BERKELEY, CALIF. — I am at the 5th Annual Reva and David Logan Investigative Reporting Symposium, a gathering of the top investigative journalists that happens each year at University of California at Berkeley. Lowell Bergman, a professor at the school and former “60 Minutes” producer and longtime investigative journalist, brings together an invite-only crowd of journalists, technologists, academics and more. The title of the conference is “Leaks, Laws & Lies” and will include a live Skype call with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
(You can see previous coverage of post Logan Symposiums by PBS MediaShift here.)
My goal was to live-blog the Symposium, but due to issues with Internet access, I was only able to take quick live notes, which I’m now posting on MediaShift. The highlight of the first day of the conference was the appearance via Skype of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, who is under house arrest in the U.K. A panel called “The War on WikiLeaks included representatives from the New York Times, Guardian and Der Spiegel, all news outlets that worked with and published the leaks from WikiLeaks, including the Afghan War Logs, Iraq War Logs and international cables from the U.S. State Department.
New York Times executive editor Bill Keller at one point was asked why he had described Julian Assange in such a critical way in a story after posting the leaked material. Keller said he had never met Assange and that his description of Assange came from what reporters told him. Later, Assange joined the panel via Skype, and the warmth quickly left the room. None of the panelists wanted to ask Assange a question, until Keller attacked Assange for saying that the U.S. media didn’t care about what happened in the rest of the world. Meanwhile, Assange looked over the panel from a large projection screen, almost like a world leader via satellite.
Below are my detailed notes of what people said on that panel, and the intro before the panel. These are not exact quotes but are paraphrases of what the principals said. I also took some videos of some of Assange’s answers, and will posting the best of those as well.
Intro from Lowell Bergman
Lowell Bergman, UC Berkeley: Our investigative reporting program is totally privately funded, so Jerry Brown can’t slash our budget.
People in our audience are from Latvia, Japan, Germany, the widest group we’ve had, with people who’ve won Oscars, Pulitzer Prizes. Not just journalists but also financiers, law enforcement, faculty, students, and even PR flacks.
David Logan passed away but his sons are here…I learned that David Logan was a man of many interests, from a jazz afficianado, he had Picasso drawings and he eventually funded the chair at Berkeley for me to teach here. We also have investigative journalism fellowships here.
Six months ago I got a grant from Knight for a study about collective work in investigations that’s being done by a former fellow. For the next year and a half, we’re going to do a study on collective investigative reporting, create a guide and set up standards and procedures for how to work together. We’ll talk more about collaboration on the WikiLeaks panel.
Non-profits can’t afford legal counsel so we have an active group helping them. Hewlett Packard found information about journalists including John Markoff of the New York Times. He sued and won a quarter million dollars, and he gave us $100,000 to give out a Markoff Award, with a drawing of John on it. We give it out to our low maintenance supporters. This year the winners are Bob Bishop, and Herb and Marion Sandler.
Something new for us: We’ll have a series of talks about WikiLeaks, along with a videotape we produced with Julian Assange. He was here last year, and can’t be here this year, obviously. We did send an invitation to Bradley Manning but he can’t make it. We’ll have two brief talks, Julian’s tape and then the panel, and if we can pull it off, Julian will be on his way back to his residence, he will try to get there in time by the end of the panel, and will join us by Skype. And will be on during lunch to answer questions.
Julian is not really a source. He’s a new kind of person, with a new kind of vocation. We all need to do a lot of thinking about it. He’s not a source, and he’s not a legacy journalist. He’s an advocate and that’s not rare among journalists these days.
Bradley Manning is being held without charges and is in solitary confinement in conditions that are close to torture. Daniel Ellsberg, who’s in Hawaii and can’t be here, was indicted under the Espionage Act, but was only saved because they broke into his office. Today a liberal administration is holding him under bad conditions and no one is protesting it. Those are my blunt observations of what is going on. And the leaks continued.
