Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: The Wellington Cables

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  • Russell Brown, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    I might limit myself to asking you what I asked Keir. Can you look back on the history of the WikiLeaks releases and say ‘on balance I wish we didn’t know that?’

    Wesley Snipes’ tax records come to mind, and the irrelevant release of sorority rituals.

    But I’m clearly not talking about the real stories, but the way everything seems to be framed as a consequence of being presented by Wikileaks.

    Thus, a venerable and very public cultural exchange programme gets reframed as spy vs spy. Because it must be a conspiracy, right?

    The problem here is that it damages real people who have done nothing wrong. It’s so easy to just pile another conspiracy on top of the last one. Ask Ali Ikram how he’s feeling about the Star Times story. Stitched up is the answer.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    But if the State Dept sends a journalist to the US to cover one of their elections is there really a massive conflict of interest?

    How about if the equivalent in Zimbabwe or Burma, or Fiji is doing the paying?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to BenWilson,

    How about if the equivalent in Zimbabwe or Burma, or Fiji is doing the paying?

    The journalist or MP concerned needs to declare the source and deal with the consequences of that themselves. Visits courtesy of dictatorships won’t be acceptable and won’t be taken – although back in the day journalists and budding leaders used to accept travel grants from the Soviet Union.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Russell Brown,

    But I'm clearly not talking about the real stories, but the way everything seems to be framed as a consequence of being presented by Wikileaks.

    Thus, a venerable and very public cultural exchange programme gets reframed as spy vs spy. Because it must be a conspiracy, right?

    But would you call that a failing of WikiLeaks? And besides, couldn't it be treated like a teachable moment?

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    Visits courtesy of dictatorships won’t be acceptable and won’t be taken

    Constitutional monarchies are surely still OK though :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Williams, in reply to Russell Brown,

    The problem here is that it damages real people who have done nothing wrong. It’s so easy to just pile another conspiracy on top of the last one. Ask Ali Ikram how he’s feeling about the Star Times story. Stitched up is the answer.

    It does seem like there's collateral damage and that is unfortunate. Ali Ikram has done nothing inherently wrong and for all I know he was entirely up front about his involvement. As you've effectively shown, the content of some of the cables may well have been available publicly anyway. This is what concerns me the most; when is my right to know what governments and corporations are up to at odds with individuals' right to privacy?

    Sydney • Since Nov 2006 • 2273 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    And besides, couldn’t it be treated like a teachable moment?

    We've had plenty of teachable moments via Wikileaks already, given that the lesson is "sometimes, people are conspiracy theorists and also kind of twatcocks."

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    I sincerely hope we're not being so naive as to think that government sponsored exchange programmes are not designed to have influence, however subtle at first, on those participating in them. There's a fair amount of evidence that government involvement in exchange programmes is not purely altruistic. Here's one result from a search on the subject.

    The Economist's obituary of Irving Kristol is also matter-of-fact about the CIA's involvement with Encounter magazine. A fund for exchanges set up at the height of the cold war would be pretty miraculous to have escaped the attention of agencies wanting to peddle influence and gather information. Equally, just because the cold war ended, it doesn't mean that countries are no longer interested in establishing cultural hegemony.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I can't wait for some future cable to reveal that New Zealand and the US have trade links ('Why was this not declared?????') or that Air New Zealand planes actually fly from New Zealand to the US ('And what is on board those planes??? And who do these so-called pilots and stewardesses really work for?????')

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    Ask Ali Ikram how he’s feeling about the Star Times story. Stitched up is the answer.

    He should be more embarassed by this.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Andrew E,

    Yes, I knew about it. But then again, I keep an eye out for those things.

    And I'm glad that you do. Thanks, Andrew.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to philipmatthews,

    Linky no worky

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2935 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to nzlemming,

    Linky no worky

    Linky got no URL in it.

    Edit: Fixed now!

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Yeah, we can't blame WikiLeaks for the fact that a lot of people are interpreting every cable as evidence of whatever conspiracy theory they happen to currently believe in, but I don't think Russell is doing that. He's merely exasperated (as am I) that people are seeing what they take to be clear evidence of conspiratorial machination in what might be merely business as usual.

    Let me preface the following statement with "I'm no psychologist (I'm a philosopher), so take this with a grain of salt:" It seems that people like to explain events with regard to narratives which make the event the result someone wanted to bring about. Not only that, but when we hear about things we didn't already know, we often want a simple explanation here and now, and explanations that go "X wanted it/made it happened" fit that bill quite nicely. Such explanations might be the explanation but often we infer to such intentional explanatory hypotheses because it's convenient rather than because we've just excelled at the task of reasoning inferentially.

