The Walkley Awards are the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzers: that nation's most prestigious award for excellence in journalism. Last night, the Walkley Foundation awarded its highest distinction -- for "Most Outstanding Contribution to Journalism" -- to WikiLeaks, whose leader, Julian Assange, is an Australian citizen. The panel cited the group's "courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency," and hailed it for having "applied new technology to penetrate the inner workings of government to reveal an avalanche of inconvenient truths in a global publishing coup." As I've noted before, WikiLeaks easily produced more newsworthy scoops over the last year than every other media outlet combined, and the Foundation observed: "so many eagerly took advantage of the secret cables to create more scoops in a year than most journalists could imagine in a lifetime." In sum: "by designing and constructing a means to encourage whistleblowers, WikiLeaks and its editor-in-chief Julian Assange took a brave, determined and independent stand for freedom of speech and transparency that has empowered people all over the world."
What makes this award so notable is that the United States -- for exactly the same reasons the Foundation cited in honoring WikiLeaks' journalism achievements -- has spent the last year trying to criminalize and destroy the group, with some success. Showing the true colors of America's political class, U.S. politicians like Dianne Feinstein plotted to prosecute WikiLeaks for its journalism and Joe Lieberman thuggishly demanded that private corporations cut off all funds to the group (most of which complied), while others, like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, branded them Enemy Combatants and called for them to be treated like Terrorists. Meanwhile, the Obama administration --- while parading around the world as defenders of Internet freedom and a free press -- harassed its supporters with laptop seizures at airports and Twitter subpoenas. Recall that the Pentagon, all the way back in a top secret 2008 report, declared WikiLeaks -- which also received the 2009 award from Amnesty International for excellence in New Media -- an enemy of the state and plotted how to destroy it.
It is telling indeed that the U.S. -- with the backing of its subservient allied governments -- has devoted itself to the destruction of the world's most effective journalistic outlet. It is equally telling that the Obama administration has subjected Bradley Manning -- who is accused of (more accurately: credited with) having exposed to WikiLeaks and then the world endless amounts of illegality and corruption -- to pre-trial detention conditions so harsh and inhumane that its own State Department spokesman vehemently denounced that treatment and ultimately resigned over it. As I argued last weekend in the UC-Davis pepper-spraying context, the U.S. loves to flamboyantly offer rights . . . provided they are not effectively exercised to challenge those in power; as soon as they are, the exercise of those rights is severely punished rather than protected.
That is exactly what has been done to WikiLeaks by the U.S. Government: serious threats and punishment meted out extra-legally to this group for the crime of adversarial journalistic exposure of government wrongdoing (in contrast to the large American media outlets that typically serve the Government's interests and thus get patted on the head). The awarding of this prestigious journalism award in Australia makes that even more vividly clear. Equally telling is that while leading Australian journalists have vocally defended WikiLeaks for engaging in pure journalism, the American actors who play the role of journalists on TV in the U.S. have almost unanimously scorned and denounced the group for the greatest sin in their eyes: undermining, exposing and defying political authorities. In sum, China revealingly imprisons the Nobel Peace Prize winner, while the secrecy-obsessed U.S. Government works to destroy the group that has uniquely displayed a "courageous and controversial commitment to the finest traditions of journalism: justice through transparency."