Mark Feldstein, author: This is a Cliff’s Notes of the history of leaks. Thomas Jefferson even leaked information himself. President Buchanan leaked information about President Polk. The only time it related to national security was in World War II when the Chicago Tribune wrote that the U.S. broke a secret code, but it wasn’t really a threat to national security. In the atomic era the government started using the Espionage Act from World War I to prosecute leakers. Newspapers self-censored themselves at the request of the government.
Jack Anderson, a syndicated columnist, was the WikiLeaks of the ’40s and ’50s, and his column went out to 1,000 newspapers, so it was hard to censor it everywhere. Anderson would have news conferences and hand out documents to make sure newspapers didn’t miss it. He was a seasoned journalist and could handle himself better than Julian Assange. The White House plotted to kill him by poison. He blackmailed the White House, to make them back off. Assange is not quite that sophisticated.
Then came the Pentagon Papers in the ’70s and Nixon and his administration tried to stop them, and turned it into a cause celebre. Now we have WikiLeaks, with national security documents able to be disseminated in a click of a mouse.
Larger lessons? All administrators want to control the agenda, exaggerate harm, want to stop the leaks. None have come to grips with the fact that the biggest threat to national security is not the press, not leaks, but mistakes by government policy. Leaks are as old as apple pie and that’s why they’ll continue.
Julian Assange Video
Julian Assange: The U.S. government is saying that any form of collaboration between a source and investigative journalists is espionage. That’s why the New York Times is saying they were not collaborating, but that we’re just a source. But the truth is that it was a collaboration. The grand jury is investigating espionage and the White House is pushing an angle that collaboration between journalists and sources is illegal. We all know how investigative journalism works. You call up a source, meet them at a cocktail party and get information.
That interpretation will result in making government completely unaccountable to investigations. You’ll hear Bill Keller of the New York Times say they work hand in glove with the government. I do say that news organizations and journalists must understand their role to hold government and other powerful people to account. It’s not to be popular or be a propagandist for organizations.
People say to me, “I could never do what you do.” I have fears just like all of you do. The key to courage is simply understanding what the risks are and taking actions accordingly. And not being scared to challenge and see whether the risk is correct.
Panel: The War on WikiLeaks
Moderator: Jack Shafer, Slate
Panel: David McCraw of the New York Times, Holger Stark of Der Spiegel, Bill Keller of the New York Times, Gabriel Schoenfeld, Hudson Institute, Nick Davies, Guardian.
Shafer: WikiLeaks has served as a valuable archive for documents and insight into many secretive groups like Scientology, Rand Corp. and others. I’m hoping to run the most incendiary panel and discussion of the symposium.
Nick Davies of the Guardian: I heard about Bradley Manning being arrested. The most interesting story was all the documents. I found these chat logs on Wired, with someone purporting to be Bradley Manning says he finds near-criminal back deals all over the world. That it should be seen all over the world. It’s breathtaking and horrifying. As a reporter, it sends shivers down your spine.
I set out to find someone at WikiLeaks to tell their story. I made contact with people all over the world, and wanted to get in touch with Julian Assange. I found out he was flying into Brussels to make a speech, but was afraid of arrest. He figured it was a high profile place where he wouldn’t be grabbed. I talked to him in the European Parliament building. So how could I convince him to give me the story, someone in the mainstream media? There was a physical threat to him.
This is a very political landscape, but we can reduce that if we create an alliance to give Julian power he didn’t have. The New York Times came up as part of that alliance because it would help to have the most powerful newspaper on our side. I hooked up with Julian, and he is wonderful and strange. He was crashed out at 3 pm after a flight from Australia, I woke him up and talked to him for 6 hours. Julian could see the value and wanted to talk about the possibilities.
He agreed to give information to the Guardian, the New York Times and Der Spiegel in four packets. The Afghan War Logs, the Iraqi War Logs, the diplomatic cables and something that hasn’t been published yet. How to get it? I left with nothing, Julian created a website and gave me a password made by the logos on napkins. That was the crown jewels in the journalism world.
Bill Keller, NY Times: Julian Assange has had his revenge, because we have to show up for an unlimited number of panel discussions. I’m going to skip my time and believe that the most interesting part will be the Q&A.