    Which is the by-the-by; frankly, humans have been explaining things conspiratorially almost as long as we've had recorded history, and so it clearly isn't a case of WikiLeaks causing people to come up with conspiracy theories to explain recent events but rather our tendency to be conspirational explains the conspiracy theories about the WikiLeaks' cables and their contents.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • philipmatthews,

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2007 • 656 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Andrew E,

    I sincerely hope we’re not being so naive as to think that government sponsored exchange programmes are not designed to have influence, however subtle at first, on those participating in them. There’s a fair amount of evidence that government involvement in exchange programmes is not purely altruistic.

    Well....yes? I don't think anyone's arguing that it's purely altruistic, any more than any other foreign relations exercise of any government is. The benefit to the US is obvious: on balance, such programs are going to make people more favourably inclined to the US. Living somewhere does that, because it upgrades the place from "stereotype" to "real". Sponsoring people to go to the US gives them the chance to see it up close; if someone has a bad experience, for whatever reason, it could work the other way. These things aren't guaranteed.

    Obviously it varies from programme to programme, but I really think you might be overestimating how much control the State Department has over the day-to-day experience of people on these programmes. In my case, that would be "none whatsoever". I'm really struggling to see the "subtle influence" above and beyond having sponsored me here.

    (Of course, my husband argues differently, but he has taken to wearing that funny tin-foil hat around the house.)

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2105 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    But would you call that a failing of WikiLeaks?

    I’d call it a failing of the culture it has fostered.

    And besides, couldn’t it be treated like a teachable moment?

    That would be good.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to Neil Morrison,

    historical or political importance

    Maybe it's just me but I'd argue that much of what was released fairly comfortably fits those parameters. Or would you rather not know, Neil?

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to HORansome,

    Which is the by-the-by; frankly, humans have been explaining things conspiratorially almost as long as we’ve had recorded history, and so it clearly isn’t a case of WikiLeaks causing people to come up with conspiracy theories to explain recent events but rather our tendency to be conspirational explains the conspiracy theories about the WikiLeaks’ cables and their contents.

    I bin schooled :-)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I wouldn't say WikiLeaks has fostered that culture because that culture already existed. The cables certainly feed that culture and, arguably, some of the impetus behind organisations like WikiLeaks comes from being part of that culture, but, for all the things we might be able to pin on WikiLeaks, making some of us (not us, of course; we're all examples of hyper-rational agents) conspirational isn't really a fair accusation.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome, in reply to HORansome,

    Sorry, schooled you again because I hadn't seen the admission of previous schooling.

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 441 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    but I really think you might be overestimating how much control the State Department has over the day-to-day experience of people on these programmes. In my case, that would be "none whatsoever". I'm really struggling to see the "subtle influence" above and beyond having sponsored me here.

    I'm not really suggesting (or overestimating) how much control the State Department has over the day-to-day experience of people on the programmes. Nor that the programmes aren't a good thing, in helping people replace stereotypes with actual experience of the reality of life in a particular country. I was (maybe ineptly) responding to the suggestion that

    a venerable and very public cultural exchange programme gets reframed as spy vs spy. Because it must be a conspiracy, right?

    I have no desire to reframe it as that, but neither should we believe that it doesn't offer opportunities or value to those who would like us to understand - and possibly internalise after a while - their world view.

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg, in reply to BenWilson,

    Constitutional monarchies are surely still OK though :-)

    The British one, through its Council often sends out, or invites in, DJs and bands. I quite like that bit. I would've been thrilled if the State Dept had sent The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys or Chuck D around the planet as cultural ambassadors.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3283 posts Report Reply

  • Neil Morrison, in reply to Lucy Stewart,

    Since Nov 2006 • 932 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Simon Grigg,

    The British one, through its Council often sends out, or invites in, DJs and bands. I quite like that bit. I would’ve been thrilled if the State Dept had sent The Ramones, The Dead Kennedys or Chuck D around the planet as cultural ambassadors

    Yes. It was a shame when the British Council had a strategy change and scaled down its presence here to target other countries.

    I helped organise Intermediate, a seminar that brought a dream list of interesting people to Auckland, including John Peel, Lynn Barber and -- now here's some symmetry -- The Guardian's Wikileaks main man David Leigh.

    It didn't pay (why do I do so many things that don't pay?) but they fed and watered us very well, and I got to hang out with John Peel and Sheila, so I think I made on the deal.

    Also, Damian once received a British Council scholarship to Oxford.

    The idea, like the IVP, was to present British culture and society to people of other nations in the hope of their good opinion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22848 posts Report Reply

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