Circum’vent’ing normal channels

WikiLeaks appears to be a vent, behind which stands a complicated series of pipes, multiple servers and shady ‘suppliers’ and ‘gatherers’, working through encryption to conceal themselves. Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder, is a new kind of journalistic enabler, although he’s been denounced by everybody from the US defense secretary, Robert Gates, to Andrew O’Hagan’s nephew, Rory, a student at the University of Aberdeen, who believes Assange is alone responsible for a general upswing in the fortunes of computer nerds at the expense of guitar heroes.

O’Hagan, writing in the LRB, admits to having read a number of the 92,000 reports leaked by Assange and his solemn cohorts onto the world wide web. He can’t say what the exact number is, because after a while:

… they blend to become one big lump of air attacks and roadside bombings and mysterious operations with heavy civilian casualties, relayed in thick, stubby acronyms and gamer-speak. By the end you realise, first, that something much worse than we thought has been happening in Afghanistan, and, second, that journalism may never be the same again.

Still, such revelations are not unknown, and, in many cases, they are not revelations. The difference this time may prove pleasingly McLuhan-like: the Pentagon Papers (and Watergate) relied on the presence of a traditional journalistic source: WikiLeaks’s material is coming in a new way, involving not only unnamed sources but, in many cases, unknown ones. Even Assange claims he doesn’t know.

Hence the vent reference. And in this case, a joint ventilation of the facts between the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel. This was Assange’s triumph, says O’Hagan:

This potent new amateurism may flout the rules of journalism because, by and large, it aligns itself with no commercial body, no political party, no ‘national security interest’, and no code of honour about who is more likely to deserve our protection.

Read the full article at the London Review of Books …