WikiLeaks is trying to hang onto its dignity following its divorce from several mainstream media outlets by claiming it severed ties with those companies—not the other way around. The post-breakup confession comes after the anti-secrecy website's latest leak of e-mails from global security firm Stratfor in which the only major U.S. publications partnering with WikiLeaks included Rolling Stone and McClatchy—a very different roster compared with previous projects in which the secret-leaking website collaborated with international newspaper giants like The New York Times, The Guardian, El Pais and Le Monde. But WikiLeaks isn't some girl who no one invited to the prom, they'll have you know. On its Twitter account Sunday, WikiLeaks attempted to set the record straight:
To be sure, WikiLeaks has had rocky relations with those it's partnered with in the past. The dispute it cites with The New York Times is failing to publish a story on an elite U.S. Special Forces unit assigned to kill "high value" targets or hold them without trial. As Der Spiegel reported in 2010, “U.S. special forces with Task Force 373 are sent out on operations on a nightly basis." It noted that “In addition to taking suspected Taliban extremists prisoner, they have many times been responsible for eliminating wanted Taliban leaders.” (It should be noted that the Times has published some info on the elite unit, though clearly not as much as WikiLeaks would like.)
The dispute with The Guardian exploded last year after 251,000 un-redacted State Department cables were exposed online. The exposure happened because WikiLeaks gave The Guardian access to the files and a Guardian reporter, David Leigh, published the password in his book WikiLeaks; Inside Julian Assange's War on Secrecy. Leigh assumed WikiLeaks had changed the password in the time between when his book was published but it hadn't. A "heated blame fest" ensued.
While the media organizations may have their flaws, WikiLeaks itself isn't the easiest organization to work with either. In the current Stratfor leak project, Assange imposed a complicated embargo prohibiting the media partners from publishing stories on certain topics and geographic areas on certain days. As The Times former executive editor Bill Keller recalled in a lengthy New York Times piece, Assange came off as " arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous" when they worked together. Then there's the fact that in the past, WikiLeaks has imposed such extensives conditions on its partnerships that media companies have said it's not worth it. In December 2010, The Washington Post reported that WikiLeaks approached both CNN and The Wall Street Journal on a project but they both ended up refusing because WikiLeaks demanded they sign a confidentiality agreement stipulating that WikiLeaks gets $100,000 if either partner breaks the embargo.
In any case, it's clear that the media craves the scoops WikiLeaks delivers and WikiLeaks craves the soap box and story analysis the media delivers. While WikiLeaks claims it's writing off its institutional partnerships with companies like The Times and The Guardian, it seems clear individual reporters can still collaborate with Assange & Co.