Since E.D. Hirsch failed in his noble jihad to enforce Cultural Literacy, I can’t assume readers are familiar with the scene in Annie Hall in which Woody Allen stops a movie line bloviator from pontificating about Marshall McLuhan by producing the actual Marshall McLuhan from behind a movie poster to tell the pontificator off. So here is a clip.
Allen concludes the scene by saying to the camera, “Boy, if life were only like this.”
But the funny thing is, sometimes life is just like that, and in the past week we have been presented with a spectacular, world-historical example.
A standard bloviator talking point in the last few weeks against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange has been: the WikiLeaks release of classified U.S. diplomatic cables is nothing like the Pentagon Papers case which exposed the US government’s fundamental lying to the public about the Vietnam War, and Julian Assange and alleged leaker Bradley Manning are nothing like Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. This Manichean division between “good” and “bad” leakers has been recited with great earnestness: “Four legs good, two legs baaaad!”
A striking example was noted by Sam Husseini on December 5 , citing an appearance by Illinois Senator Dick Durbin on CBS‘ “Face the Nation”:
Bob Schieffer: Do you think [Assange has] damaged national security?
Senator Richard Durbin: I do.
Bob Schieffer: You do?
Senator Richard Durbin: I do. And I’ll tell you I come from an era where I think [the] Daniel Ellsberg situation with the Pentagon papers was a clear contrast. Here was the disclosure of classified information in the midst of a war that brought out some things that were not well known, not public and might have changed I think the course of history.
But Durbin overlooked a key consideration best kept in mind by those who wish to re-write history when the history is fairly recent: Daniel Ellsberg must have eaten his vegetables, because he is still alive and breathing fire, and isn’t having any of Durbin’s good leaker/bad leaker dichotomy. As Husseini noted on December 5:
And now, thanks to the Colbert Report, the American people know that Daniel Ellsberg stands firmly behind Assange, Manning, and WikiLeaks:
Ellsberg: Julian Assange is not a criminal under the laws of the United States. I was the first one prosecuted for the charges that would be brought against him. I was the first person ever prosecuted for a leak in this country–although there had been a lot of leaks before me. That’s because the First Amendment kept us from having an Official Secrets Act. . . . The founding of this country was based on the principle that the government should not have a say as to what we hear, what we think, and what we read…
If Bradley Manning did what he’s accused of, then he’s a hero if mine and I think he did a great service to this country. We’re not in the mess we’re in, in the world, because of too many leaks. . . . I say there should be some secrets. But I also say we invaded Iraq illegally because of a lack of a Bradley Manning at that time.
Avaaz.org has a petition in support of WikiLeaks.
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.