Saturday, July 31, 2010

Media Rants: WikiLeaks vs. Corporate Media

Note: The piece below appears in the August, 2010 edition of The Scene. It was submitted for publication before WikiLeaks' release of thousands of pages of classified Afghanistan War documents. Perhaps the most insightful perspective on those documents is by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, who refers to WikiLeaks as the "world's first stateless news organization."

WikiLeaks vs. Corporate Media

Media Rants

by Tony Palmeri

WikiLeaks, a kind of Wikipedia for whistleblowers directed by Australian activist Julian Assange, represents a set of journalistic values radically at odds with the values of the corporate press.

According to the UK Guardian’s Stephen Moss, “Assange unveiled in January 2007 and has pulled off some astonishing coups for an organisation with a handful of staff and virtually no funding. It has exposed evidence of corruption in the family of former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, published the standard operating procedures for the Guantánamo Bay detention centre, even made public the contents of Sarah Palin's Yahoo account. But what has really propelled WikiLeaks into the media mainstream is the video it released in April of a US helicopter attack in Baghdad in July 2007, which killed a number of Iraqi civilians and two Reuters personnel, Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen.”

The release of the leaked attack video (called “Collateral Murder”) led to the arrest of its alleged source, US Army intelligence specialist Bradley Manning. PFC Manning spent 30 days in a Kuwaiti jail without charges, and now faces court martial for downloading and releasing classified information.

Mainstream coverage of the video focused on the conditions of its release and whether or not Manning and WikiLeaks harmed national security. Those hoping for a discussion of the war’s morality or legality, or whether its architects should be charged with war crimes, were left disappointed.

On its website, WikiLeaks offers a compelling case for its encouragement of “principled leaking.” They say:

“Principled leaking has changed the course of history for the better; it can alter the course of history in the present; it can lead us to a better future . . . The power of principled leaking to embarrass governments, corporations and institutions is amply demonstrated through recent history. The public scrutiny of otherwise unaccountable and secretive institutions forces them to consider the ethical implications of their actions. Which official will chance a secret, corrupt transaction when the public is likely to find out? What repressive plan will be carried out when it is revealed to the citizenry, not just of its own country, but the world? When the risks of embarrassment and discovery increase, the tables are turned against conspiracy, corruption, exploitation and oppression. Open government answers injustice rather than causing it. Open government exposes and undoes corruption. Open governance is the most effective method of promoting good governance . . . We propose that authoritarian governments, oppressive institutions and corrupt corporations should be subject to the pressure, not merely of international diplomacy, freedom of information laws or even periodic elections, but of something far stronger — the consciences of the people within them.”

Time Magazine said that WikiLeaks “could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.” New media technology scholar Clay Shirky tweeted that WikiLeaks “has had more scoops in 3 years than The Washington Post has had in 30.” Salon’s Glenn Greenwald writes that there are very few entities, if there are any, which pose as much of a threat to the ability of governmental and corporate elites to shroud their corrupt conduct behind an extreme wall of secrecy.”

That WikiLeaks is on the radar screen of the US government was confirmed in 2008, when a leaked classified report written by the Army Counterintelligence Center placed the site on "the list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States." In what is an apparent attempt to intimidate potential whistleblowers, press reports revealed a Pentagon “manhunt” for Assange, who briefly seemed to go into hiding. Meanwhile, the Obama Administration’s policy toward whistleblowers appears to be the harshest in US history.

I see three major differences between WiliLeaks’s values and the corporate press. First, the corporate press would rather talk about transparency than actually make it a central component of journalistic practice. The mainstream press annually promote “Sunshine Week,” but for Wikileaks every day is dedicated to shining light on corrupt governments and corporations.

Second, WikiLeaks has no interest in “building relationships” with power. Contrast that with the White House press corps, a largely sycophantic bunch enamored with shooting hoops with the prez or otherwise being privy to the world of the “insiders.”

Third, WikiLeaks encourages maximum transparency as a means to pursue the end of justice. Since the end of corporate media is profit, it has difficulty shining light on big corporations that might cut off advertising or other forms of support. Do not be surprised if the majority of useful information regarding BP’s actions in the gulf gets released on WikiLeaks before the mainstream press.

Taking on WikiLeaks style values might help restore the credibility of the establishment press. Owners and editors are slowly starting to understand. Case in point: the Washington Post in July published an excellent multi-part series on “Top Secret America.” The series “describes and analyzes a defense and intelligence structure that has become so large, so unwieldy, and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, or whether it is making the United States safer.”

About the WP series, WikiLeaks tweeted: “Real change begins Monday in the WashPost. By the years end, a reformation. Lights on. Rats out.” Let’s hope.

Friday, July 02, 2010

BID requests 50 grand from taxpayers

July 2, 2010

City Council Members
P.O. Box 1130
Oshkosh, WI 54903-1130

Dear Council Members,

I would like to make a formal request, on behalf of the Downtown Oshkosh Business Improvement District (BID), for funding from the City of Oshkosh in the amount of $50,000 to support beautification and revitalization efforts on Main Street. The City of Oshkosh hired Ken Saiki Design Firm out of Madison, Wisconsin to design and make recommendations for placement of the following beautification elements which are not only enhancements but necessities to our Main Street.

Ken Saiki Design recommended adding benches, bike racks, flower pots, and trash receptacles to Main St.

