February 01, 2011
The conceit and arrogance of the elite
One of the features of society is the profound contempt the elites have for ordinary people, as can be seen in three examples: WikiLeaks, religion, and censorship.
In each of these cases, what we see is worry that the gatekeepers of information are being bypassed and that ordinary people are being exposed to information that the elites feel should be reserved for them.
It is undoubtedly true that people who are not used to evaluating raw, unfiltered information may be unsettled by having access to it. But the solution is not to deny them access but to help them develop, over time, the ability to make sense of it.
Why WikiLeaks has given governments and the establishment media the vapors is not because it has leaked secrets. If all the leakers and recipients of secrets were prosecuted and jailed, hardly anyone in government and the media would be walking around free. Secrets are the lifeblood of the relationship between politicians and the media. Look closely at the number of 'news' stories in the mainstream media that begin with 'High level sources within the government revealed today..." or "According to a leaked secret government report…" As D. D. Guttenplan writes:
Hillary Clinton may not like it, but when [I. F.] Stone observed "the State Dept. is constantly leaking material to favored reporters" back in 1945 (!) he wasn't breaking news either. Reminding Nation readers that "letting 'confidential' information leak out" is "the favorite Washington pastime," he cautioned: "If this is a crime, all but a hopelessly inefficient minority of Washington officials and newspapermen ought to be put in jail."
Government officials leak selected information to advance their agenda (whether personal or political) to selected reporters whom they know will use it in the way they intended and even make the source look good. The reporters in turn know the rules of the game, which is that they advance that agenda in return for future access to more secrets. Practically all of Bob Woodward's entire career is based on this practice. In this way, the hoi polloi only get to hear what the government–media gatekeepers want them to know.
By making secret documents publicly accessible, WikiLeaks has suddenly cut the umbilical cord that mutually nourishes establishment reporters and the government, which is why they are both thrashing around wildly, trying to stop the bleeding. Notice how the US government is trying to walk a fine line and find a way to create new laws or reinterpret old ones to prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange while not having those same laws be applicable to (say) the New York Times or Bob Woodward, although this effort is unlikely to succeed legally.
It also appears that the harsh treatment meted out to Bradley Manning is meant to (a) intimidate any other people who might be thinking of leaking documents and (b) cause him to break down and incriminate Assange in some way. When some of us pointed out that torture was abhorrent and that we should not condone its use just because it was used against foreigners because one day it could be used against anyone, that fear was ridiculed. And now we see an American soldier, no less, being tortured.
When high government and media officials sniff that the leaks reveal nothing that they did not know before, they are partly right but this is irrelevant. Establishment reporters are often told a lot of things as background on the condition that they keep it secret. This parasitic relationship has got so bad that some 'reporters' (I use the term loosely) like the late Tim Russert are quite comfortable saying that they simply assume that what they are told is secret to begin with. But the fact that a few reporters are given privileged access to information does not help the average citizen in the least.
You can also be sure that the very same people who are bemoaning most loudly the release of the WikiLeaks documents are the same ones who are voraciously reading them. If the leaks are so bad, why are they not refraining themselves? Why are they trying to deny access to other people? The reason should be obvious. They are fearful or losing their role as gatekeepers of information.
Next: The elite view on religion and censorship