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David Brooks’s Unconvincing Defense of His Employer

Granted, he’s in a tough spot. His newspaper has facilitated a massive disclosure of confidential material. That paper claimed for itself the right to make decisions as to which cables would be released and redacted. Perhaps in such a situation, David Brooks should have refrained from excoriating Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder. The only difference, really, between Assange and the Times is that the former received the stolen documents directly from the thief rather than via the Guardian and that the latter made a show of interposing its own editorial judgment in the selective release of the documents.

Because these differences are minor compared with the underlying act of immorality — the subversion of the foreign policy apparatus in a democratic government — Brooks inevitably becomes tangled up in his defense of his employer:

My colleagues on the news side of this newspaper do not share Assange’s mentality. As the various statements from the editors have made abundantly clear, they face a much thornier set of issues.

As journalists, they have a professional obligation to share information that might help people make informed decisions. That means asking questions like: How does the U.S. government lobby allies? What is the real nature of our relationship with Pakistani intelligence? At the same time, as humans and citizens, my colleagues know they have a moral obligation not to endanger lives or national security.

The Times has thus erected a series of filters between the 250,000 raw documents that WikiLeaks obtained and complete public exposure. The paper has released only a tiny percentage of the cables. Information that might endanger informants has been redacted. Specific cables have been put into context with broader reporting.

We are to excuse the Times‘s behavior because it thought real hard about it? Puleez.

Brooks then feels compelled to spin on behalf of the administration and perhaps of his employer (for if the documents are perceived as devastating to the administration’s credibility — rightly so, I would argue — then Brooks’s defense of the Times would seem rather lame):

Despite the imaginings of people like Assange, the conversation revealed in the cables is not devious and nefarious. The private conversation is similar to the public conversation, except maybe more admirable. Israeli and Arab diplomats can be seen reacting sympathetically and realistically toward one another. The Americans in the cables are generally savvy and honest. Iran’s neighbors are properly alarmed and reaching out.

This is nonsense. The cables are embarrassing precisely because they reveal the gap between private conversation and public positioning. In public, the administration touts “reset”; in private, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits that democracy is dead in Russia. In public, the administration pleads that the non-peace process is needed to cajole the Arab states into opposing Iran; in private, the Arab states are freaked out that the administration is behaving so timidly. In public, the administration lauds outreach to Syria; in private, it is dismissed by Arab leaders as a joke.

Let’s be blunt: the Times is no better than Assange. At least Assange spared us the condescending chest-puffing. And both have done, no doubt to their dismay, much to bolster the critics of Obama’s foreign policy. But more important, both have demonstrated a contempt for democracy.


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