Praise be to those who are hacking into Sarah Palin’s incredibly boring looking website. Praise be to those who have frozen her credit cards. Praise be to those who are hacking Mastercard, Visa, PayPal, Amazon and others in retaliation for the recent arrest of Julian Assange and the attacks on Wikileaks.
…Yeah I said it…
And I’ll say it again …Wikileaks will go down as one of the most important intermediaries of real information this country, and the world, has seen in the past 50 years. Why 50 years? If you examine contemporary media history, you’ll quickly see how vital information has traditionally been vacuumed up by broadcast television and spit out into what can most commonly be summed up as short and bitter-tasting soundbites. Though television news has been a crucial medium within the field of journalism overall, it has inevitably had a negative impact on newspaper reading habits.
Before the beginning of the 1960’s, television was seen more as a form of entertainment. The real threat came against the film industry, which quickly began to panic in the shadows of a growing wave of television sales. Anyone could now tune in for shows like Perry Mason, I love Lucy, and The Twilight Zone through black and white images beaming from broadcast satellites from outer space (the same place Sarah Palin’s family immigrated from years ago).
Then something happened. In July 1962 a certain satellite was launched. The Telstar I. With that one move, television became an important medium for news. On that same day, live television originally appearing within the boundaries of the United States were suddenly being picked up in France. International news suddenly became viewable to anyone. Well, anyone who owned a television at least. There was a digital divide then, just as there is today. But to anyone who happened to own a television set, the world was yours. And best of all, you didn’t even have to leave your couch.
News became a shared experience. Or at least, so we thought. Instead of lining up at the water cooler to talk about the latest newspaper headlines – usually written by some working-class hometown kid who you knew from down the block – people were suddenly talking about the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite – a man who could be 2900 miles away but win you over with that raspy voice and neck tie about as thin as his hairline.
From there, not even the sky was the limit …
Kennedy and Nixon fought it out in the presidential debate. Next it was Kruschev vs. Kennedy, live on the air in 1962. This was so popular that we decided to tune in for Kennedy’s assassination the following year. Five years later it was Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. 60 Minutes aired for the first time in 1968. The landing on the moon, the destruction of the Challenger, the events in Waco, and the destruction of the Twin Towers. These are all events which have supposedly ‘brought us closer’. Events which have played out in real-time, for real human beings. People who have been leaning back in their chairs, watching the world play out before them with little means to fight back.
As part of “Fit to Print”, we have set out to understand not only how reading habits have changed over the past half century with the rapid deterioration of the newspaper industry, but also to learn how people are ‘leaning forward’, out from their television chairs and into their computer chairs (I didn’t say we haven’t become any less lazy).
On a recent trip to Seattle, we interviewed former Seattle P.I. editor Candace Heckman. Candace was laid-off with several other staffers when Hearst Newspaper Company decided to shut down the print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “Television really played a big role in our news ecosystem”, stated Candace. “I always saw the web as the opportunity for newspapers to take back what had been taken from them by television”.
You would have hoped.
As the events surrounding Wikileaks have unfolded, I can’t help but to look around and see a bunch of people who are getting off their asses. Finally. Maybe its the high unemployment rate or bone-chilling weather now drifting around the country, but whatever it is, it most certainly is interesting. While we were in Seattle and Portland this past week, everyone was talking about Wikileaks. Everyone from a young Seattle coffee shop kid with tats all over his arm, to an old-school newspaper publisher who still believes in print.
Fox News recently reported that more than 3,000 people have been participating in “Operation: Payback” – an organized cyber retaliation against those who have targeted Wikileaks. Sarah Palin has been receiving the shit-storm of this ‘payback’ after stating that Julian Assange is an “anti-American operative with blood on his hands.” ‘Operative’ seems like a word she probably looked up when killing moose during a taping of her recent reality television show.
The fact of the matter is, Assange has willingly turned himself in. Now the officials have no fucking clue what to do with him. Genius.
If Assange is what he is alleged to be – a rapist – then let him be judged in a court of law. Something he is clearly willing to do. But aren’t we forgetting something here? Oh right, the quarter-million confidential American diplomatic cables that have been left for us to discover on our own.
Wikileaks has presented something important within the world of journalism. Yes, ‘journalism’. That all too sacred word. What they have presented is the fact that you don’t have to have the backing of a traditional news organization (print or broadcast) to get important information out there. The government and mainstream media have been in bed with each other for too long. It’s no wonder we have been hearing too many stories about the ‘dangers’ of Wikileaks instead of the potential freedoms it may present.
Without hunters and gatherers like Assange (love him or hate him), governments will become more oppressive, viewpoints more polarized, and societies less inclined to participate in something they can actually fight back against. Television, web and radio broadcasts will only give you the outline of what Wikileaks has to offer. This time you have to seek out the information yourself. If you care to know, that is.
We may never win the battle on big government transparency, but at least Sarah Palin will have her card declined the next time she goes to buy some moose marinade!