I’m finding that it’s not good enough to stop at The New York Times to digest the State Department cables dumped en masse by WikiLeaks. The Guardian in London gives a different emphasis and interpretation to some of the materials coming out, from tidbits about the Italian prime minister’s lifestyle and relationship with Vladimir Putin to a rather provocative running live blog.
Three posts on the blog in particular caught my eye this morning, one for its humor, the other two for their reflection of what seems to be an increasingly police-state strain of American society.
The humor, The Guardian reports, came in a mock stream of Twitter posts from one “Julian_Ass,” a takeoff naturally of WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange. Its headline: “Walking to the shop. Saw a hornet’s nest. Kicked it. Natch.”
Notes the Guardian, “The premise is that he is (holed)-up in his mother’s back bedroom.” Goes one tweet, “Wrapping Christmas presents with Mum. She’s wrapping, I’m writing what it is on the outside. People WANT to know!”
Humor aside, one thing I know is that WikiLeaks’ posts sure have stirred lively discussion and reaction just about everywhere I go.
In class yesterday, one student said he was surprised at how angry some Americans seem to be because the press is publishing classified cables that sometimes clash with public pronouncements. His take goes something like this: “So why is it that Americans are mad at the media for revealing that our government is lying to us?”
Other Guardian blog posts show just how mad some people are and, frankly, it’s downright scary.
One notes that the “Atlanta-based radio station WSB is asking listeners to vote on whether Assange should be shot or put in jail. There is no third option. So far most listeners favour shooting.”
A different post reports that “right wing talk show host Todd Schnitt is offering a $50,000 reward for the capture of Assange.”
Does this say something about American political culture today? You bet it does. So why do I have to read about it in a British newspaper?
There’s plenty of room for ethical debate about Assange’s site, its tactics and the motivations behind his posts. That said, American democracy was built on the premise that freedom of speech and the free exchange of ideas ultimately strengthened rather than weakened any society.
What happens to that premise, and the document that established it, when a growing chunk of the public subscribes to vigilantism as a cure for those who take unpopular actions or express positions or evidence that challenges the government?