April 29, 2008

In 1789 Thomas Paine, American pamphleteer, philosopher and revolutionary, compared the sun to the truth: “[S]uch is the irresistible nature of truth,” Paine declared, “that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.”

Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense and The Rights of Man was wrong. Paine gave away his copyright to Common Sense—allowing printers to pocket the author’s fee. Printers, happy with this state of affairs, preferenced its production over other popular, but less profitable works. Thomas Paine had discovered the essential economic underpinning of the modern press release. Paine’s truth appeared not only because of its coherence but because Paine subsidized its production above competing ideas.

The modern press release may have been seen as a blessing by the fourth estate, for it made certain ideas more profitable without making other types less. Yet once electronic cut-and-paste came into play, the press release and similar content subsidies proliferated. When the system of ideas regained its economic equilibrium, unsubsidized words became unprofitable and were eliminated. The consequence has been a great shift from words pulled out of writers by reader demand, to words pushed out of writers by special-interest subsidies.

Competition to control perception has resulted in forums of influence, not limited to the world’s great newspapers, behaving as fresh-faced coquettes with too many suitors. These coquettes long ago stopped cooking their own food and now expect everything to be lovingly presented on a silver platter. There are few exceptions and the phenomenon is mostly invisible to outsiders.

Print media, including internet media, should not be looked at as a content production industry, but rather, as a lobby-selection industry, which balances production subsidies with reader interest. In this manner it is analogous to the legislative economy which balances subsidies from political lobbies with electoral credulity.

In the last two weeks, the English Wikileaks has obtained and released over 50 individual or collected, original, unreported, confidential, classified or censored documents, books, photos or films.

You may have heard of some of them, for instance:

But if you did, it was because Wikileaks lobbied for their uptake and like everyone else had its writers bribe everyone with subsidized copy. Take a look at the material, at least one part in 4 is worthy of reportage somewhere, and ask yourself why none has been reported without our intervention—not even to the most obscure “activist” blog.

In the last six months Wikileaks has exposed a lot of important stories, which have produced results from swinging the Dec 2007 Kenyan election to press conferences by the Iranian leadership, but every re-reported revelation has been the result of our staff lobbying other venues and providing content subsidies in excess of the source material.

For example, there has been no reportage about our release of this approachable, beautiful, and region-defining leaked intelligence book on North Korea.

Or this 2007 classified UK/US spy plane compendium and tasking guide, with plenty of approachable pictures and released in violation of the Official Secrets Act.

Or this detailed classified manual on JDAM, the most strategically significant U.S. military development in the past 15 years. A single B2 stealth bomber is capable of releasing 80 pre-targeted JDAM fitted bombs and leveling all the critical infrastructure of a medium-sized city in one overflight. Most bombings in Iraq are now JDAM.

Wikileaks has not yet pushed this material because it has limited resources. Last week we focused, successfully, on reforming the prison system in western Iraq.

Any journalist, any blogger, any academic, and indeed any human being who could set aside a cumulative half a day to read and make a few phone calls could say something worthwhile, original and interesting using these documents. Professional journalists won’t without intervention because it doesn’t do anyone a favor that can be called in later and few can break even without plagiarism. Internet media certainly won’t—with few exceptions, it has relegated itself to revealing the mood of the amateur commentariat. Its primary motivation is to demonstrate its authors’ in-group loyalties on the issue du jour; consequently it slavishly copies from the very professional press it maligns, rarely adding more than is necessary to advertise peer-value conformity.

What does it mean when only those facts about the world with economic powers behind them can be heard, when the truth lays naked before the world and no one will be the first to speak without payment or subsidy? Wikileaks’ unreported material is only the most visible wave on a black ocean of truth in draws of the fourth estate, waiting for a lobby to subsidize its revelation into a profitable endeavor.

The sun of truth is the only guiding beacon civilization has at its disposal. If we are to flourish in reality we must ultimately use it to chart our course. To do otherwise is to drift aimlessly in the dark, decoupled from the real world and hearkening to every imagined wave.

But I leave you with a quote from Paine:

“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”

And we will.

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