Why Did WikiLeaks Shut Out American Media?

A quantitative analysis of crappy American coverage

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Presumably, the folks most interested in--and most likely to act upon--more than 250,000 secret U.S. State Department memos would be Americans. But WikiLeaks decided to give its massive cable cache exclusively to foreign newspapers: the Guardian, El Pais, Le Monde, and Der Spiegel. Why? Perhaps because The New York Times wrote too much about site founder Julian Assange and suspected leaker Bradley Manning, and because The Washington Post hardly wrote about the actual contents of the documents at all.

The Washington City Paper's Moe Tkacik did a quantitative analysis of the Post's coverage of the past year of Wikileaking. The results are rather unflattering. Of the 35,600 words the Post spilled on WikiLeaks before the latest document dump, just three stories--accounting for 4,100 words--"actually required anything approaching a close read of any of the Wikileaked documents," Tkacik writes. What was the rest all about? Tkacik helpfully breaks it down:

20.5 percent: Various "thumbsucker type stories ... which can probably be summarized in the ... headline, 'After war leak, anger but no calls for change.'"

16 percent: Profiles of alleged leaker, his mental health, breakups, etc.

15.8 percent: "[S]undry leakology"--general histories of leaks.

14.2 percent: The Pentagon's condemnation of the leaks.

12.9 percent: Op-eds "saying there's nothing in the WikiLeaks that everyone in Washington did not know already and no it did not actually require 'reading' the leaks themselves to arrive at this conclusion."

9 percent: Internal affairs of WikiLeaks.

  • The Guardian Gave the New York Times the Files, Yahoo's Michael Calderone reports. The British newspaper took the unusual step of handing over explosive materials to a competitor because it feared British law could have allowed gag orders that would have delayed publication. All the papers coordinated on timing and scoops.
  • Assange Angry at NYT's Reporting on Manning, Himself, Yahoo's Michael Calderone reported last month. Assange railed against the Times' "tabloid activity" in its profile of him, and called a feature on alleged WikiLeaker Manning an "absoutely disgusting" because it "removed all higher-level political motivations from him and psychoanalyzed him down to problems in his childhood and a demand for attention." He accused Times executive editor Bill Keller in engaging in "realpolitik... in order to get out any story that depicts the U.S. military in a negative way."
  • CNN, Wall Street Journal Said No Thanks, The Washington Post's Paul Farhi reports. "Both turned WikiLeaks down, deciding that its terms... were unacceptable," Farhi writes. The site asked the Journal and CNN "to sign confidentiality agreements that would have entitled WikiLeaks to a payment of around $100,000 if the partner broke the embargo... [and] stipulated that WikiLeaks could enforce the terms of the agreement in a court of WikiLeaks' choosing."
  • A Once-in-a-Lifetime Reporting Opportunity, Keller told the BBC's John Hockenberry. "It's quite extraordinary. ... I sometimes feel this must be what its like to work at the National Security Agency's eavesdropping section. It's so strange to have this kind of intimate access to events. But this isn't going to happen again, is my bet. As far as we know all of this material, including the earlier leaks of military dispatches... I don't know this for a fact but what I've read the suspicion is that it all came from one disgruntled army analyst who is under arrest at the moment. So I don't think we're going to have regular access to this kind of diplomatic confidences."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.