New York Times Editor Bill Keller’s lengthy memoir of and apology for his paper’s involvement with Wikileaks is a strange combination of People Magazine and scheisse porn. The People parts include his slavering recounting of encounters with authority (“I have vivid memories of sitting in Oval Office […]”, “Holbrooke […] pulled me away from the crowd to show me the fusillade of cabinet-level e-mail ricocheting through his BlackBerry”). The scheisse parts come from his clear desire to wiggle down his monogrammed silk boxers and take runny dump on the head of Julian Assange. We learn that Assange has B.O., that he “considers sex as both recreation and violation”, that he dressed like a homeless person until he became a celebrity, and that he sometimes skips down sidewalks.
Above all, we learn that the Times’ best and brightest, some of whom have won actual Pulitzer Prizes, were all that stood between us and the utter anarchy that the Wikileaks’ revelations threatened to unleash. This, on Keller’s telling, is just part and parcel of the history of the Gray Lady, which was doing just fine, thank you, before Assange showed up:
At least until this year, nothing The Times did on my watch caused nearly so much agitation as two articles we published about tactics employed by the Bush administration after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The first, which was published in 2005 and won a Pulitzer Prize, revealed that the National Security Agency was eavesdropping on domestic phone conversations and e-mail without the legal courtesy of a warrant. The other, published in 2006, described a vast Treasury Department program to screen international banking records.
Notice the time period (since 2001) and the qualifier (“on my watch”). That’s how you can get away with stroking yourself over your rag’s awesome performance during the Iraq War while neglecting to mention the Judy Miller-sized elephant in the room.
Setting aside the massive, sticky load of preening and self-justification that occupies a good part of this emission, it’s really remarkable how far out of his way Keller went to shit on a source. Julian Assange is a wacko, but so are a lot of potential leakers. A journalist can do his duty without accusing his source of having dirty socks and skidmarks in his underwear, especially when doing so will only deter other sources. Who wants to risk their career and perhaps their life for someone who’s apparently more concerned with your grooming habits than the information you’re bringing to the table?
My guess is that Keller’s arrogance is driven by two factors. First, he and his establishment paper have become ever more uncomfortable the anti-establishment role that printing Wikileaks’ information represents, and his lengthy apology to the Village was probably spurred at least in part by fears that they would be written out of the sphere of the serious. Second, he’s building his own version of Wikileaks, so he thinks it is safe to cut out the middleman.
What this arrogant fool doesn’t realize is that Wikileaks’ success comes from a combination of technology and credibility. Assange may be a strange ranger, but he and the other Wikileaks gang aren’t the ones who burned Bradley Manning, and they’re not going around talking about Manning’s personal habits. The next Mannings will keep that in mind, and I doubt that many of them will be choosing Kellers “E-Z Pass lane for leakers”.