Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Lies Depend On Secrecy

Glenn Greenwald has a lot of great work up about the Wikileaks and the reactions to the leaks. He says in part:
It's one thing for the Government to shield its conduct from public disclosure, but it's another thing entirely for the U.S. media to be active participants in that concealment effort. As The Guardian's Simon Jenkins put it in a superb column that I can't recommend highly enough: "The job of the media is not to protect power from embarrassment. . . . Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets." But that's just it: the media does exactly what Jenkins says is not their job, which -- along with envy over WikiLeaks' superior access to confidential information -- is what accounts for so much media hostility toward that group. As the headline of John Kampfner's column in The Independent put it: "Wikileaks shows up our media for their docility at the feet of authority." [Greenwald's bolding]

Most political journalists rely on their relationships with government officials and come to like them and both identify and empathize with them. By contrast, WikiLeaks is truly adversarial to those powerful factions in exactly the way that these media figures are not: hence, the widespread media hatred and contempt for what WikiLeaks does. Just look at how important it was for Bill Keller to emphasize that the Government is criticizing WikiLeaks but not The New York Times; having the Government pleased with his behavior is his metric for assessing how good his "journalism" is. If the Government is patting him on the head, then it's proof that he acted "responsibly." That servile-to-power mentality is what gets exposed by the contrast Wikileaks provides.

Servility to power has many rewards. There are financial rewards, because powerful people need to pay others to keep their secrets and lie to the public. There are emotional rewards as well; the servile enjoy feeling they are protected by powerful interests and are included in its elite circle. But it is a dangerous game because it depends on secrecy. Once the secrets are exposed the authoritarian followers are faced with a terrible dilemma: They must stop obeying their authority or knowingly accept the lies.

Many, many people accept the lies and demand more secrecy. Wikileaks and media critics, as well as anti-authoritarian critics of the elite, make it very hard to deny the truth, which is why so many people are angry with Julian Assuage right now. They want the lies, they want to obey, they want to feel safe and special. So we are seeing an upheaval in minds right now, the struggle between what we think we need and what we know we should want; between lies and truth. When secrecy is ripped away so is the authority, which is why our authorities are working so hard to preserve it.


Justin said...

I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with people about some action by the government that ended with some permutation of the statement that, "The government has more information than you, the people in charge have access to secret information, and so they must know what they are doing." It is straightforwardly authoritarian, but what I've argued about Wikileaks is that the two seemingly divergent criticisms that 1. there is nothing really shocking in the leaks and 2. the disclosure of secrets (even if we already knew much of them) is devastating are not actually divergent. Because what the disclosures are revealing is that the government does not, in fact, have some secret stash of inside information that explains why they can seemingly act like self-interested psycopaths. In this vein, the less shocking and more mundane the disclosures, the more they undermine the government's authority by attacking the underlying faith in their superior wisdom and knowledge.

fish said...

Chomsky and Herman laid out the servile nature of the media decades ago in "Manufacturing Consent" with plenty of documentation. Yet most pundits ignore the argument or pretend that it was just an opinion piece by a couple of crazy hippies.