Yes, WikiLeaks Led to the Revolt in Tunisia


At least according to New York Times editor Bill Keller, who just last week blasted WikiLeakes chief Julian Assange in a massive profile, calling him “arrogant, thin-skinned, conspiratorial and oddly credulous.” But that doesn’t mean the work Assange’s organization does can’t spur political change. “The simple nuts and bolts answer to that is, in the case of the Wikileaks cables in Tunisia, Wikileaks certainly did make a difference,” Keller told NPR today. But that doesn’t mean he agrees with Assange. God forbid!

In conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, Keller is clear to again differentiate the work of the New York Times — journalism, in his mind — from the work of WikiLeaks. In his essay, Keller wrote, “We regarded Assange throughout as a source, not as a partner or collaborator, but he was a man who clearly had his own agenda.” That is, not a journalist.

Keller again illustrates how he and his organization butted heads with Assange, and ultimately taught him a lesson:

Keller tells Terry Gross that during an early conversation with representatives of The Guardian, Assange was told that both The Guardian and The Times wanted to edit out the names of ordinary Afghani citizens in classified military documents.

“Assange’s reaction was, ‘Well, they’re informants, there’s no reason for protecting them,” Keller says. “But I think over time, he came around to the view that at least, from a public relations point of view, it was better to allow for a certain amount of editing out of things that could cost lives.”

But Keller does give credit to WikiLeaks for sparking change in Tunisia, which has since arguably reverberated in Egypt:

“I think the Tunisia one was at least fueled by [the release of Wikileaks documents.] The accepted version of how things happened in Tunisia was that a fruit seller who was mistreated by the government set himself on fire and this began an uprising by the impoverished fruitsellers in the marketplace and so on. We’ve tracked down the family of the guy who immolated himself. That all seems to be true, but it also seems to be true that the circulation of the Wikileaks documents that talked about how the Ben-Ali regime lived high off the hog … clearly did circulate widely and if it didn’t start what happened in Tunisia, it certainly fueled it.”

You can read more from Keller’s talk with Terry Gross here, or wait for the audio of the interview, slated to be online at 5 p.m. ET.


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