From Guantánamo Bay to North Korea, American citizens are a step closer to understanding an often-tricky U.S. foreign policy. But the information has come with criticism.
On Nov. 28, 250,000 cables, or government-diplomat daily correspondence, were published by the New York Times and other selected news sources. The cables were released through WikiLeaks.
Since the release, WikiLeaks and news organizations have been under fire for releasing secret information. Americans have questioned: Is there a public good in releasing the documents? Is it necessary to see the day-to-day bickering of politicians? Are lives at risk by releasing secret cables?
While these are all valid concerns, the newspapers have not been wrong in their decision to publish.
First, there is certainly a public good to understanding American foreign policy. It seems ridiculous that a newspaper like the New York Times would simply ignore sensitive information they have access to.
The issues discussed in the cables are the issues that Americans read everyday on the front page of their newspaper. Prior to the WikiLeak, North Korea was a newsworthy topic due to recent attacks and nuclear threats.
Now, the Wikileaks provide even further information about the U.S.’s plans to reunify North and South Korea.
It would be ethically wrong to not publish relevant information that impacts the safety of the public.
“It would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name,” the New York Times said in a note to readers.
Most importantly, the current release and prior releases regarding Iraq have not caused any lives to be lost, according to the Pentagon.
The newspapers have taken steps to ensure safety by withholding dangerous material and by contacting the State Department. WikiLeaks gave the State Department the opportunity to cut certain sensitive materials, but instead the government’s response was that all the information needed redaction.
“As a general rule we withhold secret information that would expose confidential sources to reprisals or that would reveal operational intelligence that might be useful to adversaries in war,” the New York Times said in a note to readers.
The newspapers and WikiLeaks have not just aimlessly posted delicate material for the world to see without thinking of the dangers. They have aimed to provide transparency, while still aiming to do no harm.
If the government is to learn anything from this incident, it is that if they do not want cables to be released to the world, they should restrict access and work to eliminate security problems.
If Americans are to learn anything from this, it is that our government does not always represent the people’s interests.
Journalism is the mediator between these two entities. It seeks to uphold the well being of the public by allowing access to information, while still protecting the government from dangerous exposures.