WikiLeaks Coverage, Day Two

A look at second-day WikiLeaks coverage from The New York Times, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, and others

The New York Times

Day two of the Times’s coverage of the latest WikiDump arrives with few “explosive” revelations, but with a little more kick than Day One. Most of this comes from a front-page story by Charlie Savage and Andrew W. Lehren on the U.S.’s diplomatic push for other nations to take into custody prisoners being held at Guantanamo Bay, “Cables Depict U.S. Haggling to Find Takers for Detainees.” (It comes with one of those neat-but-not-really-necessary graphics that the Times has perfected showing the numbers of former Guantanamo detainees currently held in various countries across the globe). The story, as the choice of “haggling” in the headline suggests, is a little more critical of the administration than much of the Times’s previous WikiLeaks coverage, showing an administration desperately trying to climb out of its Cuban prison quagmire by bargaining bazaar-style with countries that one would expect to capitulate more easily than they do. You might be surprised to see these “What’s the best price you can do for me?” exchanges between the U.S. and some much smaller international fish.

Slovenia, seeking a meeting with President Obama, was encouraged to “do more” on detainee resettlement if it wanted to “attract higher-level attention from Washington”; its prime minister later “linked acceptance of detainees to ‘a 20-minute meeting’ ” with the president, but the session—and the prisoner transfer—never happened. The Maldives tied acceptance of prisoners to American help in obtaining International Monetary Fund assistance, while the Bush administration offered the Pacific nation of Kiribati “an incentive package” of $3 million to take 17 Chinese Muslim detainees, the cables show. In discussions about creating a rehabilitation program for its own citizens, the president of Yemen repeatedly asked Mr. Brennan, “How many dollars will the U.S. bring?”

The other front-page Times story today is equally interesting, but for different reasons. David E. Sanger’s “North Korea Keeps World Guessing,” will likely keep you guessing as to what exactly North Korea is up to. As Sanger writes, the “cables about North Korea—some emanating from Seoul, some from Beijing, many based on interviews with government officials, and others with scholars, defectors and other experts—are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia.” There are some interesting tidbits on China’s cautionary approach to a unified Korea and on the reasons some diplomats believe such a unification is on the way. But, as with much of the reporting on this latest WikiLeak, the most intrigue is in seeing how diplomacy gets done and what the doers have to say when they think they’re cocooned in a Get Smart-like cone of silence.

In April 2009, just before a North Korean nuclear test, He Yafei, the Chinese vice foreign minister, told American officials at a lunch that the country wanted direct talks with the United States and to get them was acting like a “spoiled child” to get the attention of the “adult.”

As the editorial board writes in an expectedly kind editorial today—“the Obama administration’s diplomatic wheeling and dealing is appropriate and, at times, downright skillful”—it’s these details that have marked the Times’s coverage thus far.

The Times and other news media have already reported much of this. What the cables add is sizzle…”
- Joel Meares

The Guardian

The top items on Day Two of The Guardian’s coverage of the WikiLeaks cables tell the stories of two British citizens and their clashes with U.S. policy. One piece highlights the ironic “u-turn” in the U.S. position on former Guantanamo inmate and British citizen Moazzam Begg, and the other reveals how Gordon Brown had appealed (unsuccessfully) to Washington that British computer hacker Gary McKinnon be allowed to serve his sentence in his home country.

The live blog continues, pumping out posts and gathering reactions from everyone from top Chinese officials to former senator Rick Santorum. As of Tuesday afternoon, the blog highlights three bulletpoints:

• Latest leaks show China ready to abandon North Korea
• Prince Andrew’s sweary outbursts at media and French
• Hillary Clinton leads international condemnation of leaks

Tuesday’s coverage also includes a photo gallery of front pages from the previous day from around the world, courtesy of the Newseum. Even without being able to read the various languages, it gives you an idea of the angle each paper took in presenting the story of the leak.

