From Judith Miller to Julian Assange

Our press somehow got itself on the wrong side of secrecy after September 11th.

9 Dec 2010 6:41 pm 36 Comments

For the portion of the American press that still looks to Watergate and the Pentagon Papers for inspiration, and that considers itself a check on state power, the hour of its greatest humiliation can, I think, be located with some precision: it happened on Sunday, September 8, 2002.

On that morning the New York Times published a now notorious story, reported by Michael R. Gordon and Judith Miller, in which nameless Bush Administration officials claimed that Iraq was trying to buy the kind of aluminum tubes necessary to build a nuclear centrifuge. Press critic Michael Massing, who in 2004 reviewed these events, describes what happened:

Gordon and Miller argue that the information about the aluminum tubes was not a leak. “The administration wasn’t really ready to make its case publicly at the time,” Gordon told me. “Somebody mentioned to me this tubes thing. It took a lot to check it out.” Perhaps so, but administration officials were clearly delighted with the story. On that morning’s talk shows, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice all referred to the information in the Times story. “It’s now public,” Cheney said on Meet the Press, that Saddam Hussein “has been seeking to acquire” the “kind of tubes” needed to build a centrifuge to produce highly enriched uranium, “which is what you have to have in order to build a bomb.” On CNN’s Late Edition, Rice said the tubes “are only really suited for nuclear weapons programs, centrifuge programs.” She added: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”—a phrase lifted directly from the Times.

We know from retrospective accounts that the Bush White House had already decided to go to war. We know from the Downing Street Memo that "the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy." We know that the Bush forces had decided to rev up their sales campaign that week because ''from a marketing point of view you don't introduce new products in August," as chief of staff Andrew Card brazenly put it. We know that the appearance of the tubes story in the Times is what allowed Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and Rice to run with it on the Sunday shows, because without that they would have been divulging classified information and flouting their own rules. We also know that the tubes story was wrong: they weren't for centrifuges. And yet it was coming from the very top of the professional pyramid, the New York Times. Massing again:

The performance of the Times was especially deficient. While occasionally running articles that questioned administration claims, it more often deferred to them. (The Times‘s editorial page was consistently much more skeptical.) Compared to other major papers, the Times placed more credence in defectors, expressed less confidence in inspectors, and paid less attention to dissenters. The September 8 story on the aluminum tubes was especially significant. Not only did it put the Times‘s imprimatur on one of the administration’s chief claims, but it also established a position at the paper that apparently discouraged further investigation into this and related topics.

The reporters working on the story strongly disagree. That the tubes were intended for centrifuges “was the dominant view of the US intelligence community,” Michael Gordon told me. “It looks like it’s the wrong view. But the story captured what was and still is the majority view of the intelligence community—whether right or wrong"…

Asked about this, Miller said that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.”

That's not getting the story wrong. That's redefining the job as: reflecting what the government thinks.

This was the nadir. This was when the watchdog press fell completely apart: On that Sunday when Bush Administration officials peddling bad information anonymously put the imprimatur of the New York Times on a story that allowed other Bush Administration officials to dissemble about the tubes and manipulate fears of a nuclear nightmare on television, even as they knew they were going to war anyway.

The government had closed circle on the press, laundering its own manipulated intelligence through the by-lines of two experienced reporters, smuggling the deed past layers of editors, and then marching it like a trained dog onto the Sunday talk shows to perform in a lurid doomsday act.

"The jewel in the crown is nuclear,'' a senior administration official said in that Sep. 8, 2002 article. ''The closer he gets to a nuclear capability, the more credible is his threat to use chemical or biological weapons. Nuclear weapons are his hole card.'' Almost all the sources Gordon and Miller used were anonymous: "An Iraqi defector said… Administration officials also assert… administration hard-liners argue…"

"'The question is not, why now?'' the official added, referring to a potential military campaign to oust Mr. Hussein. ''The question is why waiting is better. The closer Saddam Hussein gets to a nuclear weapon, the harder he will be to deal with.''

