How the mighty Washington Post, the newspaper that brought down a U.S. president by its Watergate investigations in the early 1970s, has changed. Now, the foremost newspaper in the most powerful city in the world, the go-to guardian of free speech and the public’s right to know in the nation’s capital, has taken the point to bury the significance of the biggest leak of U.S. military operations in history.
The collective official reaction to the WikiLeaks.org’s release of 92,000 secret documents on the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan has been a big, bad “Ho Hum!” The best way to swiftly force a huge story off the front pages is to ignore it.
In the case of the WikiLeaks revelations, they couldn’t exactly be suppressed altogether (after all, there is the Internet these days), so the tactic has been to treat them in a dismissive fashion. Official government and military spokesmen set the tone, saying “there’s really nothing new here,” and the slavish major media, led by the Post, followed in lockstep. So much for the efficacy of “whistle blower” efforts these days.
Behind its front page on Tuesday, with the headlines, “After War Leak, Anger But No Calls for Change,” and “Officials and Experts Largely Dismiss Impact on Afghan Conflict,” the Post editorial writers harrumph, “Wikihype: The Release of Thousands of Classified Field Reports on the Afghan War Reveals…Not Much.” Then by yesterday, there was no follow up coverage at all as the paper left it to a solitary columnist, Dana Milbank, to report dispassionately on Tuesday’s spirited congressional debate in advance of authorizing more funding for the war.
Well, for starters, as far as “minimal impact” is concerned, the WikiLeak revelations surely heated up a lot of U.S. legislators, leading to an unprecedented 114 votes against the supplemental funding in the House Tuesday, up from a couple dozen the last time such a vote was taken.
The documents confirm massive errors, including hundreds of civilian deaths, “black operations” assassinations without regard to legal due process, and, perhaps worst of all, the jaundiced use by Pakistani ISI intelligence forces of U.S. funds to aid the Afghan insurgency in its war against the U.S. Among many other things, they also document that 95 percent of suicide attackers come out of two specific schools in northern Afghanistan.
Accompanying these leaks is video footage of Afghan military forces, those allegedly assisting the U.S. military and preparing to secure the country on their own, openly inhaling drugs while on duty. Footage shows one U.S. soldier, asked to comment on this, saying such Afghan soldiers are unreliable and “can’t do anything but sit there and giggle.” Among other places this was aired on the Daily Show Tuesday night.
Then there is the recent PBS documentary called “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan” that shows how powerful tribal leaders, ostensible “allies” of the U.S. effort, subject street boys to sexual rituals, dressing them up and making them dance as women while surrounded by large circles of adult men who then demand sexual favors.
While two Virginia legislators made no specific reference to the WikiLeaks Tuesday, their actions spoke loudly, surely reflecting their heightened concerns. U.S. Senator James Webb announced yesterday he’d teamed with Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. The two are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and sent a letter to President Obama, requesting legislation to establish that any bilateral agreement governing U.S. military operations (such as between the U.S. and Pakistan) by submitted to the U.S. Senate for advice and consent.
Then, Virginia Rep. Jim Moran issued a statement as he voted “no” on the supplemental funds. A senior member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, he stated, “At this point, the future of Afghanistan can only be determined by the Afghan people. Our continued presence there serves merely to inflame hostility against our efforts and long time interests in an al Qaeda-free Afghanistan. It’s time to fundamentally rethink our strategic objectives in Afghanistan and start the process of bringing our troops home.”
As for the Post, no one there should be scratching their heads wondering why they’re losing readership hand-over-fist. They’re the ones who are obsolete and irrelevant, not the WikiLeaks reports.
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at email@example.com