Infamous actions of WikiLeaks teach life lessons

 

By Jessica Corbett, Executive Editor

Most teens have at least heard of the movie Mean Girls. For those not savvy in the world of teenage guilty pleasure flicks, the plot is fairly simple: most of the film focuses on a classic mean girl, Regina George, and her “burn book,” which is a collection of all her fellow students’ deepest secrets. With the latest happenings in global affairs, it seems a reality has finally found it’s very own Regina George—Julian Assange.

He is the founder of WikiLeaks, a web site notorious for leaking global government secrets. It would seem that WikiLeaks has turned into Julian Assange’s personal burn book.

 

I am an adamant believer in the importance of honesty. However, when the intentions behind telling the truth become questionable, so do the information and the messenger. Honesty makes us better people, but telling the truth with bad intentions is almost as immoral as lying. Assange is a textbook example.

 

Some call him a vigilante journalist. Some call him a criminal. I call him irresponsible, but no matter how you feel about Assange, there is no question that the 251,287 leaked documents—the largest batch of confidential documents ever leaked to the public—have raised chaos and concern worldwide.

 

As an avid follower of political affairs, I am fascinated by the already released leaked documents. I will readily admit I’ve spent some of my free time pouring over portions of the archives. Though the fascination hasn’t ceased, the more I read, the more concerned I become.

 

With his burn book of sorts, Assange has spilled the secrets of many nations and world leaders, smearing their names in the eyes of other countries and making a mess of international affairs. Case in point: in one of the leaked documents, the US ambassador to Libya, Gene Cretz, depicted Moammar Gadhafi’s love of flamenco dancing, fear of sleeping on upper floors, and—the funniest, yet most scandalous tidbit about the highest-ranking official of Libya—a supposed long-term reliance on a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse named Galyna.

 

I’ll be the first to admit the observations made me laugh, but my smile faded with the repercussions of the report. Not only is it unnecessary for the public to know about Gadhafi’s fetishes with flamenco dancing and full-figured nurses, but it’s also foolish. The U.S. government is now concerned that the release of Cretz’s candid report may hinder U.S.-Libyan affairs. When it comes down to it, the laughs weren’t worth it. I’m sure I could have found some other crazy celebrity story to make me chuckle—one that didn’t endanger U.S. relations with Libya.

 

When WikiLeaks was launched in Dec. 2006, I don’t think the intentions were malicious. The site was founded as an initiative for more transparent governments, to prevent injustices from staying below the radar of the general public.

 

In an interview with Time magazine, Assange said WikiLeaks “tries to make the world more civil against abusive organizations that are pushing it in the opposite direction.” With those ambitious goals, Assange and his team assign themselves a high level of responsibility. When handling secret government documents, any organization must approach publication decisions with moral discretion. The original intentions for creating WikiLeaks may have been responsible, even noble, but recent actions by Assange and the site leave me questioning whether the founding principles are still being followed.

When it comes to honesty, there is still a line that shouldn’t be crossed. With this historic leak, Julian Assange and WikiLeaks have sprinted miles past that line.

 

Not all of the 250,000-plus documents are dangerous to national security. Some information, such as the possibility that the U.S. government may have endorsed spying on the U.N., should be brought to the public’s attention.

 

However, releasing private discussions between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. about Iran’s nuclear program, or comments like North Korea is behaving like a ‘spoiled child,’ from a Chinese official, does not bring injustice to the eyes of the public. It simply creates a giant mess in the already muddy field that is international relations and national security. In the last decade or so, political corruption and cover-ups haven’t ceased. If anything, they have only gotten worse. It is the role of the journalist to shed light on political scandals and injustice.

 

Journalists tend to tap-dance on the truth-telling line—constantly forced to decide which truths to reveal and which to conceal. More often than not, releasing the truth is the best choice, but we must always weigh the consequences. As a journalist and an honest person, I agree with Assange and WikiLeaks that more transparency is needed with certain governments, especially the United States. I agree that the public must be made aware of unjust acts committed by governments. I agree that some of the leaked documents should have surfaced.

 

But as a moral person, I can’t condone the radical decision to release all 251,287 documents. Each day, more and more of the documents are released. Some releases are justified. Some releases are ineffectual, and some (like the one about Gadhafi) are even humorous.

 

However, some releases will have serious consequences. Either the intentions were malicious or the consequences weren’t fully considered, but the decision tipped in the wrong direction. We must accept that we probably haven’t even seen all the lasting effects on international relations this massive information overload will cause, because each day more documents and articles are published. Whatever moral standing went awry with WikiLeaks and its creator, there is no doubt the fallout has the potential to affect us all.

 

Unlike the apology assembly at the end of the movie Mean Girls, there’s no angry principal to make Assange stand up before his peers and apologize. Even if an apology were probable, it wouldn’t change anything. Unlike the movie, I highly doubt Assange is going to blindsided by a school bus and suddenly see the light, at least as far as morality and honesty are concerned. Unfortunately, there isn’t much any of us can do about fixing the global affairs—that’s for the politicians and diplomats to sort out. What we can do is learn from Asssange’s mistakes.

I will be the first to admit I have self-censorship issues—I think it’s a problem that many people have. I speak the truth, sometimes without considering the consequences of my words. The WikiLeaks decisions have encouraged me to pay more attention to the invisible truth-telling line. I have no doubt that Assange will get what’s coming to him—even if his spine isn’t dismembered by a speeding school bus—he will suffer the consequences of his actions.

 

My convictions about honesty will never change, and my strong opinions about just about everything else will never go away, but I can only hope that WikiLeaks’ irresponsible honesty will teach us all an important lesson about considering the consequences of the choices we make.