My daily routine these days includes going to the Wikileaks twitter feed (twitter.com/wikileaks), which took me to this story in the UK Guardian about how Saudi Arabia proposed an Arab force to invade Lebanon. The Guardian is definitely the best site on the Wikileaks, and for data in general - they have understood something about what media organizations should be doing and they are going about it, in ways that a lot of other outlets haven't.
Having said that, this piece is an example of spinning the Wikileaks that people should be warned about. I really think we should get used to looking at the data itself, and not letting the Guardian or anyone else (including Wikileaks if it comes to that) interpose themselves. That really is one of the most amazing things about Wikileaks - not that it gives the data to the Guardian, but that it gives the data to anyone. That is part of the reason that there is this unbelievable global persecution of Wikileaks going on (and not, for example, of the Guardian).
The first problem with the Guardian piece is that they don't follow the rules that Wikileaks wants the rest of us to follow. Why not? Wikileaks asks on the cablegate site a pretty simple thing: that the cable be cited with a tag. In this case, the tag is #08RIYADH768 and the cable itself is here. I will concede that I didn't look in every nook and cranny but I didn't see either the tag or a link to the cable on the Guardian's site. Why not?
In this case, the story by Ewen MacAskill reports the cable accurately, which is good, but then provides the following for context:
"The discussion came just days after Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian and pro-Syrian groups in Lebanon laid siege to Beirut, threatening the pro-western government of Fouad Siniora, after 17 months of street demonstrations."
Here's where the problem is. In some contexts, the idea of a siege is a useful metaphor (perhaps Toronto in the summer of 2010 with Harper's billion dollar police siege of the city). But this is Beirut, which has been under actual siege. As in, sealed off to the world. As in, shelled from the hills. It was besieged repeatedly, by the Israeli military, many times over the past few decades. In that region, there is a real siege going on, again, a real siege, as in, surrounded by a military that doesn't allow people or goods in or out, again by the Israelis, in Gaza. There was a lot going on between Hizbollah and the Lebanese government in 2008, but it was not Hizbollah laying siege to Beirut.
Wikileaks is doing an immense service by putting the data in the public domain, and the Guardian have been among the best of the mainstream media in using it and helping people understand it. But when the leaks get spun, it's a reminder that people need to look for themselves. In this case, it's not about looking at the data so much as looking at the history - but the principle still holds.