Does The Long Arm of Gawker Reach the State Department?

Picture 3Does the long arm of Gawker reach all the way to the State Department? Yesterday, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton detailing and protesting the behavior of private contractors employed by ArmorGroup who guard State Department employees in Kabul, Afghanistan. From the letter:

Numerous emails, photographs, and videos portray a Lord of the Flies environment. One email from a current guard describes scenes in which guards and supervisors are “peeing on people, eating potato chips out of [buttock] cracks, vodka shots out of [buttock] cracks (there is video of that one), broken doors after drnken [sic] brawls, threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity….”

Disturbing, yes? Mother Jones picked up on the letter yesterday morning and wrote a longish piece about it — that post now has 26 comments. Then, just after 4pm yesterday Gawker published an enormously disturbing slide show of photos (provided by POGO) depicting the “animal house” antics. When I saw the post an hour or so later it had already clocked over 12,000 views. As of this morning 95,000 plus people had seen it. Yesterday evening a State Dept. spokesperson announced that an investigation had been ordered and that “these are very serious allegations, and we are treating them that way.”

So, was Gawker publishing the pics a motivating factor behind the State Dept’s quick response? Hard to say. Clearly that letter and those photos (which POGO also sent to the State Dept.) would have resulted some sort of reaction, though apparently the contractor ArmorGroup has been under some sort of investigation due to its behavior since 2007. But, much like the shots out of Abu Ghraib, the pictures Gawker first pubbed are upsetting, utterly damning, and impossible to ignore, and they’ve now been seen very quickly by a whole lot of people (though not as many as saw McSteamy!).

What may be the most interesting part of all this is that POGO chose to “provide” Gawker with those pictures early on, when no doubt there are plenty of mainstream organizations who would have been happy to pick up. Someone at POGO knows their new media stuff: Gawker is the online tastemaker and is capable of immediately getting a story out to a large, connected audience, who will pay attention and quickly pass it on. Inevitably the MSM will follow sooner or later, and get it out to everyone. Is this a sign of things to come? Maybe Gawker is turning itself into the new media world’s version of Woodward and Bernstein. It’s certainly quickly becoming the MSM of the blogosphere.

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