The very notion of hard evidence was under attack, but the Times journalists, instead of discerning this fact and alerting us to it, were conduits for it:

Hard-liners are alarmed that American intelligence underestimated the pace and scale of Iraq's nuclear program before Baghdad's defeat in the gulf war. Conscious of this lapse in the past, they argue that Washington dare not wait until analysts have found hard evidence that Mr. Hussein has acquired a nuclear weapon. The first sign of a ''smoking gun,'' they argue, may be a mushroom cloud. (italics added)

Notice that when Michael Gordon told Massing that capturing the dominant view within the government was the job, even if that view was wrong and led the nation into war, and when Judy Miller told Massing her role wasn’t to "assess the government’s information" or perform an independent check on it, but simply to "tell readers of The New York Times what the government thought," it was two years after the nadir. And after the public rationale for the war was shown to be false. Plenty of time for reflection, but… where was the reflection? To this day Gordon doesn't think there was anything seriously wrong with his reporting, and he continues to appear on the front page of the New York Times.

When the Society of Professional Journalists gave Miller a First Amendment award it was October of 2005, three years after mushroom cloud Sunday. When David Gregory of NBC said there was nothing wrong with his and his colleagues' performance in examining Bush's case for war ("I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded…") six years had elapsed.

Today it is recognized at the Times and in the journalism world that Judy Miller was a bad actor who did a lot of damage and had to go. But it has never been recognized that secrecy was itself a bad actor in the events that led to the collapse, that it did a lot of damage, and parts of it might have to go. Our press has never come to terms with the ways in which it got itself on the wrong side of secrecy as the national security state swelled in size after September 11th. (I develop this point in a fuller way in my 14-min video, here.)

In May of 2004, the New York Times, to its great credit, finally went back and looked at its coverage of the build-up to war in Iraq. (Shamefully, NBC and the other networks have never done that.) But the Times did not look at the problem of journalists giving powerful officials a free pass by stripping names from fear-mongering words and just reporting the words, or of newspapers sworn to inform the public keeping secrets from that same (misinformed) public, of reporters getting played and yet refusing to ID the people who played them because they needed to signal some future player that the confidential source game would go on.

In its look back the Times declared itself insufficiently skeptical, especially about Iraqi defectors. True enough. But the look back was itself insufficiently skeptical. Radical doubt, which is basic to understanding what drives Julian Assange, was impermissible then. One of the consequences of that is the appeal of radical transparency today.

Simon Jenkins got at some of this in a Guardian column on Wikileaks: "Accountability can only default to disclosure. As Jefferson remarked, the press is the last best hope when democratic oversight fails." But at the nadir the last best hope failed, too. When that happens accountability defaults to extreme disclosure, which is where we are today. The institutional press isn't driving it; the wilds of the Internet are. To understand Julian Assange and the weird reactions to him in the American press we need to tell a story that starts with Judy Miller and ends with Wikileaks.

After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links…

Here is the 14-min video I did trying to puzzle through my own thoughts on Wikileaks. They are closely related to the argument I develop here.

"The watchdog press died; we have this instead." from Jay Rosen on Vimeo.

Marcy Wheeler (aka emptywheel) has a must-read reply to this post: Hatfill and Wen Ho Lee and Plame and al-Awlaki and Assange:

Now, I think Rosen actually misses a key step here: from where the press sees itself as the neutral conduit of what the government is thinking, to where the press thinks it’s leaks from the government can stand-in for due process in the Anwar al-Awlaki case, and from there to Assange. Recall how Dana Temple-Raston, a very good national security journalist, lectured Glenn Greenwald about how the leaks she had received justified the government’s targeting of al-Awlaki.

She's right. I left that out because I couldn't think of a good way to weave it in. But it's crucial. See my comment on the exchange with Temple-Raston at Adam Serwer's blog.

Glenn Greenwald at Salon: The media's authoritarianism and Wikileaks, also comments on this post: "Almost every radio and television show I've done over the last ten days concerning WikiLeaks — and most media accounts I read — have featured someone, somewhere, touting this lie, usually without contradiction: that WikiLeaks has indiscriminately dumped thousands of cables, whereas newspapers have only selectively published some." Indiscriminately dumped is a false claim, as Glenn shows.

Well, yeah.

PARIS — For many Europeans, Washington’s fierce reaction to the flood of secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks displays imperial arrogance and hypocrisy, indicating a post-9/11 obsession with secrecy that contradicts American principles.

I endorse almost everything my colleague Clay Shirky says in his post, Wikileaks and the Long Haul.

My earlier post on Wikileaks (July 26, 2010) Wikileaks, the World’s First Stateless News Organization.