The Oshkosh Business Improvement District (BID) has currently secured a 2 to 1 matching grant from the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation (OACF) in the amount of $25,000. In order to secure this grant the OACF would like to see $50,000 raised. In addition the Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corporation (OAEDC) has pledged $5,000 and the BID will continue efforts to raise an additional $25,000 plus for decorative banners and other beautification items. The BID is requesting $50,000 for the cost of the material. In addition to our fundraising efforts the BID will maintain all the planters, watering, and all bump outs and grass areas in the district.

Thank you for your consideration on this important aspect to Oshkosh’s Main Street. Please refer any questions or concerns that you have to me at (920) 303-2265 ext. 11. I look forward to working with you.


Maureen Lasky
Downtown BID Manager
Oshkosh Area Economic Development Corporation

Cc: Mark Rohloff, City Manager
Jeff Nau, City of Oshkosh Planning
Dave Sparr, BID Board Chair
Megan Hoopman-Lang, BID Board Vice-Chair
Rob Kleman, OAEDC

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Media Rants: LZ Lambeau and The Good Soldier Consensus

The following piece appears in the July, 2010 edition of The SCENE.

LZ Lambeau and The Good Soldier Consensus

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

From May 21-23, thousands of Wisconsinites attended LZ (“Landing Zone”) Lambeau. Flyers printed in advance urged readers to “Be part of Wisconsin’s official Thank You event at Lambeau Field, honoring our Vietnam veterans for their service and sacrifice.”

Vietnam Army vet Will Williams originally supported the event. He told WLUK television that he turned against it when "The idea of welcoming home Vietnam veterans morphed into a promotion of militarism and support for the current wars and recruitment of young people."

Veterans for Peace echoed Williams. Spokesperson and Army vet Leslie “Buzz” Davis said that attendees would get an incomplete picture of the war: "They won't be presented with the lying politicians, they won't be presented with the power of the military industrial complex."

I believe LZ Lambeau organizers, including Wisconsin Public Television and the Wisconsin Historical Society, sincerely wished only to honor Vietnam vets. WPT’s documentary “Wisconsin Vietnam War Stories” is powerful and deserves a wide audience. Unfortunately and despite good intentions, LZ Lambeau reinforced what has become a disturbing mainstream consensus on the treatment of soldiers in our society. I’ll call it the “Good Soldier Consensus.”

According to the Good Soldier consensus, the military ought to be able to recruit workers just like any other employer. Especially in de-industrialized and economically depressed parts of the country, military service becomes a way of obtaining education and job training.

Upon signing the dotted line, the new soldier agrees to follow orders. In return, the Good Soldier Consensus holds that the soldier is owed: proper training, modern equipment, nondiscrimination in housing and employment, access to high quality medical facilities and full coverage of treatment, education benefits, and other resources to maximize the chances of survival in war while easing the transition from battlefield back to home.

Virtually all establishment politicians and press adhere to some version of the Good Soldier Consensus. Indeed, establishment propaganda and the promise of good benefits attract thousands of young people to military careers.

The problem with the Good Soldier Consensus, other than the fact that the politicians can’t even guarantee the benefits promised, is that it allows political hacks in the White House and Congress and their corporate press cheerleaders to portray themselves as “pro-soldier.” But can political hacks (many of whom did whatever they could to avoid military service) really be “pro-soldier” if they support the continuance of illegal, immoral, never ending wars? Can press hacks be “pro-soldier” if they continue to minimize or censor the heroic stories of soldiers who refuse to follow orders that their conscience tells them are illegal?

Those who believe it naïve or dangerous to expect soldiers to question their orders don’t understand the lessons of World War II. After the war, the Nazis put on trial at Nuremberg for war crimes repeatedly justified their horrific treatment of civilians on the grounds that they were “just following orders.” In response, the Nuremberg tribunal released a list of principles to guide future conflicts. Principles IV states "The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

What happens to a young American who tries to act in accordance to the Nuremberg Principles? The case of Army Lieutenant Ehren Watada is instructive. Watada invoked the Nuremberg Principles in refusing to deploy to Iraq on the grounds of the war’s illegality and immorality. Though the US government eventually dropped its case against him, Military Judge John Head held that the issue of the legality of war is a “nonjusticiable political question.” In other words, American soldiers who act on conscience will not be able to count on the judiciary to challenge abuses of power emanating from the executive and/or legislative branches.

What about the case of Pvt. Travis Bishop? Amnesty International labeled him a “prisoner of conscience” after he was jailed for refusing to fight in Afghanistan. After joining the military, Bishop reflected on his Baptist upbringing and came to the conclusion that Jesus’ message is one of pacifism. He could not fight in Afghanistan because “I had to get right with God in case I died or in case I had to kill someone.” His lawyer wants the courts to order the military to make it mandatory for soldiers to be briefed about conscientious objector status in the same way they are briefed about other benefits.

The website Courage To Resist ( includes additional, detailed stories about modern soldiers who refuse to fight unjust wars. Another great resource is the award winning film “The Good Soldier” (

As for establishment media, we get more of the same: on the front page of the June 14th New York Times, the paper announced the “recent” discovery of a trillion dollars worth of minerals in Afghanistan; that nation could become the “Saudi Arabia of Lithium.” The subtext was that struggle over these materials will provide a pretext for the US to stay in that country for another generation.

Political and press hacks will not end the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, but soldiers of conscience and active citizens might. That’s what got us out of Vietnam.