Don’t expect the Guardian’s coverage of this developing story to slow down any time soon. Guardian investigations executive editor David Leigh told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now on Tuesday that this is only the beginning, and the biggest revelations are still forthcoming:

In the coming days, we are going to see some quite startling disclosures about Russia, the nature of the Russian state, and about bribery and corruption in other countries, particularly in Central Asia…. We will see a wrath of disclosures about pretty terrible things going on around the world.
- Lauren Kirchner

Der Spiegel

Der Spiegel’s international site keeps up its coverage with its own story on the U.S.’s haggling for a place to dump Guantanamo detainees—focused on Germany’s refusal, and in particular, its refusal to take seventeen Uigher detainees—that is more condemnatory than the Times’s. The detailed report from John Goetz and Frank Hornig and translated into English by Jan Liebelt, focuses heavily on the failure of the Obama administration to meet its Guantanamo closure deadline and includes some colorful details not found in other reports, such as the complaints of Uighurs moved to Albania.

The Uighurs complained to the US Embassy in Tirana that before leaving Guantanamo they had been told, “in two months (from arrival in Albania), you will have a house, a job, money, documents. You will have everything you need.” In fact, it had been impossible for them to find work or permanent accommodation. They couldn’t marry either, they said, because Albanian fathers didn’t want former Guantanamo detainees as sons-in-law. They also claimed they were being overcharged by the state electricity company.

The German focus continues too, with another piece hewn from Berlin cables titled, “How America Views the Germans.” There are some great gossipy details—the “Teflon” Chancellor is “risk averse” and the German Foreign Minister a “wild card”—and more details on the informant who was feeding the U.S. embassy details on the government’s 2009 coalition negotiations. And there are the inflammatory, perhaps exaggerated, claims we’ve come to expect from the German magazine’s coverage.

The emergence of the documents is a disaster of global proportions for US foreign policy, one that will also affect Washington’s relations with Berlin. Faith in the Americans’ ability to protect their diplomatic traffic is deeply shaken—that alone will change German-American relations. A superpower’s diplomacy has never been revealed to quite the same degree.

Der Spiegel’s other big story also follows the Times thematically, a two-part look at cables focused on North Korea in which much is made of Kim Jong Il’s personal behavior and diplomatic speculation about a unified Korea. Like much of Spiegel’s treatment of the cables, it is detail-rich and offers intriguing behind-the-curtain explanations of the machinations of diplomacy.

One of the most convenient observation posts is the US Consulate that Wickman oversaw in Shenyang, the capital of the Chinese north-eastern border province of Liaoning, where the Kim regime also maintains a diplomatic outpost. The North Korean post, an informant assured the Americans, is more commercial than political in nature. According to the informant, it was “staffed by consuls whose primary responsibility was to make money” and it offers first-rate services to businessmen in return for a good bit of hard currency: “A single phone call” was sufficient to “resolve paperwork.” Such cross-border commuters make it possible to form an image of what life is like within North Korea. SPIEGEL has opted to protect their identities, due to the danger of arrest within North Korea.

The magazine also has an excellent round-up of how various German outlets are reacting to the leaks. - Joel Meares


The cables are pretty much absent from the NPR website home page, but analysis continues in bits and pieces throughout the day’s broadcasts. On Morning Edition on Tuesday, WikiLeaks updates focused on blowback from Clinton’s office, Der Spiegel’s side of the WikiLeaks publication, and the likelihood that Julian Assange will be prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act. Says Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment lawyer who has defended The New York Times in several court cases:

I think there’s a pretty good argument that [the Espionage Act] would apply to WikiLeaks. The language of the statute is very broad, and it bars the unauthorized possession or control over basically classified information by outsiders, which they have reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States.

Abrams went on to explain that a prosecution of this kind typically requires that the defendant actually meant to do harm to the United States through their actions. And Assange, of course, has said in interviews that that is his intention; he “has gone a long way down the road of talking himself into a possible violation of the Espionage Act.”

Elsewhere on the public radio dial, New York Times executive editor Bill Keller was a guest on WNYC/PRI’s The Takeaway on Tuesday morning, and he spoke about the trickiness of deciding how much emphasis to put on any one cable: it’s all “raw material” to carefully pick through (transcript here). - Lauren Kirchner


The cable-leak stories that had sprinkled Politico’s home page on Monday are largely absent on Tuesday; top stories in the afternoon are on tax cut negotiations and other Hill-side maneuvering. Laura Rozen’s blog has a follow-up on Clinton’s response to the leaks, and Keach Hagey has an inside-the-media overview calling WikiLeaks a “game changer,” but the story has otherwise been swept off of the homepage, at least for the day. - Lauren Kirchner

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review. Tags: , , , , ,