I spoke Dec. 11th at this Personal Democracy Forum symposium on Wikilkeaks and Net freedom. The five key points I made (in 140 characters or less.)

1. It takes "the world's first stateless news organization" to show our news organizations how statist they really are.

2. The sources are voting with their leaks. That they chose to go to Wikileaks rather than the newspapers says something about the newspapers.

3. The watchdog press died. What's possible today is a distributed "eye on power" system that includes the old press as one component part.

4. It's said the state has a monopoly on the legal use of force. But the state cannot have a monopoly on the legitimate use of digital "force."

5. Everything a journalist learns that he cannot tell the public alienates him from the public. Wikileaks is built to prevent this alienation.

You can watch the archived livestream of the symposium here. My part is on panel 1, at 35:00.


Dean Procter says:

A start. We all make mistakes. Will Barrack Obama make the ultimate one?
As a NYTimes reader I expect the NYTimes editors will man up or it will die.
As I advised our Walkleys journalism awards winners last night.
Revolt. Be Great.

jeff montanye says:

isn’t it “barack”? whatever. re: watergate/pentagon papers (particularly latter and nyt). those were easier spills because they were on relatively unimportant topics, executive branch corruption/malfeasance and war in indochina. when it gets to the actual reason for u.s. domestic and foreign policy, the support of israel, the game changes.

Umair Haque famously defined the notion of ‘Information Abundance’ and ‘Attention Scarcity’… But there are many kinds of ‘information’, and it is now clear that high quality information (wikileaks) is both scarce, powerful and extremely valuable. Hense the exciting global polemic struggle now in play.

Yes, the Press more often than not acts as ‘The Fourth Estate’ ( and only on rare occasions do brave individuals have the courage to reshape this territory and re-set the counter back to 000… so we all may start again to re-build the kind of civil society western culture aspires to.

Julian Assange is the only person currently that seems to deserve that moniker of ‘extreme courage’ at this pivotal moment. More power to him, because it is clear that if rectionary forces do succeed in neutralising him, they will surely miss him when the myriad subsequent wikileak clones proliferate, become more radicalised and crucially, will be less predisposed to the self regulation and relative constraint shown so far by Assange and his organisation.

Re: Attention Scarcity – I’m not sure that this Wikileaks episode says that valuable information is scarce, actually. I’d argue that their media strategy is an acknowledgement that it’s too abundant. They filter it slowly through the press, because there’s only a certain amount we can pay attention to at a time. If they just released the cables, most of them would go ignored, while the press moved on to the next controversy in a week.

murmur55 says:

See: Julian Assange in Berkeley ¬ę zunguzungu for more of his experience with other journalists.

Suzie Kidder says:

Beautifully said.

The story explained above is nothing quantifiable to the magnitude of what these recent Wikileaks’ and threats of the Cablegates and big banks released and those yet to be released have caused.

The truth is that such secrets are met for those who can handle them,not the people of the world,for a fairly stable atmospheres than letting them out to the public to create confusions. That’s why they are called secrets. Not all secrets, I agree, should be handled by Wikileaks because it lacked the ability to comprehend secrets which can throw the world into confusions than the ones that can be of solutions.

I think Wikileaks need to access every bit of information leaked to them weighing them against their disadvantages and the advantages and balance the outcomes for a better releases. Not these ones creating enemity between leaders.Not those dug out from time-immemorial vaults and probably not those which are going to divide nations.

On the final note, I am on the support for freedom of expressions but not of destruction and confusion of the world. Not on attack and stealing of secrets documents(which by right is a crime). I hope they release Julian Assange soon and, he halt the release of the remaining top documents.

To Syd Walker,

There are STATE secrets, important to the well being of the STATE as a whole. The Nuclear Codes are a good example. And there are GOVERNMENT secrets, important to the well being of the politicians currently in power.

Wikileaks has distributed a LOT of the later, to the extent that we now KNOW (rather than can guess at) our leaders attitudes to various governments and regimes, and their attitudes to us and each other. Politicians and regimes have been embarrassed by having their public doublespeak revealed for what it is.

BTW, Despite the b/s being spouted by various politicians and commentators, no one has been able to find anyone who has been caused direct injury by being identified as part of any leak distributed by Wikileaks. That suggests to me that they are taking the safety of both informants and the various intelligence staff ‘on the ground’ very seriously.

over 900 billion a year on (public)education and the people can’t handle the truth? Is the U.S. education system a farce? ..

