Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Little Birdy Told Me

Okay. Here's a question. If you refuse to know who has provided you with a particular piece of information, how can you know that the information is accurate?

I understand the Wikileaks position - by taking steps to ensure that they can never definitively know who leaked something to them, they work to ensure that they cannot be forced to reveal that information. It's the ultimate in anonymous sourcing.

But it's not a new concept that just because a source is anonymous (ooooo... mystery...) and is telling you something that is really juicy, that doesn't mean that the information is accurate. And this, I think might be Wikileaks downfall in the end. Someone is going to get to their credibility by providing a "smoking gun" that seems like a real game-changer - and turns out to be completely fabricated. Now, I'm sure that in such a case, Julian Assange and company will be quick to use the "I was snookered/I'm the victim here" defenses that we've seen come out of the Sherrod case. The problem is that those excuses will likely not work any better for Wikileaks than they did for the NAACP and Andrew Breitbart; that is, anyone not already firmly in their camp is likely to see it as more self-serving than genuinely exculpatory.

But this also exposes a potential flaw in the way the Obama administration has reacted to the story, one that not everyone can be counted on to replicate. If a document cannot be authenticated, why treat it as if it is genuine? Of course, in this case, critics of administration policies are going to be quick to use the documents as ammunition, and they are unlikely to wait for the whole story to come out (see: Shirley Sherrod) - but that doesn't mean that it's wise to automatically treat everything as being on the up-and-up (noticing a pattern here...).

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