The comparison of these two passages is so telling in so many ways:
Revelations by the organization WikiLeaks have received blanket coverage this week on television, in newspapers and on Web sites around the globe. But in parts of the world where the leaks have some of the greatest potential to sow controversy, they have barely caused a ripple.
Authoritarian governments and tightly controlled media in China and across the Arab Middle East have suppressed virtually all mention of the documents, avoiding the public backlash that could result from such candid portrayals of their leaders’ views.
In China, the WikiLeaks site has been blocked by the government’s “Great Firewall,” and access to other sources for the documents has been restricted. Most Chinese are unable to read the contents of the diplomatic cables. . . .
WikiLeaks website pulled by Amazon after US political pressure
The US struck its first blow against WikiLeaks after Amazon.com pulled the plug on hosting the whistleblowing website in reaction to heavy political pressure.
The company announced it was cutting WikiLeaks off yesterday only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security…
While freedom of speech is a sensitive issue in the US, scope for a full-blown row is limited, given that Democrats and Republicans will largely applaud Amazon’s move. . . .
The question is whether he was acting on his own or pressed to do so by the Obama administration, and how much pressure was applied to Amazon. . . .
Lieberman said: “[Amazon’s] decision to cut off WikiLeaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies WikiLeaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material. I call on any other company or organisation that is hosting WikiLeaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them.”
The department of homeland security confirmed Amazon’s move, referring journalists to Lieberman’s statement.
Talking Points Memo — in an article headlined: “How Lieberman Got Amazon To Drop Wikileaks” — detailed that Lieberman’s “staffers . . . called Amazon to ask about it, and left questions with a press secretary including, ‘Are there plans to take the site down?'” Shortly thereafter, “Amazon called them back . . . to say they had kicked Wikileaks off.” Lieberman’s spokeswoman said: “Sen. Lieberman hopes that the Amazon case will send the message to other companies that might host Wikileaks that it would be irresponsible to host the site.”
That Joe Lieberman is abusing his position as Homeland Security Chairman to thuggishly dictate to private companies which websites they should and should not host — and, more important, what you can and cannot read on the Internet — is one of the most pernicious acts by a U.S. Senator in quite some time. Josh Marshall wrote yesterday: “When I’d heard that Amazon had agreed to host Wikileaks I was frankly surprised given all the fish a big corporation like Amazon has to fry with the federal government.” That’s true of all large corporations that own media outlets — every one — and that is one big reason why they’re so servile to U.S. Government interests and easily manipulated by those in political power. That’s precisely the dynamic Lieberman was exploiting with his menacing little phone call to Amazon (in essence: Hi, this is the Senate’s Homeland Security Committee calling; you’re going to be taking down that WikiLeaks site right away, right?). Amazon, of course, did what they were told.
Note that Lieberman here is desperate to prevent American citizens — not The Terrorists — from reading the WikiLeaks documents which shed light on what the U.S. Government is doing. His concern is domestic consumption. By his own account, he did this to “send a message to other companies that might host WikiLeaks” not to do so. No matter what you think of WikiLeaks, they have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime; Lieberman literally wants to dictate — unilaterally — what you can and cannot read on the Internet, to prevent Americans from accessing documents that much of the rest of the world is freely reading.
The Internet, of course, is rendering decrepit would-be petty tyrants like Lieberman impotent and obsolete: WikiLeaks moved its website to a Swedish server and was accessible again within hours. But any attempt by political officials to start blocking Americans’ access to political content on the Internet ought to provoke serious uproar and unrest. If the Tea Party movement and the Right generally were even minimally genuine in their ostensible beliefs, few things would trigger more intense objections than a political official trying to dictate to private actors which political content they should allow on the Internet (instead, you have Newt Gingrich demanding that Assange be declared an “enemy combatant” and Sarah Palin calling for his murder). Remember, though — as The Post told us today — it’s “authoritarian governments and tightly controlled media in China and across the Arab Middle East” which are trying to prevent citizens from learning about the WikiLeaks documents.
Then we have this equally revealing passage from the Post article:
In many Arab countries, the mainstream media have largely avoided reporting on the sensitive contents of the cables, including accounts of Arab leaders drinking alcohol and siding with Israel in advocating a U.S. military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
I genuinely laughed aloud when I read that. Does anyone think that “the mainstream media” in the U.S. has reported much “on the sensitive contents of the cables” specifically or the WikiLeaks war documents generally? I don’t mean salacious gossip or David-Sanger/Michael-Gordan-type Government-serving fear-mongering about America’s “enemies” (Iran is operating in Iraq!!; Iran is being armed by North Korea!!; Arab dictators want Iran attacked!!). I mean documents that reflect badly on what the U.S. Government is doing in the world.
Overwhelmingly, the reaction of establishment media figures has been to scorn these disclosures as somehow being both a Grave Threat and Nothing New. Watch this short segment I did yesterday on MSNBC with Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post Editorial Page and former GOP Congresswoman Susan Molinari. Technical difficulties impeded my participation, but what’s important is not really what I said, but what they said. Two notes about it: (1) Capehart, who calls himself a “journalist,” could not be more contemptuous of WikiLeaks as it shines a light on the U.S. government, and (2) the snickering and disdain toward Assange from Capehart and Molinari are indistinguishable — totally interchangeable — because there is no distinction between how most American “journalists” and how standard politicians think about those who are actually providing adversarial checks on U.S. political power; media and political figures are in the same undifferentiated class.
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