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NYT Public Editor Defends Times’ Decision To Publish WikiLeaks Cables

In his column today, the New York Times‘ Public Editor Arthur Brisbane discusses the NYT’s role in the past week as a major news media player in the unfolding WikiLeaks cables story. He starts by admitting he was shocked to first read about the cables in the Times, and worried about their effect on the country. But by the end of the column he does an about-face and ardently defends the Times’ decision to publish the cables.

I read the Monday New York Times with what can only be described as a sinking feeling.

Here on display, based on yet another WikiLeaks release, was the breathtaking disclosure of American diplomats’ highly sensitive internal communications about friends and enemies. The discreet world of confidential embassy cables had seemingly been blown apart.

For this go-round, Mr. Assange had adroitly orchestrated a media rollout headed by The Guardian of Britain and joined by a handful of European news organizations, with The Times picking up the material from The Guardian.

The image of Mr. Assange as ringmaster is deeply disturbing, especially since he seems to so relish his worldwide notoriety. The image of great news organizations as performers in the ring, though, is even more alarming to me.

And later he asks:

Consider: What if The New York Times in 1964 had possessed a document showing that L.B.J.’s intent to strike against North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident was based on false information? Should it have published the material?

What if The Times had possessed documentary evidence showing that the Bush administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were unfounded? Should it have published the material?

These questions, which need only be posed rhetorically, supply an answer to the larger question: Would you as a reader rather have the information yourself or trust someone else to hang on to it for you?

Read the full column here.

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