On Background: From WikiLeaks to WikiHaiti
Just over six months have now passed since five major news outlets in the United States and Europe published the first US diplomatic cables from the 250,000 document trove leaked to WikiLeaks. From the start, revelations ranged widely, from high-level corruption in Afghanistan to high-level lies in Yemen, plus US spying at the United Nations, and so much more.
Leaked documents provide an extraordinary glimpse of US maneuvering in Haiti from before the 2004 coup through the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Secrets spilled out that first month, but WikiLeaks’ media partners (The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, El Pais and Le Monde) focused on the most obvious hot spots, ignoring (by necessity or choice) more than 95 percent of the cables. WikiLeaks gained wide respect when cables it released helped fuel the Tunisian revolt, which in turn inspired, in part, the revolt in Egypt, and then beyond to Bahrain, Syria, Yemen and Libya. As the protests spread to each of those countries, WikiLeaks released key cables revealing government crimes and corruption, use of torture, and other abuses in those nations.
By this past January, WikiLeaks – criticized by some for its drip-drip-drip release of the cables, and then breaking with the Times and The Guardian over other issues – started seeking other media partners around the globe, setting a goal of signing agreements with fifty of them. Their publishing strategy also changed. The original five partners were given access to the entire batch of a quarter million cables and could search and publish any of them, time permitting. The new partners, in most cases, would be sent only documents from the embassies close to home.
In nearly all cases, the cables had not yet been published by WikiLeaks, and the organization (as it had done with the five original partners) gave the editors and publishers the power to redact any particularly sensitive names or information as they saw fit. Nevertheless, some in the media continued to claim that WikiLeaks had already “published” 250,000 cables when, in reality, it had only posted a small number not already vetted and published by other media.
This new targeted strategy paid off, and WikiLeaks would eventually exceed its goal of 50 collaborations. New partners included major media outlets in large countries (including The Hindu in India, Asahi in Japan, Dawn Media in Pakistan, The Telegraph in London, The Washington Post and McClatchy in the US) and, increasingly, much smaller media scattered around the globe – in Malaysia, Scandanavia, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Jamaica and Ireland. In addition, some outlets received cables via the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten, which had received the entire trove from a source other than WikiLeaks.
Nearly all of the news outlets abroad have broken stories, based on the cables, that produced headlines, controversy or outrage, and sometimes change, in their own country, while drawing little or no attention in the United States. Now The Nation has joined WikiLeaks’ new partner in Haiti Liberte (link) in publishing cables concerning that country.