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WSJ Launches WikiLeaks-Imitation Site to Further Solidify Role as Gatekeeper

10:22 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Several reports on the web security and privacy of the Wall Street Journal‘s new site, SafeHouse, which is inspired by WikiLeaks, have been published. Reactions centered around the “terms and conditions” on the website, which include a disclaimer that SafeHouse “cannot ensure complete anonymity.” It also states the leak portal “reserve[s] the right to disclose any information about you to law enforcement authorities or to a requesting third party, without notice, in order to comply with any applicable laws and/or requests under legal process.”

Web security and privacy experts will continue to scrutinize this new venture. Those like Jacob Appelbaum, a security researcher and senior developer on the Tor online anonymity network, will continue to let others know the Journal is being negligent and that this is not a project to be beta-tested on an open Internet. In addition to the security questions, there is the larger question of the Journal’s role in the press and why anyone would ever consider leaking to a newspaper like the Journal.

For establishing a basic understanding of this news organization, this is how SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, characterizes the publication: “The Wall Street Journal, an influential international daily newspaper published in New York City, is owned by News Corporation, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch. It does an abysmal job of informing its readers about climate change.”

External links on their page on the Journal lead to an article by David Carr that highlights the newspaper’s rightward turn under Murdoch. It covers two men, Robert Thomson, a top editor, and Gerard Baker, now the newspaper’s deputy managing editor. The article notes the two have adopted “a more conservative tone” and the paper has been “editing and headlining articles to reflect a chronic skepticism of the current [Obama] administration” with the support of the newspaper’s readers.

The issue of the newspaper being right wing is not all that bad if one considers working to maintain objectivity to be a foolish and often dangerous game for professional journalists to continue to play. But, there is the potential that leakers’ information submitted to the Journal would just be used to score points against the other side and against the vast “liberal media,” which the paper’s staff likely finds itself to be in a never-ending struggle against. (Recall, Karl Rove recently launched “Wikicountability,” a site that aims to collect government “dirt” that can be used against the Obama Administration to advance the agenda of Rove’s Crossroads GPS.)

A post by the Columbia Journalism Review indicates the Journal may not be all that interested in real journalism after the “greased exit” of Marcus Brauchli. The story covered how the “exit” indicated a new direction for the newspaper, a likely retreat from a focus on business and sophisticated in-depth reporting. It highlighted how the new owners wanted “newsier stories and more general news,” “shorter and more alluring” stories with a “heavy emphasis on scoops.” CJR suggested the newspaper was adopting an “Anglo-Australian newspaper model–straight, wire-service-type business news coupled with extensive and often smart analysis inside.”

No media organization in the past year has had more scoops than WikiLeaks. If the Journal indeed doesn’t have the manpower for investigative reporting, would it be looking to cut corners and just mine troves of information it hopes “sources” will feed this new portal? And would they hastily and shoddily go through all the material in the way the New York Times, meaning months down the road domestic or international events happen that could have been influenced if they had properly researched the information?

Forget whether it would seek to genuinely check power or not, does the Journal have the capacity to do the investigative reporting necessary to properly cover fraud, abuse, pollution, insider trading and other harms? And would this be anything more than an intelligence operation for Big Business in America?

With the creation of this new “leaks portal,” it appears the Wall Street Journal, like other traditional media, is setting this up because it believes it needs a digital platform for accepting news tips from sources instead of having sources go through a traditional system that may mostly exist offline. As the managing editor of WSJ.com, Kevin Delaney, quoted by Michael Calderone on Huffington Postacknowledges, “We all agree that WikiLeaks has had a huge impact on the journalism landscape over the last year or so.” And adds, “There’s been a discussion among editors that it made sense to create a system to receive information from sources digitally.”

The Journal like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which are both considering setting up their own WikiLeaks-imitation sites, is seeking to solidify its role as a gatekeeper. It is hoping to get out ahead and ensure that WikiLeaks and new media does not make it wholly irrelevant and, in effect, impact profits. This, just like the decision to set up a paywall, is about surviving the current transformation that is rocking the world of journalism in the United States.

Greg Mitchell, who has been blogging WikiLeaks for The Nation for one hundred and sixty days, said at a panel on WikiLeaks at the 2011 National Conference for Media Reform in Boston, “The traditional role of the press in America and elsewhere in the world has been to want to be the gatekeepers. They release the information. They decide what to cover. They decide how to cover it. And, in relation to leaks, very importantly, for every leak that made big news, there are dozens or hundreds or however many that went nowhere.”

