Over the weekend, I attended a neighborhood Holiday brunch, and three of us started talking about WikiLeaks. We all concluded that we hadn’t yet formed an opinion but it struck us all as probably no big deal.
That in itself is news. The fact that three ordinary suburban family men in conservative Cincinnati didn’t condemn outright Julian Assange for leaking supposedly secret government documents demonstrates that people really can digest news events without the filter of the radio talk show host or the blathering Member of Congress telling them what to think.
The official line, of course, was that Assange was a traitor, a terrorist, and a rapist, and that the documents released to the world threatened national security. Nothing new in that; threats to security, real or imagined, virtually guarantee full-bore foment by officeholders and Presidential-wannabes. So it was entirely predictable when Joe Biden called Assange a “high-tech terrorist,” and various members of the Saudi royal family — paragons of transparent government, to be sure — howled that their behind-the-scenes contacts with Israel now made further rapprochement impossible. Public opinion polls excoriated Assange, and the British government attempted to put the WikiLeaks maven in jail . . . to no avail.
Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks website has been all but wiped out through denial of service attacks. Defenders of Assange and his self-absorbed mission of freedom have returned the favor by attacking websites critical of the reclusive Australian. Apple has removed the WikiLeaks app, but the Android version is still for sale and download. Other than the New York Times (who else?), which exhaustively reported the content of the leaked documents, can anyone seriously claim they read much of anything that WikiLeaks posted? It’s all been a bit dull, really, and hard to sort out.
As the story wore on, revelations from the secret communiques that the French don’t like the British, and that nations in the Middle East are worried about Iran, drew less and less attention. Assange dropped out of the headlines, where he likely will stay until the next round of documents emerge.
I’m actually feeling that it’s a good thing my neighbors and I haven’t yet rushed to judgment on WikiLeaks. It indicates that in today’s media-soaked, hyperbolic public space, folks can tune out the official pomposity and over-the-top apocalypse that seem to accompany almost every news story these days, and still make up their own minds — or not — without prompting.