Earlier this month, I interviewed Oscar-winning filmmaker and political commentator Michael Moore about Wikileaks.
It was the day after he'd pledged $20,000 to help free the embattled Wikileaks chief, Julian Assange, on bail.
The resulting 3,000-word interview is a look at Wikileaks, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, national security, the definition of journalism, Bank of America, the housing crisis, the rape allegations against Assange, the Nuremberg trials and transparency in our government, among other things.
The unbridled ranting that has become synonymous with Moore's name is met with my own efforts to ask him questions that would provoke less of his trademark reactionary spew and more of his razor sharp perceptions. When it comes to interviews, Moore is a first-rate conversationalist. Taking none of his alleged "facts" at face value, I checked them all — they were rock solid.
I sliced the interview into segments and began a 72-hour attempt to place the first installment of the freelance piece.
The New York Times responded with an email that remarked on my protocol. Although they post submission guidelines on their website and indicate generic email addresses for relevant departments (i.e. email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc.), and although I followed those guidelines and queried several editors, the single staff editor who responded to my follow-up email never remarked on the query itself but, instead, told me I would have to resubmit the query to "a specific, named editor".
Clearly, the editor who'd responded was not going to reroute my query internally. The news giant was busy dealing with other Wikileaks matters that day, like the US Air Force decision to ban The New York Times due to its role in reposting the Wikileaks leaks.
The Huffington Post turned it down, most understandably, because Michael Moore already has a blog on their site.
The Los Angeles Times never responded to me; they were in the midst of uploading a vitriolic piece on Michael Moore entitled, "Paging Osama Bin Laden: Michael Moore embraces the Wikileaks controversy".
Reuters rejected the piece as being too soft and opinionated. In their view, experts like constitutional lawyers should weigh in on the matter. Not filmmakers.
What say you? Should experts own this conversation? Didn't government experts authorize the spending of billions and billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidized bail-outs to remedy atrocious corporate mismanagement by highly educated experts?
Whether it's a seasoned politician, a union leader or a blogger, whenever a candidate, agitator or commentator steps out onto the world stage and tells us to Wake up!, it's an abrasion. The kind of radical change that they're espousing — embrace transparency, embrace accountability! — is not only unsettling, it's a finger in the face. And most of us don't like being told what to do. So if they tell us what to do, we will at least expect them to do it with style, no? A measured tone and a good facial can go a long way.
But Julian Assange has more than hair and skin tone problems. On his character assassination list: possible STDs, evident sexcapades and alleged rapes. Losing Time's Person of the Year competition to Mark Zuckerberg was the political equivalent of him losing a high school prom title.
When details emerged in the Guardian on Friday (from a leaked police report) about his sexual relations with his Swedish accusers, Miss A and Miss W, the latter of whom met Assange by attending a function organized by Miss A, the Wikileaks story took another Orwellian twist, recasting it even further as the story of an uncommon man with an unconventional childhood who found his libido and became a playboy. And possibly a rapist.
But what if he's never charged or convicted of rape? What if he's only a self-aggrandizing, attention-seeking, wannabee rock star who, if he plays his cards right, could end up getting a call from Mark Burnett for a new reality TV show? What then?
Is this the political debate that is Wikileaks? No.
The Wikileaks debate is about compromised national security, freedom of the press and the political deceptions that these cables reveal. It's about whether or not we should try to achieve transparency by resorting to an organization like Wikileaks. It's about our ongoing right to have access to evidence of war crimes and cover-ups. Wars and cover-ups cost human lives and trillions of dollars.
Yes, we can argue that Wikileaks should be condemned and shut down because of the glaring fact that it has been hosting documents which reveal, for example, worldwide infrastructure targets that the State Department considers so critical to our national security that the list has been regarded as a New Year's gift for al-Qaeda. But in so doing, are we throwing the baby out with the bath water? Should we ignore the fact that a current suppression of Wikileaks would hinder our ability to know whether or not crimes are being committed in our name with our tax dollars on our soil and abroad?
If the US government can work diligently to perfect a safe mechanism for whisteblowers to come forward and spill the kinds of corporate transgressions that led to the Bernie Madoff debacle and the banking crisis and the housing crisis and the widespread loan modification fraud by enacting the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Law, why can't our government do the same with respect to its own in-house transgressions?
Why is there no effective mechanism in place for a US intelligence agency whistleblower — an insider like accused Private Bradley Manning — to step forward with raw classified documents revealing deception, abuse, fraud and other crimes, without fear of prosecution and solitary confinement?
The real deception about "the problem with Wikileaks" lies in our own perception about what the real problem is and what really is at stake.
The rest is about the messenger's notoriety, celebrity, likability. And packaging.