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Truthout: Mainstream Coverage of WikiLeaks Has Fallen Far Short

March 28, 2011- War crimes, which deliberately targeted and killed civilians; covert bribery and spying to undermine progress on global warming and to lessen opposition by poor countries the most afflicted by climate change; underreporting of thousands upon thousands of Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties; US knowledge of and inaction against the torture of Egyptian and Iraqi detainees, as well as active support for the "extraordinary rendition" program; secretly authorized air strikes in Yemen and combat operations by special forces in Pakistan resulting in civilian deaths.

Four major leaks, which included one harrowing video and a trove of classified military documents released by the online whistleblowing site, WikiLeaks, revealed these troubling instances and much more. Secret internal communications and documents displayed actions that stood in stark contrast to past US public proclamations on important foreign policies.

Through interviews with Truthout, experts and members of the public interest community characterized news media coverage of WikiLeaks as being poor, inadequate and more akin to soap opera-ish tabloid coverage rather than serious journalism assessing revelations of US foreign policy abuses. When news coverage was more serious, a friendly frame of reference to successive US administrations was often used, with concerns about the standing of US diplomacy - not its revealed disregard for democratic values - taking front and center.

Unsurprisingly, reactions to WikiLeaks from the Obama administration officials have been rife with charges of "cyber-terrorism" and contradictory stances that the WikiLeaks' revelations did not contain anything new or important, but somehow also inflicted significant damage upon US diplomatic relationships.

Supporters of WikiLeaks also counter such claims by pointing to recent uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Iran, Bahrain and Libya. With the toppling of Tunisia having first occurred, many pointed to it as having sparked the protests in Egypt, which also resulted in a historic resignation of yet another long-time US-backed dictator.

Simultaneously coinciding with protests in Tahrir Square, many revelations were published which detailed a long and sordid history of US support, knowledge of and involvement in the human rights violations systematically committed by the Mubarak regime it supported. US financial and diplomatic support for Egypt has been greater than that of any other nation in the world - with the exception of Israel - for decades.

Julian Assange himself did not shy away from drawing connections between the successful Tunisian uprising and WikiLeaks. Unsurprisingly, the State Department rejects such connections, as its lead spokesperson, P.J. Crowley, proclaimed simply in a Tweet from his feed: "Tunisia is not a Wiki revolution." What is not in doubt, however, is that the Tunisian protests preceded what has been described as a "rolling rebellion" throughout the region, and that the leaks were prominently published in an Arab-language, Lebanon-based newspaper.

Relevant questions should be raised about US news media coverage and its responsibility in delivering information to help the populace - both in the US and beyond - settle these controversial topics. What were the most important revelations published by WikiLeaks and their significance as a whole? How have the news media addressed these questions?

A detailed investigation by Truthout into news media coverage was undertaken to assess media coverage. All leading and major US-based press sources were reviewed, as well as coverage appearing on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN and MSNBC.

Analyses revealed that reporting generally fell sharply in line with stances taken by government officials, as most accounts deemed that WikiLeaks did not reveal anything new and was only important to the extent that it impacted administration priorities. US-based news media manifested greater interest in the details and intrigues behind sex allegations against Assange, as well as personalized accounts of him. More attention was also given toward what could be learned about non-US countries, as opposed to US policies and the stances of US diplomats.



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