Conspiracies and the danger of releasing names (redux)

It never ceases to amaze me how people can whip up something sinister.

A blog out of Brazil sees all sorts of evilness in O Globo and with reporters talking to the US government.

Jornalista Willian Waack e as Relações Promíscuas da Globo com o Governo Americano (Journalist William Waack and promiscuous relations with the U.S. Government(Use Google Translate if your Portuguese is not up to snuff.) 

Once you get past all the “evil” of the size of O Globo

[D]ata for 2000 show that the TV station covers 100% of the country has 65% of the audience of the country, with the remainder divided among the other stations. Globo station is considered the third in size of audience in the world alongside the big three American NBC, ABC and CBS

Then you find the real complaint: Brazilian journalists talked to the US government about society and politics.

The write-up makes it sound as if TV journalist William Waak served as some sort of agent for the US government, gathering information and then reporting back to his “masters.” And this conclusion comes from US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.

From what I have seen in this report and from what I know about how the State Department works, there is nothing sinister in the meetings cited.

It is normal for US diplomats to seek out the opinions of journalists about social and political issues. Just as it is normal for these diplomats to talk to government leaders about the same things. I would think that the rest of the world would be happy that diplomats look for alternative views about what is going on in the countries to which they are assigned.

(I still recall the reaction after the State Department was caught flat-footed by the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s. One US diplomat said: “What? You expect us to talk to workers?”)

In the past 25-30 years the State Department not only demands that its employees talk to workers but also to shop owners, church  leaders and (yes!) journalists. There is nothing sinister about journalists (or other sectors of society) — one on one or in groups — having off the record talks with diplomats. The exchange of ideas and information benefits both sides.

The reaction to Waak’s meetings with the US diplomats in Brazil is exactly why I am upset with how Wikileaks handled the cables. Would it really have been so bad, so difficult, to redact the names of the sources in the cables?

Overall, I like that the cables were released. These are hardly the Pentagon Papers — there were no secret plots to deceive the American people revealed in the cables as there was in the Pentagon Papers.

The cables released by Wikileaks show that most US diplomats reach out to many different parts of society in the countries where they are assigned. The cables show that serious thought and analysis goes into understanding what is going on and what it means for US relations with those countries.

What is inexcusable is releasing the names of the sources the US diplomats rely on for their information.

Even though a lot of the people named in the cables told AP they have no problem with their names being made public (AP review finds no threatened WikiLeaks sources), think of  the danger dissidents in countries like China and Zimbabwe. Or the problems releasing names has in legitimate counter-terrorism activities.

Those of us in journalism protect our confidential sources. We all have people as sources who do not want their names released. And we honor those confidences. Is it really too much to think that confidential sources in diplomatic cables should also be protected?

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3 Comments

Filed under Freedom of Information, International News Coverage

3 responses to “Conspiracies and the danger of releasing names (redux)

  1. Maria

    So u r saying that it’s ok to A.Holes. like William Waack to disclose sensitive info. to anybody? I’m with Wikileaks totally. WW is wrong, traitor releasing what he know about Brazil gov.

    • Anonymous

      Maria:

      You miss the point. Waack did not reveal government secrets. He SHARED his views about Brazilian government policies and society with people from the US mission. In return, he heard their views of politics, economics and society from the US diplomats. That is what SHARING is all about.

      This kind of exchange takes place all over the world. (Just ask the Brazilian embassy how many US journalists they talk to.) It is just ONE way an embassy learns more about what is going on in a country.

  2. Evrything that seems to happen, wat with the war n all that seems just to perfect. the goverment creates a false sense of threat, how many times hav u read “New alqueda video released…new attack imminant” it creates a sense of danger among us and therfore we think wat eva the goverment does is gud to “protect” us. really, if they were going to protect, with all the money at disposal, then why wud london get hit?how did the all powerful and inteligent systems fail? a year afta the london attacks…a day before the anniversary they “find” a video of one of the bombers warning of more deadly attacks. perfect timing to enduce more fears dnt u think? and then the very nex day afta the video is aired…goverment announce more troops goin to afghanistan.hmm so they build up fear n then tel us they gna send more ppl to die so we think they r “protecting” us. im sorry if i have offended any1,this is jus my opinion and am very interested if any shares my views on this world wide corruption

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