Talking WikiLeaks with The Nation’s Greg Mitchell
For nearly four months, the Nation’s Greg Mitchell has steadfastly blogged “Cablegate,” the publication of some 250,000 US diplomatic cables released by the whistle-blowing organization WikiLeaks. What began as basic coverage of a media phenomenon quickly blossomed into the world’s most important clearinghouse for news and analysis concerning the WikiLeaks saga. Other media outlets have attempted similar up-to-the minute coverage, but none have been able to keep up with Mitchell’s one-man tour de force.
Mitchell has not only managed to keep on top of the seemingly never-ending revelations and scandals surrounding the WikiLeaks phenomenon but along the way has also found the time to punch out two books on the subject. The first, The Age of WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond), hit the shelves just before an avalanche of other books—largely focused on Assange—came out, and remains the most useful general account of WikiLeaks’ rise from relative obscurity to international prominence. The second book—Bradley Manning: Truth and Consequences—just published, looks at the man accused of feeding WikiLeaks the massive trove of embassy cables.
Foreign Policy in Focus contributor Michael Busch spoke with Mitchell—whom Glenn Greenwald calls “one of the nation’s most insightful journalists”—shortly after he celebrated the one hundredth day of his marathon WikiLeaks coverage to discuss the blog, the book, and the future of journalism in the age of WikiLeaks.
First of all, congratulations on one hundred days of blogging Cablegate!
Mitchell: [Laughs.] Thank you.
I hoped to start by asking about the blog. You joke that blogging WikiLeaks has left you feeling like Michael Corleone: just when you think you’re about to wrap it up, it pulls you back in. Where did the blog come from, and did you expect that that one hundred plus days after the initial Cablegate revelations dropped that you’d still be at it?
Mitchell: Well, I started blogging for The Nation last May, a daily blog that covered a wide variety of media subjects. It was kind of a live blog; every morning I’d put up a bunch of links and maybe three times a week I would write a standalone piece. Two or three times a year I would concentrate on live blogging some major media event that was breaking…the election last November, for example. It might be one or two days of concentrated coverage and that would be it.
With WikiLeaks, it was sort of the same thing. I wasn’t up and running when the “Collateral Murder” video was released, but I was when the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs dropped and live-blogged on them for a couple of days when they came out. With Cablegate, I received an alert right before it was about to happen and so when it began I was ready to go. I figured I would blog that first day of cable releases and the next, certainly.
And then it just kept going. With the Afghan and Iraq war log dumps there were things to cover for several days because the newspapers were bringing different angles to the story, there was a lot of analysis and reaction. But the material was all out there in its entirety at the start. It was just a matter of how people were analyzing it. With Cablegate you had all that, of course, because a lot came out immediately, but new information also kept coming. And on top of that there were suddenly more threats against WikiLeaks, and Julian Assange in particular, and there was more reaction from around the world because of all the various countries involved. So at the start, I thought the blogging might be two or three days and if it went a little longer than that, then fine.
I wouldn’t have kept doing it if there hadn’t been a strong reaction to it, if people hadn’t been egging me on. It proved to be very popular at The Nation. The editors originally were telling me that blogging Cablegate would be fine for ten days or even maybe even twenty, but they were also saying that I really should stop at some point because I had better things to do with my time. From day one, though—actually, for a hundred and two days now—it has been the most popular and most frequently viewed site at the Nation. And that popularity has made it acceptable with the editors that I keep going. Now they say, “Yeah, sure, concentrate on this!” So the extended blogging has really been the result of a combination of things: my interest, the fact that new documents keep emerging, and the fact that it is proving so popular around the world. It’s really taken on a life of its own.