The Very Rich Hours of the Lambrights

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The New Pentagon Papers?

December 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

Like everyone else, I’ve been hearing a lot about WikiLeaks lately and have been trying to decide how I feel about the disclosure of so much classified information stolen from our government.  I haven’t read all the stuff (and don’t plan to; who has that kind of time?) but I do have a few thoughts:

  • WikiLeak’s founder says that nothing he has posted jeopardized any American lives, including those of our soldiers serving in war zones.  I don’t know for sure that he is wrong but I am pretty sure that he is not qualified to make that judgment.
  • I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to the Pentagon Papers.  I don’t see the comparison.  The Pentagon Papers exposed a pattern of lies told by government officials over more than 10 years; these lies were used to justify escalating the war in Vietnam.  There was clear wrongdoing exposed, which makes the guy who leaked the documents a whistleblower.  I haven’t read all the WikiLeaks stuff but I haven’t heard about anything that sounds like the Pentagon Papers.  Video of combat in Afghanistan?  Gossipy diplomatic cables that reveal government officials saying uncomplimentary things about leaders of other countries?  Please.  Sounds like the stuff you see on TMZ.  I don’t see how any of this qualifies as whistleblowing.
  • The newspapers that are publishing the documents have been falling all over themselves to explain that they, unlike the guy who stole the documents in the first place, are not breaking the law.  It’s illegal to steal classified documents but once they’re out already, republishing them in the paper is protected by freedom of the press.  I’m no expert on constitutional law but this puzzles me.  If you steal a car and I buy it from you (knowing it’s stolen), I can be charged with a crime even though I didn’t do the actual stealing.  How is this different?

It may not sound like it, but I’m generally pretty liberal on these kinds of First Amendment issues.  But I also believe strongly that our First Amendment rights work best when combined with civic responsibility.  I don’t see a lot of that here.

Tags: Politics

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