Most of the journalists I’ve read fall into Camp FW. They seem surprised only by the attention the document release is getting, because the information is pretty much an exact match to what they’ve been reporting for the last several years. I think there’s more at work here than just boredom over some raw reports, though. I think, rightly, that journalists see the release of these documents into the public as a kind of threat to their very profession.
It is, and it isn’t. Just as when a politician runs around the media to speak directly to the people, the release of raw documents can be both boon and bane for those on the receiving end. Journalists — people who seek, process, and analyze information for a living — are a necessary component to efficient information consumption. This is never more evident than when an enormous amount of information is available. Put more bluntly: not everyone has 10 hours a day to devote to reading Significant Event reports from Afghanistan in order to make up his or her mind about what, exactly, this means. So journalists — call them war correspondents, foreign bureau reporters, crazy nut-jobs, whatever — are employed to take this material, contextualize it, and report it digestibly to the public at large. Some of them do it well, some of them don’t; the large responsibility of the wants-to-be-informed reader is to figure out who can be trusted.
Bloggers do the exact same thing every single day. We repackage and summarize information gleaned from documents, studies, and other writers, often with the knowledge that those who read our work won’t click on the handy links to check out the primary source. It is the service that journalism is supposed to provide.
So it’s a little disingenuous of bloggers to complain and allege that journalists are conspiring to keep the public away from, or at least in doubt of the value of, these raw documents. Siun at FDL today:
It’s fascinating to watch the so-called “progressive” COIN fans circle the wagons over the Wikileaks release of over 90,000 files from Afghanistan. Everywhere you look – from Joshua Foust to our very own Attackerman’s selection of Adam Weinstein’s post in Mother Jones as the “winner” of “the WikiLeaks commentary contest” – you’ll find concerned military journos assuring us that there’s really nothing there, no need to bother our pretty little heads trying to read or understand these files. As Weinstein writes: “But in truth, there’s not much there. I know, because I’ve seen many of these reports before—at least, thousands of similar ones from Iraq, when I was a contractor there last year.”
I’ve read Adam Weinstein’s piece, Joshua Frost’s piece, and the Andrew Exum piece that’s specifically attacked later in Siun’s post. Each piece is at most two clicks away from the primary source that she claims they’re trying to discourage readers from looking at. On the contrary, I think these guys are mostly saying something very reasonable: read these, but understand they’re a single source. Understand they’re raw and can be unreliable. They don’t paint a bigger picture of the war; they fill in some detail in an already well-sketched area of the existing portrait.