The Guardian does not “understand the value of a life” and should “leave international relations to those who understand it”. At least, that’s what you can deduce from a piece on their website today.
It all began on January 3rd 2011 when the Guardian published this (don’t click it yet) article about how as a result of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks “Zimbabwe’s PM Morgan Tsvangirai faces a treason inquiry” which “If found guilty, Tsvangirai will face the death penalty”. Now the issue here – aside from the obvious one – was that the first place to publish the cable in question was not Wikileaks as was implied by The Guardian, in fact the first place to leak the cable was The Guardian. (You can now click the first link here as it has been edited since to show that The Guardian originally leaked the cable).
I could be churlish and say they appear to be blaming; the new guy (“Richardson, a first-time contributor to our comment website”), those yanks who don’t understand things like us Brits (“the US-based editor”), general lack of understanding of the topics they were writing about (“(neither) were aware of the somewhat complicated process through which (most) cables were published”), or that it was a bank holiday so you shouldn’t expect the usual level of quality (“The piece was posted on the bank holiday after Christmas. The Guardian’s WikiLeaks editing team was not around. They were taking a well-earned break”).
I could have done what I just did, but instead it’s the way they talk about how the name “Wikileaks” was used by them and the other media.
It’s important to remember a bit of context: during the whole period “WikiLeaks” became shorthand used by virtually all journalists the world over for the entire project. This was partly – or even mainly – to give them credit for being the main source (or intermediary) for the material. So, day after day, news organisations such as the BBC and other newspapers reported that “WikiLeaks today revealed that …”
It was often equally true that it was the Guardian, or El País, or the New York Times, which had “done the revealing”, not to mention much of the time-consuming work of finding, editing and redacting the material. But it was a piece of widely understood journalistic shorthand. The material was routinely referred to as a “WikiLeaks revelation”, including in the Guardian – ironically, perhaps, because we did not want to look as though we were stealing WikiLeaks’s thunder or glory.
The vast majority of Guardian stories would use the same formula: “In documents released today by WikiLeaks it was revealed that xxx …” That gave WikiLeaks the credit it both deserved and sought – and was preferable to the alternative: “In documents released today by WikiLeaks, the New York Times, the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel.”
Now – aside from the subtle air of “everyone else did it” and hints at Julian Assange’s ego – at the end there it says that it was “preferrable” to print “released by Wikileaks” instead of “released by Wikileaks, the New York Times, the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel.”
So can we assume that whenever the Guardian prints “Wikileaks” they actually mean “Wikileaks ,the New York Times, the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegel”?
So let us look at at the original article where they got into this muddle in the first place and see what the final conclusion was, before they amended it of course.
WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.
Does that mean that what they, The Guardian, really meant was: “Wikileaks, the New York Times, the Guardian, El País, Le Monde and Der Spiegelought ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life”?