Holger Stark, Der Spiegel: We’re actually still in touch with Julian Assange, unlike the other news organizations. We published in September 2010 an interview with him, and he was very angry because people said he was acting like a dictator. I spent a weekend with him discussing many things, and we are still going through another project with WikiLeaks. I’ve been asked how much WikiLeaks changed journalism. It has changed journalism and brought a revolutionary thing to journalism with an anonymous dump of documents and something no one has done before. But journalism has changed WikiLeaks more than WikiLeaks has changed journalism.
They used to post everything they found on the Internet. Last summer he planned to dump the entire Afghan War Logs with all sources online. We all told him it was irresponsible, you can’t do that, and he agreed to change that. When we published the Irag War Logs, we realized they had to be redacted. When we published the cables, he let the publishers decide what to publish. It was handed over to the media.
WikiLeaks is much more a journalism organization than it was before.
David McCraw, NY Times: There are circumstances when the press can break the Espionage Act. It’s a complicated topic. If the government was secretly monitoring every mosque in the U.S., it might help national security but it also might not be legal and should be exposed. There’s a very high standard that needs to be met with the First Amendment and Espionage Act before we can show that the press has broken that act. The system does in fact work.
We understand there’s a responsibility and there’s a way we should do this. The prosecution understands they shouldn’t prosecute newspapers that are publishing this. There hasn’t been a single prosecution of a news organization under that act.
Q&A with Panel
Shafer: Julian was listening in on his cell phone. I’ll ask a softball question to Bill Keller. We all know that publications will work with the government before publishing sensitive information.
Keller: With the Afghan War Logs, the government didn’t want to work with us at all because they didn’t want to legitimize what we were doing. We allowed them to argue why we shouldn’t publish them and wanted to get their reaction before publishing. They did, with caveats, make a statement about their relationship with Pakistan. When it got to the cables and the State Dept., they were prepared to be more engaged. We offered them the opportunity to make the case that we shouldn’t publish them at all, or question the theme of the documents. The scale of the document is without precedent, but the process was typical. We offered the State Dept. the chance to comment before publication.
It was a series of stories that ran over two weeks. They knew which documents we had, we told them the subject and allegations we were making. There were three categories of documents, and types of discussions: the easy calls to redact names of dissidents and sources; on the other end, stories that would be embarrassing but we didn’t think that would prevent us from publishing; and then things in between where we had lively discussions. We went along with the administration’s argument sometimes but not always.
We made editorial judgments on all the stories, and if Julian Assange says it’s a collaboration with government, he can say that. He gave us a large amount of information, we agreed to an embargo date and that was it. He didn’t see the articles, he had no input into the journalism we did. So in my view it’s not a collaboration with him or with the government. We gave the government a chance to have their say.
Shafer: Gabriel, can you make the argument that the public doesn’t have the right to know?
Schoenfeld: Yes, in some cases, journalists should not publish how to create an anthrax bomb. In one case someone published how to create an atomic bomb, but most of that information was in the public domain. My argument with Bill Keller is that I think the government does have a case against the leakers causing issues with national security.
An argument broke out between Nick Davies and Gabriel Schoenfeld. Here’s a video of that exchange:
Shafer: Holger, play press critic for me. How did Der Spiegel cover this? What was the focus?
Stark: Sure, I will. We were interested to see how the U.S. government would respond. The U.S. government didn’t want to put pressure on the press but all on WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. We’ll see that in the next weeks and months, they’ll try to show that WikiLeaks is not a journalistic enterprise. How did we look at the documents? Not much differently than the other news organizations did. Maybe we published a bit more that would be a scandal in the U.S., about a task force that was set up to capture and kill leaders in Afghanistan. That’s something we don’t have in the German army, so we investigated those things more. We invested a lot of research into what Hillary Clinton was doing to collect intelligence at the UN.
Shafer: Bill, you describe Assange as smelling like he hadn’t bathed in days. Do you have anything to add to that? Is that any way to talk about sources? That won’t encourage more people to be sources, will it?