What about the possibility that someone risks his or her life or livelihood by releasing information to the Journal and the Journal does nothing with the information but the newspaper decides to act on the information it received and forward it to law enforcement?

Julian Assange said this of direct-to-newspaper leak sites weeks ago:

[Newspaper] organizations could create such a site if they cared about it. But it’s our experience that at least the Guardian and New York Times don’t care so much to protect sources. In fact, for Cablegate the Guardian and the New York Times communicated over phones. They swapped cables over email. The New York Times approached the White House with its list of stories it was going to publish on the cables one week before publication, and campaigned against the alleged source of the cables, Bradley Manning. We also cannot be sure that they would even publisht the stories they receive. The New York Times sat on the story about the National Security Agency mass-tapping Americans for over a year. CBS sat on the story of the torture at Abu Ghraib for months.

Additionally, why leak to the Journal if what is ultimately published on your leak is going to be up behind a paywall and not be as easy to share as stories posted on other news sites? Why blow the whistle and put your self at risk for a story that people will only get to read a teaser for weeks or months down the line if not days after the story is published?

Too Late for Democrats or Voters to Do Anything About Corporate Money This Election Cycle

11:12 am in Uncategorized by Kevin Gosztola

Opportunistic politicians can bathe in excessive amounts of corporate money in this election. That’s, for the most part, thanks to the Citizens United v. FEC decision that has many leaders weary about what campaign financing regulations they can and cannot get away with advocating for. | Photo by elycefeliz

Like a BP oil gusher, foreign money is allegedly flowing into the midterm elections. Heavyweight interests with the muscle to influence legislation to suit their agenda, like the Chamber of Commerce, are at the center of this foreign money gusher putting Republicans over the top in many of the elections where Democratic incumbents are now endangered. Another corporate money gusher, unsurprisingly, is coming as a result of Karl Rove’s and the Koch Brothers’ attempts to influence the outcome of the election.

Think Progress recently revealed some "basic facts" the Chamber is having trouble refuting: it receives foreign sources of funding, the foreign funds go directly into the Chamber’s general 501(c)(6) entity, at least $300,000 has been channeled from foreign companies in India and Bahrain to the account, the foreign sources include foreign state-owned companies, including the State Bank of India and the Bahrain Petroleum Company, the Chamber’s 501(c)(6) entity has been used to launch an unprecedented $75 million partisan attack ad campaign against Democrats.

Rove and another George W. Bush adviser, Ed Gillespie, are behind American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, which "raised about $14.5 million in the 30-day period that ended [September 19th]." As Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn wrote, "Under rules liberalized by both the Supreme Court and a federal appellate court, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS can raise unlimited amounts of money from individuals and corporations." It is "registered with the Federal Election Commission and as such must reveal its donors, but Crossroads GPS is registered only as a nonprofit with the IRS and doesn’t have to disclose its sources of money."

The Koch Brothers influence on the 2010 Election likely began the day after President Obama was inaugurated. Jane Mayer noted in her profile of the Koch Brothers that ran in The New Yorker the Kochs of have been giving money to "’educate’, fund, and organize Tea Party protesters and turn a "private agenda into a mass movement." Their investment has been all about getting "actual people, like voters" to get out there and "provide real ideological power" so the Kochs could "shape and control and channel the populist uprising" against government into the creation of policies to suit their agenda.

When Mayer’s report was published, Koch Industries had led "all other energy companies in political contributions." Also, as noted by Mayer, David Koch was at that point "the biggest individual contributor to the Republican Governors Association, with a million-dollar donation." Mayer also noted that tracking all of the donations by the Kochs "may be untraceable" because "federal tax law permits anonymous personal donations to politically active nonprofit groups."

Kevin Zeese of the Prosperity Agenda explained in his article, "Can Anyone Stop Rove’s Crime Against Democracy While it is in Progress?":

"The wealthy using front groups for secret donations is not new. It is a strategy perfected by a variety groups that [is] on steroids in the post-Citizens United electoral world. The Chamber of Commerce is one of the leaders in this approach where they have focused a great deal in past years on affecting the outcome of state supreme court races. We’ve been highlighting this at StopTheChamber.com. In one case, the courts, after five years of litigation, required disclosure of campaign donors for a Chamber front group. In Citizens for a Strong Ohio the Ohio Elections Commission ruled that a Chamber of Commerce front group that attacked an Ohio Supreme Court Justice was required to disclose its donors under Ohio law. Three courts upheld that decision, and all the corporate donors were named. The Chamber is a major player in this year’s election activity as well"

In the midst of providing support to Democratic candidates struggling in this election, President Obama has recently chosen to bring attention to the flow of foreign money coming from the Chamber. He says of the Chamber, "one of the largest groups paying for these [attack] ads regularly takes in money from foreign corporations" and "groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won’t tell you where the money for their ads come from."

