251,287. That’s the number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that WikiLeaks claims to have obtained. 1,897. That’s the number of confidential U.S. diplomatic cables that, according to WikiLeaks’s own count, have thus far been published on its website: not even 1 percent of the reported total. At the current rate of publication, the much vaunted “over 250,000” documents should be online and available to the public in their entirety by sometime in 2021—supposing the WikiLeaks website still exists at that time.
But whereas WikiLeaks has withheld the documents from the public, five handpicked media organizations have enjoyed exclusive access to the complete stash. A more glaring violation of WikiLeaks’s supposed commitment to “radical transparency” could hardly be imagined. Moreover, the selection of the five newspapers enjoying privileged access has clearly not been arbitrary.
Germany’s Der Spiegel, Britain’s Guardian, Spain’s El País, France’s Le Monde, and America’s own New York Times. Not only are these five of the hoariest dinosaurs still roaming across the international old media landscape. Taken together, they are probably the five print media of reference that have done the most over the last decade to propagate the dismal view of American power and American foreign policy that passes for “leftism” nowadays in both Europe and the United States itself. (Italy’s La Repubblica could be added to the list.) Why were precisely these media and not others given privileged access?
The exclusive access provided the five old media dinosaurs has given them an unfair competitive advantage vis-à-vis their competitors and thereby an obvious economic boost. For instance, after selling out and then reprinting its initial edition featuring a cover story on the cables, Germany’s Der Spiegel has now brought out a special edition titled “The Superpower Unveiled” that is entirely dedicated to “America’s Secret Dispatches.” But the exclusive access has also given the fabulous five old media organizations the opportunity to pick and choose among the cables and to spin their content in accordance with the precepts of the anti-American Weltanschauung.
And spin they have. Der Spiegel and its treatment of the story of the Egyptian imam Abu Omar provides a revealing case in point. Der Spiegel, incidentally, plays a unique and particularly weighty role in the present connection, since it publishes selected articles online in both the German of its home market and in English, so to say, “for the world.”
Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, better know as “Abu Omar,” was reportedly kidnapped from the streets of Milan in February 2003 as part of the American program of so-called extraordinary rendition. He had been serving as imam at Milan’s Via Quaranta mosque at the time. According to the standard press accounts, Abu Omar is supposed to have been rendered by the CIA to his native Egypt, where he was interrogated and later released. In November 2009, twenty-three Americans were convicted in absentia by an Italian court for their alleged roles in his abduction.
As far as one can tell from the coverage in Der Spiegel, the American diplomatic cables add virtually nothing to our knowledge of the case. Nonetheless, earlier this month the Spiegel editors felt compelled to publish a breathless article, in both German and English, highlighting the supposed “revelation” that American authorities discouraged their Italian counterparts from issuing an international arrest warrant for the American suspects. As depicted by Der Spiegel, these alleged communications become American “pressure” and “threats.”
The Spiegel article notes that Abu Omar was “known to Italian authorities as a hate preacher at a mosque in Milan.” This may well be the understatement of the year. In fact, at the time that he went missing, Abu Omar was under surveillance by Italian authorities on suspicion of forming part of an international terrorist organization of which his Via Quaranta mosque served as a hub.