There has been no shortage of articles and essays reflecting on the "meaning" of WikiLeaks--many of which have been featured on The Atlantic's tech channel (most recently, "The Hazards of Nerd Supremacy") or otherwise rounded up by Alexis Madrigal--so writers are struggling, understandably, to find a new angle. Still, we're not sure we totally get the case, put forth by David Betz of the King's College of London's Department of War Studies, that WikiLeaks is best understood as "Netwar Meets Oprah."
Betz's argument is that, for all of WikiLeaks' sophistication, their release of diplomatic cables relied on Bradley Manning, one of the less savvy, less sophisticated of the estimated three million people who had access to the cables. Julian Assange didn't hunt Manning out like an investigative journalist; he simply used WikiLeaks to give Manning a platform, like a daytime TV host inviting on a guest--cue public catharsis. Or at least we think that's his point. To clarify, Betz reproduces an email he says is from a former student:
Wikileaks is a wonder. Does any one remember the old days when a 'leak' was something reserved for heads of state and done only to the paper of record? Then secretaries and congressmen/MPs did it to the prominent paper of fellow travelers… then Generals and senior bureaucrats to regionally important media … then simple government employees and officers with an axe to grind to whatever media would listen … and now finally we have the perfect democratic leaker: a malcontent Army private with a conflicted view of his own sexuality leaks to you, dear reader, directly. Strategic corporal meets Oprah–the natural outcome of the marriage of 'Netwar' with the reality of sort of people armies actually recruit.
It doesn't make a great deal of sense to us, but of the many attempts to "explain WikiLeaks," citing Oprah is certainly among the more original.