There is a certain irony in the news of late. And I hate to even bring up the subject because I don't want to hear the word anymore, but here we go: "WikiLeaks." To me, the irony of the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables that were "leaked" isn't that the content is salacious, petty, embarrassing or titillating. It is. The irony here is that these were confidential communications -- and if we've learned anything from the Scooter Libby incident of a few years back, it's that the press respects confidential relationships. But perhaps only their confidential relationships.
Like it or not, diplomats often work and deal confidentially with one another. That confidentiality is a trust. And without that trust, their work will not be as good as it could be. Now, I accept that as part of how the sausage is made.
The irony here is that the press often works under these same rules. They often have confidential sources. That confidentiality is a trust. And it is because of those relationships and that trust that reporting can be as good as it sometimes is. That is how their sausage is made.
By no means am I saying that leaked confidential information should never be publicized, but it seems like a leak's publication is justified when it has a higher morale purpose -- for example when it is exposing corruption or injustice that might otherwise never come to light. I'd like to think that one of the roles of the press is to analyze leaked information and determine if it fits that criteria, or if instead by publishing the information they are simply airing someone's dirty laundry. I feel like these leaked cables are the later.
I've heard members of the news media justify their actions by saying "the information was already out there, so we had to talk about it." This sort of "hey we didn't break the piggy bank" argument seems flawed to me. There's plenty of information that is "already out there" that they don't publish. And frankly, you're not breaking news to report that "Dmitry Medvedev plays Robin to Mr. Putin's Batman." Everyone knows that. But publishing that confidential quote and attributing it without permission seems beneath the press. Maybe that's how WikiLeaks works, but I hate to think that that's what journalism has come to.