I wonder if you appreciate comments from someone whose scepticism of mass media bona fides runs (or so it would seem) considerably deeper than your own?

First, was the nadir for the US media really September 8th 2002?

How about Noevember 22nd 1963 and the weeks, months and years that followed? How about the assassination of RFK and MLK? We now know, thanks to a civil case brought by the King family in the 1990s, that MLK was NOT killed by alleged ‘lone nut’ James Earl Ray. Has the mass media ever bothered to really inform, the American public about that?

How about September 11th 2001 and the aftermath? The offiical narrative of 9-11 is clearly bogus. It isn’t believed by any seriuous, honest intellect who looks into the topic with an open mind; yet the US mass media fails to inform the public about that, even nine year later.

Then there’s US mass media coverage of the middle east which is. to be blunt, so biased it’s a global joke. Even Brits and Australians get more balanced coverage about Israel. Believe me, that isn’t saying much.

Now… Wikileaks. Does it really signify the information gates have swung wide open, pushed from the ‘grassroots’ by courageous cyber-rebels? I’d like to believe that. But I very muich doubt that is anything but a partial explanation of the Wikileaks phenomenon.

A mass media that can play dumb over the assasination of a US President or the largest mass murder in American history – ignoring critics of the offical fables and relegating those critics to the fringes of mainstream discourse – could surely do the same with Wikileaks.

If Wikileaks didn’t suit the agenda of the mass media and the interests behind it, we’d be hearing precious little about Wikileaks. As it is…

Fool me once as the saying goes… but after a lifetime of deceit – I don’t believe the US media is capable of telling the truth about these kinds of crucial topics, absent new ownership. The current owners are clearly criminals.

We’ve discovered no such thing about any conspiracy-theory alleged “real assassins” of MLK. Nor on 9/11. Go read the Popular Mechanics article.

Conspiracy theorists such as you bollix up real skepticism.

gregorylent says:

i know no one who thinks nyt, nbc, et al are anything but government mouthpieces. like pravda, xinhua, etc. why would anyone think otherwise, apart from nationalism and ego? same in china, russia, wherever.

Jay –
How do you know – in any way whatsoever – what “drives Julian Assange?”

Why accept his supposed values at face value (indeed as some kind of bedrock truth) while (quite properly) excoriating journalists for accepting Bush Admin’s explanations after 9/11?

This story absolutely demands more skepticism, in my view…

Why is Assange’s motivation important one way or the other? The significance of WikiLeaks derives from the content of the data it publishes. Just look at how confused the network news became when they tried to judge the motives for the leaks rather than assess the insights they afforded.

No – Assange and Wikileaks are an actor in this, not a pure conduit. Assange has admitted he’s driving a story, and wants a result (the resignation of Obama for example). It matters, just as the NYT’s and Judith Miller’s motivation mattered in the Iraq War run-up.

Naturally, we consider the motives and political aims of – oh, for argument’s sake – Rupert Murdoch in the journalism he practices and pays for.

Same thing here. Assuming purity is a huge mistake, just as it was with Judith Miller.

But the documents we are reading were written by diplomats not by WikiLeaks. If we are considering motives in interpreting what we read — which we must — we should focus on those of the State Department not the conduit.

True, but have they all been released? Which ones have? What’s the timing on this release? Why did Assange lie about having them over the summer? How have they been chosen and edited – who did that? What expertise and background did they have? Indeed, what are their names?

We need to be as skeptical of an organization like Wikileaks as we are of the U.S. State Department or the New York Times.

Jon Husband says:

Same point, different words .. in the Guardian today:

John Pilger: Why are wars not being reported honestly?
The public needs to know the truth about wars. So why have journalists colluded with governments to hoodwink us?

@Tom —

The State Department itself has the complete information to answer your questions about whether WikiLeaks is acting as a good-faith conduit for this data dump. Its refusal either to contradict or to corroborate, or to address your appropriate concerns about selective releases, does us all a disservice.

In the absence of any disavowal of these cables by State, what we are left with is to take what is published on face value; and not to engage in speculation, one way or the other, about that which remains unreleased.