Keller: The fourth packet of information won’t come to us, we know that. By the time I wrote that piece about Assange, it was an attempt to describe what we did and why we did in narrative form. It could have been written like a master’s thesis, but it had some snippets of color. I never met Julian Assange, we only had phone conversations. I reported from what our reporters told me in their reporting. That was only one small part of the article I wrote.
He was also the story and was a public figure, and is a complicated public figure. I don’t presume to make any bumper sticker statements about him.
Q: How do you think you would handle new leaks, and what effect will new copycat WikiLeaks-type groups have?
Keller: We could set up drop boxes of information. There’s now OpenLeaks, and Al Jazeera has set up a dropbox but nothing has come along. We had a lot of time with introspection and second guessing, and we think we handled it right.
McCraw: There are always concerns about authenticity. The security firm from Bank of America wanted to dump fake documents to WikiLeaks, so we have the same concerns we had before with info from a plain brown envelope. Every time we had a discussion about this.
Keller: There has been a big effect of WikiLeaks documents in North Africa. There was an effect in Tunisia, which sparked other protests. We can argue whether that has been good or bad, but it has had an impact on the street.
Stark: We have a duty to publish these things, the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world and it’s the role of democracy to publish them.
Q&A with Julian Assange
UPDATE (5/13/11): The Symposium has finally released the full video of the panel session with Julian Assange, in much higher quality than what I had. You can watch the whole thing below. Assange comes on for a Q&A at the 1 hour, 45 minute mark of the video.
Here are videos I shot of some of the Q&A that happened between the audience and WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.
Q: What was in the fourth packet?
Q: How well did the media cover the leaks?
Julian Assange on how the U.S. media doesn’t care about the world.
What will happen for future sources of leaks?
True Grit Panel Intro
Michael Isikoff: I’ve gone from an old print guy to network broadcast correspondent, and have had culture shock. I’m on NBC News and pitch stories to various shows, sometimes with success. I sold “The Today Show” on a story about a possible presidential candidate, and they bought it and were going to do it, and we had a back and forth about the script. A producer wanted some changes, and was ready to run it, and then I got a message. “I haven’t been able to get to it because Lindsey Lohan fell down.” I thought it was a joke but it wasn’t, and “The Today Show” went to DefCon 3!
I was an ink-strained wretch with Newsweek for years. Newsweek was sold and I was looking for a job and took a job with NBC News, and they put out a release saying Isikoff will be a multi-platform journalist. I had no idea what it meant or how to do it. The best explanation I heard was from a cameraman, who said, “You want to get on ‘The Nightly News’ you might at best get about 2 minutes, that’s like being above the fold on a front page. And then everything else is where you put out the information. You write a text piece, you put documents online and web extras, and put them all online. It’s the multiplier effect.
Does it work? I have no idea. On a couple occasions it seemed to work. We did a piece on the 10th anniversary of the U.S.S. Cole. It worked fine, we had a piece on broadcast, and on the web I got some newly declassified documents about the bombing. I did a story recently on Anonymous, the group of computer hackers, who shut down MasterCard and Visa in defense of WikiLeaks last year. I had someone on Anonymous willing to come on camera to explain how they work, describing how they got onto a secure service. I had a web piece that was supposed to go with it, it was all teed up. The web extra was ready to go live, and I emailed the source and told him to watch ‘Nightly News’ and he emailed back and said, ‘I know, I’ve already read it online.’
It appeared that Anonymous had penetrated the NBC web system to read the post before it had been gone live! But it wasn’t really the case, because someone had actually posted it early online. It’s all interesting, and fun, but whether it works are not is another question. Today we Twitter, we blog, we gab on TV, but in the end it comes down to producing valuable and important content. In our brave new world, it’s about content, content, content — that’s the only thing people will remember.
I’ll be back at the Logan Symposium tomorrow to cover a panel on collective work and another on non-profit investigative journalism.
Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.
> Collective, Non-Profit Investigative Journalism Takes Spotlight at Logan by Mark Glaser