While still sifting through the documents, James Fallows offered these first thoughts over at theatlantic.com:
The interaction between “traditional” and “new” media is the most immediately arresting “process” aspect of this event. It’s structurally similar in one sense to the Pentagon Papers case nearly 40 years ago. Back then, Daniel Ellsberg worked with the New York Times to publicize the documents. Otherwise, how could he have gotten them out? This time, Wikileaks worked with the Times — and the Guardian and Der Spiegel — to organize, make sense of, and presumably vet the data. Wikileaks could have simply posted the raw info even without the news organizations’ help. At first glance this is a very sophisticated illustration of how newly evolving media continually change the way we get information, but don’t totally replace existing systems. The collaboration of three of the world’s leading “traditional” news brands makes a difference in the way this news is received.
Recalling when the Pentagon Papers came out, Fallows writes:
By that point American involvement in Vietnam was “ending” — even though it would be another four years before U.S. troops left the country after the fall of Saigon, and even though many, many American, Vietnamese, and other people were still to die in the “wind-down” phase. The major effect of the Papers was to reveal that for many years officials closest to the action had understood that the war could not really be “won,” at least under the real-world political circumstances the U.S. faced.. …
At first glance, these documents cast severe doubt on the idea that staying for another 18 months — who knows, perhaps another 18 years — would truly “make the difference” in transforming Afghanistan.
That’s what I’ll be looking for in the Wikileaks documents: evidence that the project we’re now committed to in Afghanistan could ever have worked, or might still work now.
Also at theatlantic.com, Alexis Madrigal contends that “Wikileaks May Have Just Changed the Media, Too,” noting how “traditional media organizations are increasingly reaching out to different kinds of smaller outfits for help compiling data and conducting investigation,” and writing that “the publication of these documents will be seen as a milestone in the new news ecosystem.”
Jay Rosen, too, has a thoughtful take on what it means over at PressThink. In part:
In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new.
On the Pentagon Papers comparison, Amy Davidson offers this at thenewyorker.com:
This stash will be compared to the Pentagon Papers, and in some ways that’s right—WikiLeaks, like Daniel Ellsberg, has been accused of ignoring the national interest. (An unfair charge, unless by “national interest” one means the political interests of a particular Administration.) But the Pentagon Papers were a synthetic analysis, a history of the war in Vietnam. WikiLeaks has given us research materials for a history of the war in Afghanistan. To make full use of them, we will, again, have to think hard about what we are trying to learn: Is it what we are doing, day to day, on the ground in Afghanistan, and how we could do it better? Or what we are doing in Afghanistan at all?
Finally, speaking of the New Yorker, Steve Clemons at TPM Café reacts to it all by calling for more Seymour Hersh. Clemons:
One of the best investigative journalists who has been reporting on America’s wars is Seymour Hersh. Hersh has been ahead of the pack — revealing hard-to-believe atrocities far before the political marketplace was often ready or willing to accept his reporting.
The extraordinary posting on WikiLeaks of more than 92,000 classified documents on America’s military activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan confirms Hersh’s claims of battlefield executions and death squads.
The New Yorker’s key commentators on Afghanistan have been Steve Coll, George Packer, Hendrick Hertzberg, and editor David Remnick.
I am a big fan of all of these brilliant writers. However, although these generalizations may be unfair to them and may overstate, Remnick, Coll, and Packer have been mostly in the camp of supporting the administration’s general course in Afghanistan and Pakistan — though there are exceptions in the portfolios of each…
Given what has just been released in this disturbing dump of classified documents, we hope that The New Yorker removes any constraints — real or nuanced — on Hersh and gets him back out in the field on this stuff soon.