WikiLeaks

In 2007, the organization and media website, WikiLeaks, launched on the Internet. According to the WikiLeaks About page, their “goal is to bring important news and information to the public” (WikiLeaks). “WikiLeaks has sustained and triumphed against legal and political attacks designed to silence our publishing organisation, our journalists and our anonymous sources. The broader principles on which our work is based are the defence of freedom of speech and media publishing, the improvement of our common historical record and the support of the rights of all people to create new history” (WikiLeaks).

 

WikiLeaks reminds me of the Pentagon Papers scandal. In 1971, with the help of Daniel Ellsberg, the New York Times published secret government documents covering up things that happened during the Vietnam War. According to Wikipedia, Daniel Ellsberg was “initially charged with conspiracy, espionage and theft of government property, but the charges were later dropped after prosecutors investigating the Watergate Scandal soon discovered that the Nixon Administration had ordered the so-called White House Plumbers to engage in unlawful efforts to discredit Ellsberg” (Pentagon Papers).

The public has a right to know about what is going on in the world. WikiLeaks often exposes stories that are rather controversial. Some individuals believe that WikiLeaks is actually run by certain government and intelligence agencies; however, WikiLeaks is part of the Sunshine Press (WikiLeaks). WikiLeaks embodies the new media trend. Since everything from dating to shopping to receiving news is now done online, WikiLeaks got ahead of the trend and created a site where individuals can anonymously send in important information to expose stories to the public. In 2009, WikiLeaks won the Amnesty International Human Rights Reporting Award. I think there have been and will be more lawsuits brought against WikiLeaks, but the First Amendment gives freedom to the press. I don’t think there will be any passing legislation against WikiLeaks anytime soon.  

  

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The Pentagon Papers- Courtesy of Newseum

When I first heard about the Pentagon Papers, I was taking a Media Law & Ethics class. The class dealt with the First Amendment which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (US Constitution Bill of Rights).

During the late 60s and early 70s when much of the United States was protesting being involved in the Vietnam War, President Nixon was telling the country his plan to get out of Vietnam. However, when Daniel Ellsberg discovered the Pentagon Papers, officially called the Vietnam Relations, 1945–1967: A Study Prepared by the Department of Defense, he believed the Nixon administration was not to be trusted and the public must know the truth (Pentagon Papers). In 1971, Ellsberg released the confidential government documents to the New York Times who published the papers on the front page. The President ordered for a restraining order to be issued to stop further publications of the New York Times. After a judge agreed, Ellsberg gave the papers to the Washington Post. The same thing happened again. The most read newspapers in the country went to court saying the restraining orders went against their First Amendment rights of freedom from government abridging the press. The supreme court overturned the ruling and ruled 6:3 in favor of the press (The Pentagon Papers).

This was the first time in history that anyone, including the government, tried to halt the printing of the press. The case about the Pentagon Papers shows how important freedom of the press is. Daniel Ellsberg felt that the public needed to know what was going on regardless of the fact the papers were classified. This case forever changed the press.

Video courtesy of Newseum.