Columbia, Wikileaks and the Power of the Paycheck

“Education is dangerous – Every educated person is a future enemy” Hermann Goering, second in command to Adolf Hitler

CNN has a brief article this morning on how reading the recently release diplomatic cables might cost students jobs with the federal government. This is largely in response to Columbia University bizarre statements warning students to refrain from discussing WikiLeaks or anything related to the cables in public forums.

It’s a frightening time when there are people at every level of government and society actively insisting that young people refrain from reading publicly available materials, no matter how they were procured. It is obviously to the best interest of the powers that be to prevent the dissemination of knowledge, particularly when that knowledge informs a deeper and more nuanced view of the world. Should young people stop reading newspapers now? Should turn our eyes away from things like Watergate? Irangate? The Pentagon Papers? Journalists regular use leaked information, it’s the hallmark of a free press, and the basis of a functioning democracy.

It was interesting that shortly after I read CNN’s bizarre story, I read a lengthy article on Lui Xiao Bo, the Chinese dissident who, although jailed, recently was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. China’s repressive government maintains that the Nobel committee, although Norwegian, awarded Liu the esteemed prize at the behest of Americans, who seek to tear down and humiliate China.

The link between these two articles was impressive to me. Here, on the one hand, we have a miserable Chinese government who seeks to suppress information damning to it’s government by jailing dissidents and creating technological firewalls to keep it’s population in the dark, and, on the other hand, we have members of the insidious American political machine exploiting the economic vulnerability of the American populace to prevent them from knowing how their government operates around the world.

On top of this, we have a respected educational institution like Columbia (Ivy League!) enabling such threats, contrary to the mission of universities everywhere to develop a thinking and critical populace. What a great way to inspire future thinkers. Disappointing. Perhaps you should put Fox News in charge of your University paper now, Columbia.

I don’t like Assange nor do I respect his motivations, but I do think that what WikiLeaks does is important from a journalistic standpoint. If the American government is worried about leaks to the press and the world, it has to work harder to streamline it’s internal office policies. However, once the cat is out of the bag and in the hands of the citizenry, it has to respect the rights to the free dissemination of information and open discussion of political issues, no matter how damning they may be to current members of government, or even to diplomacy. Otherwise, we become China. Or Myanmar. Or Saudi Arabia. Or North Korea. Or Iran.

Is that what we really want to be?

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

2 responses to “Columbia, Wikileaks and the Power of the Paycheck”

  1. Kirkpad says :

    This was a great post. However, I’m curious as to why you don’t like Assange.

  2. Pete Larson says :

    Simply put, I just don’t like the guy. While I think that what WikiLeaks does is important, I also think that Assange is a massive publicity hound, using this notoriety to only to promote his own ego. Not to say there aren’t tons of people who also promote their own ego, but they usually don’t maintain valuable sources of information dissemination.

    Wikileaks would have been much more effective as an anonymous and faceless group of information rebels. Now that Assange comes on CNN, the powers that be have an easy target.

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