Weeks before the election it is obviously too late to do anything about corporate or foreign money and what that money might do to the well being of the Democratic Party as a result. The writing was on the wall after the Citizens United v. FEC decision; it was noted by Think Progress that foreign corporations with U.S.-subsidiaries would likely end up spending unlimited amounts of money on elections to fight agendas that may not be germane to their business’ interests.

In response to the decision, legislation was drafted by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that would have attempted to "curb the influence of foreign corporations and foreign governments following the decision." Corporate political action committees (PACs) and corporate lobbyists representing foreign corporations like the "Organization for International Investment, a trade group representing foreign banks, oil companies, and other foreign corporations operating in the United States," however, stalled the momentum of this legislation. Rep. Van Hollen was able to get the legislation passed through the House in some form on June 24th of this year, but in the final weeks of September, Democratic leaders in the Senate were unable to get the DISCLOSE Act (as the legislation was named) to advance in the Senate.

Keep in mind, the Democratic Party has its own version of the Koch Brothers, George Soros. So, they have found a way to cope with the Republican Party’s increased penchant for letting corporations violate federal election regulations in order to put their Party over the top in elections. Surely, without certain ways of keeping Soros’ donations anonymous, the Democratic Party would be in greater disarray.

Only now when the Democratic Party is under threat from corporate money are Democratic Party leaders like Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine expressing their disapproval over moneyed influences gaming American democracy. Up to this point, a strong response to the Citizens United decision has not been of immediate importance; jobs and the economy has supposedly been the number one issue. Now, the Democrats appear to be publicly admitting how much they underestimated the negative and severe implications this Supreme Court decision would have on elections and they are trying to bring this issue to the attention of voters.

The Democratic Party leadership likely thought the donations would not be a game changer. They felt if they promoted "Third Way" politics and pushed for more centrism and moderate politics in Congress they would inevitably triumph; as the Tea Party frightened Americans more and more, pragmatist politics would help maintain a Democratic majority through the November election.

A misunderstanding of the volatile political climate that now has the pendulum swinging between the Democratic and Republican Parties faster and faster as Americans become more and more impatient with the politics of business as usual—That’s one of a few logical explanations for why the Democrats let this decision fester for so long, for why there will be no political action taken to curb the impacts of the decision before this election.

Another miscalculation is how little President Obama has gone after players like the Koch Brothers. The historical significance of Obama’s failure to defend democracy publicly was highlighted by Frank Rich’s piece on the Rupert Murdoch’s and the Kochs’ influence on politics:

"When wolves of Murdoch’s ingenuity and the Kochs’ stealth have been at the door of our democracy in the past, Democrats have fought back fiercely. Franklin Roosevelt’s triumphant 1936 re-election campaign pummeled the Liberty League as a Republican ally eager to "squeeze the worker dry in his old age and cast him like an orange rind into the refuse pail." When John Kennedy’s patriotism was assailed by Birchers calling for impeachment, he gave a major speech denouncing their "crusades of suspicion."

And Obama? So far, sadly, this question answers itself."

The will to take on corporate money in elections has come late. The answer is now clear: waiting to see what would happen and hoping for the production of some compromise to nullify the detrimental effects of the Citizen United failed. Bargaining with corporate interests to produce a bill that could be amenable to certain special interests and voters got in the way of taking decisive action; it also didn’t make it more likely to pass through Congress either.

Greg Palast saw this coming. He wrote about "Manchurian candidates" running for office after the decision came down.

Unfortunately for Democrats, it’s hard to sympathize with the situation they have put themselves in. Whoever has really held the reins of political strategy from 2008 to now has failed tremendously. Thousands if not millions of Democratic voters in recent months have found themselves victims of attacks on them for remaining energized and engaged in the process of "making Obama" bring the change they think this country needs.

The attacks on citizens willing to act out independently from the Democratic Party to advance real change isn’t really new, but given the nature of Obama’s election, it’s quite revealing of what President Obama really stands for. And as a result of the White House’s involvement in blasting its base and not standing up to corporate money interests, more and more voters are seeking and will seek an alternative to the Democratic Party in this election and its aftermath.