Investigative Journalism – Is the Whistle Blowing Too Loudly or Are We Hearing the Sounds of Transparency?

By Tia Brueggeman, staff editor The interwoven relationship between journalism and public policy often leads to disputes over privacy and regulation.  This is no more apparent than with the controversy over WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assanage.  In brief, WikiLeaks is an anonymous, growing online drop box for classified documents relating primarily to politics and diplomacy. It has proven quite successful at attracting and posting such documents.  In reference to a recent release of US military documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Assanage told CNN, “We released 400,000 classified documents, the most extraordinary history of a war to have ever been released in our civilization.” This anonymous behemoth exposes the conflict that underlies our desires to simultaneously preserve freedom of the press, protect privacy and shield soldiers from further harm.

On one hand, some policy makers hail WikiLeaks as the hero that revealed the truth about the war. They believe that these documents are the purest form of journalism as they provide documents without commentary. In addition, by keeping WikiLeaks sources private they are encouraging the successful continuation of the site. Others contend that there should be a certain amount of oversight and source checking in order to protect privacy and to avoid disclosing information that is potentially harmful to soldiers. They are particularly concerned that WikiLeaks is virtual and thus not subject to the laws of any territory.

While both sides are valid, there are some other issues that should also be considered. First, what exactly constitutes “political nature”?  For example, the same site that reveals war documents can also hack into email accounts of political candidates, revealing personal information. WikiLeaks hacked into personal email accounts during the last presidential election. Arguably the information found was relevant to politics, but where will we draw the line? Congress should work to more clearly define these terms.  Also, any virtual information dropping company should be under greater scrutiny than non-virtual because they are subject to the whim of the anonymous whistleblowers who may or may not be revealing accurate information. This is not meant to fully discredit WikiLeaks’ validity or sites like it. However, the government should carefully consider how these sites can be monitored for accuracy, while still protecting freedom of speech.

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