and for the weekend edition to become more substantial, the editorial asserts:

We also trust that readers can see through the commercial and ideological motives of our competitor-critics. The Schadenfreude is so thick you can’t cut it with a chainsaw. Especially redolent are lectures about journalistic standards from publications that give Julian Assange and WikiLeaks their moral imprimatur. They want their readers to believe, based on no evidence, that the tabloid excesses of one publication somehow tarnish thousands of other News Corp. journalists across the world.
First off, a tabloid newspaper staff may be the embodiment of Schadenfreude, as a tabloid’s staff especially the executives involved make profit out of exploiting the misfortunes of celebrities, politicians, sports athletes and sometimes, as this phone hacking scandal has shown, members of the public who get murdered. It seems like karma is delivering retribution, as members of the News Corp family are being hit with payback from people who are tired of letting those in News Corp be the mean girls that run the high school.

Second, it’s pretty disingenuous to imply that newspapers that have worked with WikiLeaks—and published information they have obtained through WikiLeaks—don’t have their own independent editorial stance on the operations of the organization itself. In the PBS FRONTLINE documentary WikiSecrets, Investigations Executive Editor David Leigh says, “Julian, whose project was to publish the entire data set, was very reluctant to delete those names, to redact them. And we said, ‘Julian, we’ve got to do something about these redactions. We really have got to.’ And he said, ‘These people were collaborators, informants. They deserve to die.’ And there was a sort of silence fell around the table.”

But, let’s forget about the fact that The Guardian and WikiLeaks have been at vicious odds with one another. Julian Assange is, to some extent, on the side of WSJ. He agrees that not all News Corp organizations should have to pay for one paper engaging in illicit and illegal activity.
From a press conference last week:
No person, no director or spokesperson or contractor of WikiLeaks has even been charged with a crime in any country and yet we have suffered this economic embargo for the past seven months. News of the World has been charged multiple times for sourcing related offenses. That said, it does appear based on the allegation that in some cases News International overstepped the boundaries of what was ethical. That does not mean that an entire newspaper should receive the death sentence. Rather, the few employees or staff or managers should be investigated, perhaps, and dealt with. But should all the journalists in News International and the entire paper go? It’s always a loss to a community when it loses one of its papers. I would ask that people think carefully and distinguish between destroying an institution and cleaning up a few bad apples.
That’s right. The information anarchist has empathy for those in the News Corp family, who are paying for the phone hacking but had nothing to do with the phone hacking, and would likely agree with the WSJ that Attorney Eric J. Holder and the Department of Justice should be restrained in its investigation of the News Corp family.

The editorial raises the alarm about foreign-bribery laws being enforced to regulate news. It mentions how the government came after the late Robert Novak in its pursuit of White House aide Scooter Libby for being involved in leaking the news that Valerie Plame was a member of the CIA. It’s classic conservative establishment pretzel logic that newspapers working with WikiLeaks are unethical while journalists involved in leaking the names of agents in the CIA are victims of a government conspiracy against press freedom.

What many may not remember is that in May of this year, before this phone hacking scandal became such a controversy for News Corp, the WSJ announced that it would be announcing its own WikiLeaks-imitation site called SafeHouse. The announcement of the launch of a “leaks site” was a signal that WSJ was making this move to setup a digital platform for accepting news tips from sources, instead of having sources go through a traditional system that may mostly exist offline, because it realized WikiLeaks was on to something. Managing editor of, Kevin Delaney, quoted by Michael Calderone on Huffington Postacknowledged , “We all agree that WikiLeaks has had a huge impact on the journalism landscape over the last year or so.” And added, “There’s been a discussion among editors that it made sense to create a system to receive information from sources digitally.”

The WSJ, like other newspapers and media organizations, fears WikiLeaks. It understands WikiLeaks threatens its gatekeeper status. It hopes to commercialize what WikiLeaks does so it can ensure WikiLeaks does not impact future profits while at the same time neutralizing the part that involves being adversarial to power. And, at the end of the day, the WSJ is incredibly regretful of the fact that, when it had the opportunity, it didn’t take WikiLeaks up on its offer to have access to the US State Department cables because it didn’t want to enter into a media partnership with WikiLeaks and sign a confidentiality agreement.

It knows that papers like The Guardian did take a chance on WikiLeaks. It has seen papers like The Guardian receive awards for its coverage of documents obtained from WikiLeaks. It has seen papers like The Guardian win prestige, as it seeks to evolve with the media landscape, and it understands it has struggled to achieve command of the new digital news landscape.

What News Corp had, the ability to hack into people’s phones for exclusives, has been exposed. The world now knows the way that media organizations in the News Corp has gotten scoops for tabloid stories. It is not fully known if US-based members of the News Corp family used such a tactic to collect news exclusives, but there is reason to suspect that they too engaged in illicit and illegal activity.

The world questions the News Corp family and wants to know, what else have you been doing that has been illegal? And, the executives of all News Corp media organizations tremble at the thought that another sleazy tactic they use that is largely unknown could be revealed tomorrow and force them to have to further recalculate how to stay afloat in this world that gets more rough for traditional media each and every day.

But, that isn’t the only problem for the WSJ. The WSJ must also face a country of people less and less willing to protect the rich from having to make sacrifices and get off the government teat. Americans are growing less and less supportive of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. They are tired of the deft blend of classist, racist, xenophobic and elitist opinions, which spin headlines and influence the newspaper’s content.

When you consider that and the fact that the phone hacking scandal is forcing those in the News Corp family to be reintroduced to their conscience, going after newspapers that have worked with organizations like WikiLeaks is snide but at the same time understandable.

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