Andrew – I disagree entirely. State’s actions tell us nothing about Assange or Wikileaks’ governance. Indeed, compared to Wikileaks, State is an open organiztion. (There is some irony in the fact that under Obama, U.s. diplomacy has been more “open” than at any time in U.S. history, though some might rightfully say some of the steps it’s introduced may indeed be baby steps).

Wikileaks is the actor here and its silence, lack of transparency, and covert operations does us all disservice.

(Which is not to say Wikileaks is bad, just horribly flawed.)

Strangely Enough says:

“Wikileaks is the actor here and its silence, lack of transparency, and covert operations does us all disservice.”

Curiouser and curiouser…

What’s driving Julian Assange? I think the article below makes a credible case that Assange’s analysis is far beyond, or at least in a completely different direction, than anything hinted at in this article or by the learned responses.

The post you just read already links to that article.

Glad the link was there — too bad I missed and repeated it!

Enjoyed the piece and happy to see JM’s war reporting refreshed. Although CIA influencing the press (Church Committee report) or press-abetted PSYOPS (army interns at CNN in Gulf War 1) is more dramatic, perhaps the nadir is the rather boring late-stage predictable conclusion of the Chomsky-Herman Propaganda Model ūüôĀ

Ron Brynaert says:

Good article but it’s disingenuous to sort of claim that the New York Times was all pro-war until 2004..

Before the war, the Times sucked. After the war started, the Times – including Miller – became some of it’s toughest critics. I wrote about this a few years back at my blog, how Judith Miller was ‘proved fucking right” on the wack biolabs story she and Joby Warrick tore apart just a few weeks before she met Libby.

The white paper was released by the CIA mainly to fight back against NY Times stories…and the Plame leak, too (not just Wilson’s op-ed – which, of course, was also published by the Times).

(I’m not absolving the Times…just correcting the record a bit. And I think it was peer pressure from journalists and bloggers who criticized their pre-war coverage which led to them becoming tougher in 2003. Especially after Howard Kurtz got the leaked Judith Miller emails…and heck then the military itself went on a backlash against Miller and the Times so maybe they figured they were their own island. )

Also, no one wants to hear this, but believing that Judith Miller deserved to be in jail but Julian Assange doesn’t is hypocritical. Both should be protected by the First Amendment.

Wikileaks only exists because the mainstream media failed…

Redars of this blog will know we habv been following teh whole Wikileaks saga this week, and my intital annoyance with Wikileaks for (in my view( being too “gung ho” (see herer) has been counterbalanced with an annoyance at the “chattering classes”…

But Miller and Gordon weren’t telling us what the government thought. Nearly the opposite. They were telling us what the government wanted the public to think. That’s the distinction, and it’s a good reason to ban all anonymous sources who spool out a government line.

Tom W.’s shell games aside (where’d all that suspicion of power actually end up?) I’m convinced Assange views radical doubt as a virtue and holds it as a core value. I’m not at all convinced radical doubt is either virtuous or required to do what Wikileaks does……but starting from these presuppositions, I have found no satisfying way to explain the lack of an obvious “legitimate” clearinghouse for leaks.

So what’s stopping NYT from creating one?

(Is there anything the Ways And Methods Of True Journalism arcana that would prohibit such a venture? You know, apart from things like inertia, cash flow problems, lack of technical know-how, dwindling credibility among anti-authoritarian geeks in fatigues bent on unleashing thumbdrives full of Bad Romance on the free world, potential demerits from the Council of Corporate Citizens…)

The problem with the mainstream press is that all the lies told about Iraq WERE debunked BEFORE the war. The lies had been debunked by MANY sources. I can’t be the only person who remembers Scott Ritter vainly trying to make the case that he’d actually inspected many of the places where Bush/Cheney were claiming hidden weapons (and found nothing). I seem to remember reading about the aluminum tubes being deficient for use as centrifuges as well. The Niger yellowcake documents were long debunked before Bush pushed his “Saddam has recently been trying to acquire yellowcake” bullshit.

Why isn’t the press pushing for the War Crimes trials so obviously called for now that we know what actually happened? Bush, through Yoo, approved the torture of toddlers testicles in an attempt to get Iraqi parents to give (false) information on the whereabouts of his phantom WMD’s. Where are the “Jesus loves the little children crowd” on that one? Distracted by the construction of a Kentucky Creation theme park I’d guess.

