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Is disclosure of Podesta’s emails a step too far? [Naomi Klein & Glenn Greenwald / Intercept]

October 21, 2016


[ interview format, includes both audio and transcript ]

The above is a discussion of the ethics of the release of the Podesta emails by WikiLeaks.

Some reactions: (not edited/organized too well…):

I touched on it in this post, but Greenwald and Klein bring up additional concerns, some of which I will try to comment on. Specifically:

  • violation of private/personal or private/organizational communications
  • indiscriminate dumping vs considerately curated release when justified
  • the tit-for-tat / vendetta aspect, the apparent specific targeting of Clinton, in light of the animosity Secretary Clinton and parts of the US government have towards Julian Assange and vice versa, and generalizing from that, how to deal with cases where the leaker/hacker/publicizer has an ulterior motive

As I said before, the key common denominator is that to be justified, leaks/hacks must have a significant “whistleblower” aspect. This involves disclosure of wrongdoing or significant corruption.

The first item, violation of private/personal or private/organizational communications. The line is blurry, since organizations function as a series of “personal” contacts. But what I mean by personal here is something like family or romantic or non-work relationships. Using this criterion, everything I’ve seen highlighted from the Podesta archive falls squarely into private/organizational. That doesn’t mean that organizations aren’t entitled to privacy, not at all! But in this case we have some context which lowers the bar. Specifically, Secretary Clinton’s de-facto evasion of FOIA records by using private comms vs state comms, and her intentional intermixing of her governmental, political, and charity activities, so she could then make the not-entirely-honest claim that materials that should’ve been subject to public record were private/personal. And last but not least, concerns, borne out by the released materials, about the excessive role of money in politics, pay-to-play, or whatever we are calling it – that is the classic whistleblower/muckraking/investigative-reporting aspect of the story.

The second item, indiscriminate dumping vs considerately curated release – I’m a little bit on the fence about this one. In general, considerately curated release is to be preferred maybe even should be required. Here the best I can say in defense of Wikileaks is that circumstances may not make that practical – crowdsourcing may be the most realistic way to process the material in time. Also, unlike with Snowden, in the case of the Podesta archives, it isn’t national security secrets that are being released. The collateral damage from leaked items which do NOT reveal wrongdoing is limited to embarrassment.

Lastly, for ulterior motives and timing. I think ulterior motives are going to be the case more often than not, whenever one party reports on the wrongdoing of another. Assange managed to pick a fight with a good chunk of the US government by embarrassing them with the torture expose and so much more, and managed to get himself stuck locked in an embassy for years. He is paying an unfair price for his valuable and positive service to the world, and Clinton, being one of the primary figureheads for the Democratic wing of the NeoCon’s in US government, is taking the brunt of his attempts to expose their repressive tendencies. Regarding timing – obviously this is intended to affect the election. I guess I’m not sure how that’s unethical, unless you think that people running for office should be immune to having their wrongdoing revealed.

Given that one of the issues being exposed is Clinton’s manipulation of the Democratic party’s internals, which I think are contrary to the interests of the vast majority fo D party voters, and should she become president, to the entire US and really the world, and further given that Trump’s shortcomings are already pretty adequately covered, I think Clinton is an entirely appropriate target for aggressive reporting.

Also mentioned was the release format, in small bits. Given I think it is legitimate to try to achieve maximum electoral impact, I think this is a sensible tactic. To ensure that the people who participate in the crowdsourced review of the material don’t choke on one big batch of it, but have a chance to steadily digest it.

Greenwald and Klein also say something along the lines that the Podesta leaks didn’t reveal anything we didn’t already know. Well that’s true for those of us who have been paying attention, but there are 2 other groups that matter. For the general public who have been less well informed, the emails provide valuable insight and real examples of how the interplay between money, politics, journalism twist our political campaigns. And maybe even more importantly, for those who were able to perceive this without having it spelled out in really obvious form, but willingly turned a blind eye- that group now has to confront an important truth.

So ends justifying the means? Certainly not if you’re hurting people. However in this case, the harm the leaks cause is not private-personal, but private-organizational. Trying to cut this up nearly has been a bit of a tortured process, and I don’t like that – it’s often a sign that you’re trying too hard to justify something. But in the end, I want to remind myself, what is being exposed is the way in which public news-discussion of election issues is manipulated by those (i.e., Clinton/NeoCon’s) who do in fact have a record of hurting lots of people. And not just hurting their feelings, or violating their privacy, i’m talking about physically, as in what happens when you bomb parts of the world into rubble and subsequent chaos, using justifications known at the time to be false.

A tiny amount of guilt is maybe suggested, out of the Greenwald/Klein piece, knowing that by opposing Clinton in any way, they may they may be helping Trump. It’s a crappy thing. You have to either make the call that a warmonger who brings about non-trivial amounts of death and destruction is worse than a mysogynist/racist (an unpopular interpretation, similar to the way most people think torturing someone is more scandalous than killing someone), or make the call that they’re both categorically unacceptable, and refuse to accept the choice, which I think is for practical purposes the only defensible position.



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