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Glenn Greenwald: How Propaganda Poisons the Mind - and Our Discourse

Last week, on January 3, The Guardian published a scathing Op-Ed by James Richardson blaming WikiLeaks for endangering the life of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the democratic opposition in Zimbabwe. Richardson — a GOP operative, contributor to RedState.com, and a for-hire corporate spokesman — pointed to a cable published by WikiLeaks in which American diplomats revealed that Tsvangirai, while publicly opposing American sanctions on his country, had privately urged their continuation as a means of weakening the Mugabe regime: an act likely to be deemed to be treasonous in that country, for obvious reasons. By publishing this cable, “WikiLeaks may have committed its own collateral murder,” Richardson wrote.  He added: “WikiLeaks ought to leave international relations to those who understand it – at least to those who understand the value of a life.”

This accusation against WikiLeaks was repeated far and wide. See The Wall Street Journal […] and The Atlantic's "How WikiLeaks Just Set Back Democracy in Zimbabwe," echoing the same accusation, claiming “WikiLeaks released [this cable] to the world” and that Assange has thus “provided a tyrant with the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for multiparty democracy.”  Numerous other outlets predictably mimicked these claims.

There was just one small problem with all of this: it was totally false. It wasn’t WikiLeaks which chose that cable to be placed into the public domain, nor was it WikiLeaks which first published it. It was The Guardian that did that. In early December, that newspaper — not WikiLeaks — selected and then published the cable in question. This fact led The Guardian — more than a full week after they published Richardson’s accusatory column — to sheepishly add this obscured though extremely embarrassing “clarification” at the end of his column: 

• This article was amended on 11 January 2011 to clarify the fact that the 2009 cable referred to in this article was placed in the public domain by the Guardian, and not as originally implied by WikiLeaks. The photo caption was also amended to reflect this fact.

The way this “clarification” was done was bizarre. […] If a newspaper publishes an accusation this serious and gets it this wrong, isn’t more required than the quiet addition of two short sentences at the end of the column, eight days later without any announcement? […]

But at least The Guardian — for which I have high journalistic regard — published some sort of correction, woefully inadequate though it may be. Why hasn’t The Wall Street Journal, or The Atlantic, or Politico [Politico just made a correction]? While The Guardian appended this correction yesterday, WikiLeaks on Twitter — a full week ago — made clear the falsehood driving all these stories: “It is not acceptable [for] the Guardian to blame us for a cable the Guardian selected and published on Dec 8.” WikiLeaks then immediately pointed to this post thoroughly documenting that it was The Guardian that first published this cable as part of a December 8 news article it published regarding revelations about Zimbabwe. So this glaring, serious error has been publicly known and amplified for a full week (through WikiLeaks’ Twitter account, followed by 650,000 people, which presumably is followed by anyone writing about WikiLeaks, at least I’d hope so).

Yet these Beacons of Journalistic Responsibility have still failed to acknowledge that the very serious accusation they published about WikiLeaks was based in a wholesale fabrication.

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