The mainstream press hasn’t ‘reformed’ a bit.


kelly anspaugh says:

In considering the behavior of the mainstream press today, I recall Dante’s Inferno, the scene wherein Malacoda, head demon, salute the poets as they proceed (in Ciardi’s translation): “They [the demon squad] turned along the left bank in a line; / but before they started, all of them together / had stuck their pointed tongues out as a sign / to their Captain that they wished permission to pass, / And he had made a trumpet of his ass.” A new motto for the NY Times, perhaps? “All the funk that’s fit to fart.”

Wikileaks’ full impact will not be felt for years to come, just as the press’ failings during the run up to the Iraq War went unnoticed for several years. Nonetheles­s, for better or worse, Wikileaks is challengin­g those in the United States to come to terms with the theory of the freedom of the press versus the actuality of the freedom of the press. It’s easy to embrace the theory. It is far more difficult to deal with the actuality, but it is the price we have agreed to pay for a free and open informatio­n culture.
Read More: http://bit­.ly/eqHXvx

[…] har avsl√łrt akterutseilte institusjoner og maktstrukturer, og i hvilken grad pressen har latt seg ta til gissel av det best√•ende. Svaret p√• det burde v√¶re selvransakelse og nye l√łsninger, ikke indignasjon eller rettslig […]

[…] Konsequenzen er sieht, formuliert Jay Rosen griffig, provokant und diskussionsanregend¬†in einem Eintrag auf seinem Blog “Pressthink”.¬†Hier sind Ausz√ľge (von mir √ľbersetzt): Es bedarf “der¬†ersten staatenlosen […]

[…] Here‚Äôs US journalism professor Jay Rosen¬†explaining how the mainstream media, after its capitulation to the US ‚Äúnational security state‚ÄĚ post September 11, no longer became a reliable check on power (whether it was before 9/11, well, that‚Äôs another question). […]

[…] What does this incident tell us about democracy? privacy?¬†media?¬†corporations? […]

Deborah Ffrench says:

Outstanding article.  
Yesterday on Al Jazeera TV, I listened as an infuriated American denounced Assange as an upstart ex-teenage hacker hell-bent on dragging America into anarchy. The man was virtually frothing at the mouth and, in the end, had to be cut off by the anchor.

This dichotomy between what the establishm­­ent wants its subjects (citizen is a euphemism)  to know, and what those subjects actually do know is an old battlegrou­­nd. 

The new front in that battle is the internet. While government­­s, police department­­s, news agencies, and corporations are happy to use the latest technology to remote view their work forces or population­­s –feathers are ruffled when intelligen­­t lay-people return the favor.

While no explanatio­­n whatsoever has been made for the alleged atrocities Wikileaks has already exposed, Assange has been subjected to draconian over-kill and the full might of internatio­­nal law. 

When, I ask, will people realize informatio­­n is routinely suppressed and withheld by those who know there is value in it? 

A case in point: — the FBI files on the late Michael Jackson — when released, revealed that in a 10-year plus investigat­­ion that cost the US taxpayer millions, federal investigat­­ors found not one shred of evidence to attribute criminalit­­y to Jackson. That informatio­­n was revealed after media invoked the FOI act to release it. 
I wonder what effect Wikileaks would have had on the legal jihad ex-DA Thomas Sneddon pursued against the late Michael Jackson?

Would transparency in how Sneddon distributed and strong-armed resources in Santa Barbara — as well as his attempts to co-opt a reluctant FBI to become a primary investigator — have survived the scrutiny such a leak would have produced? 

In retrospect, the 2005 prosecution, was described by attorney T. Mesereau as "malicious" and "a travesty."  This view, supported by the on record comments of Andrew Cohen, Laurie Levinson, Julie Silbor and Matt Taibbi, and the inconvienient truth that the decade-plus investigation by the FBI yielded no evidence of criminality — suggests that at some point critical questions should be asked about the behavior of the Santa Barbara Police Department, Thoam Sneddon, the US Justice system as a whole — and the media who, by and large, supported that prosecution.          

Jackson, acquitted in 2005; Wikileaks launched December 2006. What a difference a year makes?  The reality is the suppression of information in the above case are not unremoved from the political issues the publication of the cables on Afghanista­­n, climate accords, and government duplicity have raised. 
It's all about informatio­­n. 
It always has been.