Wikileaks emails did a tremendous public service, revealing how government works

US Politics

Now that everyone in the mainstream media and the intelligence establishment are blaming Russia for allegedly tilting the election in Donald Trump’s favor, it is important to review a key element of this charge: that the Wikileaks emails released from the Democratic National Committee, allegedly by Russian hackers acting with the blessing of Vladimir Putin, were a sinister intervention, and equivalent to the Nixon team’s 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate.

This charge needs to be met head-on, in one respect. However the emails wound up in our laps through the fall, they were a great revelation to the American public. They exposed the workings of a political party, and at times its corrupt workings; they showed how the party was rigged against Bernie Sanders and in favor of big donors.

These revelations about how our political system operates were not themselves shocking: they were what smart people suspected. What was shocking was the naked confirmation of the corruption. Seeing the political deals in flagrante was important. If a newspaper had managed to publish these emails on its own, documenting these practices, its reporters would be in line for the Pulitzer Prize. Whoever got into those emails did us a tremendous public service.

Let’s remember some of the things we learned from those emails. For a year, Bernie Sanders repeatedly challenged Hillary Clinton to release the secret speeches she gave, for munificent fees, to Goldman, Sachs and other corporate groups. She never did. Wikileaks did release those speeches in October. They showed that Clinton wanted the U.S. to “covertly” intervene in Syria. “We used to be much better at this than we are now,” she said.

In another speech Wikileaks released, which she delivered to a developers’ group, Clinton said that leaders need to say one thing in public and another privately.

“If everybody’s watching, you know, all of the back room discussions and the deals, you know, then people get a little nervous, to say the least. So, you need both a public and a private position . . . Politics is like sausage being made. It is unsavory, and it always has been that way, but we usually end up where we need to be.”

Two-facedness was a theme in the Clinton emails. When Netanyahu did lip service to a two-state solution, Clinton embraced his statement, saying a “Potemkin [peace] process is better than nothing.”

Emails that came out ahead of the Democratic convention showed party leaders working hard behind closed doors to get Hillary Clinton the nomination and deny it to Sanders, something the party had denied. Those revelations led, for good reason, to the resignation of former party chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

One of the most disturbing emails showed a party operative urging that Bernie Sanders should be challenged publicly as an “atheist.” The official asked: “Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage.” While Wasserman Schultz said that Sanders’s criticism of Israel were “disturbing.”

The Wikileaks revelations about Israel inside the Democratic Party were mindblowing. Again, not because we didn’t think such stuff went on; but because here at last was incontrovertible proof of just what we had always asserted, and that mainstream voices had dismissed as conspiratorial or anti-Semitic thinking.

For instance, the Clinton campaign’s unofficial ambassador to the Jewish establishment, Stu Eizenstat, worked hard to convey Benjamin Netanyahu’s views, and those of his ambassador, Ron Dermer, to the Clinton campaign. His and other inside advice was geared to distance Clinton from President Obama:

The Administration is “tone deaf” about the “existential threat” to Israel from Iran. Hillary should recognize and empathize with Israel’s concerns with the Iran deal.

The Clinton campaign braintrust decided to balance her lukewarm support for the Iran deal by coming out hard against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. It arrived at this plan after extensive discussion with Eizenstat and also megadonor Haim Saban. Even after Netanyahu sought to submarine the president with his unprecedented speech to Congress against the Iran deal, Saban and other donors pressed Clinton to say nice things about Netanyahu, and distance herself from Obama, in a phone call with Malcolm Hoenlein, the rightwing pro-Israel Jewish leader. Saban said the call would please “thousands of people who… have been asking themselves ,,,,and me ,many times ‘Where is Hillary on this’.”

That’s corruption: when money influences politicians’ policy stances.

And as if the donor stuff was not explicit enough, there was the invitation to Netanyahu to appear at an intimate chat at the Democratic Party thinktank, the Center for American Progress, with the head of that organization, Neera Tanden. That appearance alienated the staff at the thinktank because Netanyahu had taken on our president. But we learned from the emails that the invitation got a rich Boston Jewish Israel-lover to come on to the CAP board, and Tanden crowed:

“Netanyahu was worth it….We will never be called anti-Semitic again.”

To repeat: this was redhanded evidence of the Israel lobby’s effect, something mainstream reporters have long denied.

It is even arguable that the leaked emails did not hurt Clinton politically. She already had a reputation for dishonesty before the emails showed her saying one thing publicly and another privately. And it was a political season with many October surprises, including shocking revelations about Donald Trump that his voters seemed to shrug off; it is hard to believe that these emails tipped voters who were on the fence against Clinton. After the Debbie Wasserman Schultz stories of July, the Wikileaks emails resulted in hardly any bombshell headlines that can be pointed to as doing signal damage to the Clinton campaign. Apart from her flipflopping on trade deals, the Goldman speeches did not contain a smoking gun. One of the biggest headlines of the leaks was John Podesta’s risotto recipe (and as for hurtful gossip in the emails, say a prominent professor fawning to Obama, or a prominent policy aide who was mocked as a self-promoter, we didn’t go after that stuff).

But regardless of the emails’ political effect, the media make a mistake in demonizing the emails. They are ignoring their value: they told us important things the people have a right to know about how the powerful conduct themselves. Wikileaks made leaders more accountable.

About James North and Philip Weiss

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9 Responses

  1. kalithea
    December 22, 2016, 12:41 pm

    Please email the White House Obama Administration and Kerry at State Department and ask that they indicate a YES to the Resolution that has been temporarily put on hold for a vote before the U.N. Security Council because of Israeli pressure on Egypt, but that might still advance to the S.C. soon if Egypt feels confident the U.S. will not veto it. The WH must circumvent the pressure that Israel is putting on Egypt to stop this Resolution. Obama or Kerry must indicate publicly in some way that settlement expansion is wrong and condemn it now, so that Egypt pushes the Resolution through confident that the U.S. might either abstain or vote YES.

    This Resolution is pivotal in pre-empting Trump’s new policy defying international law, and instead catering to Zionist settlement expansion, as well as moving the U.S. Embassy and pre-empting any declaration or resolution that might be sponsored by a Republican majority Congress and Zionist shill, Senate minority-leader, Schumer, trying to declare Jerusalem Zionism’s capital.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/world/middleeast/donald-trump-united-nations-israel-settlements.html?_r=0

    This Resolution must pass before Trump assumes office so email the WH and State Department before it’s too late.

  2. benjoya
    December 22, 2016, 2:11 pm

    This will be a great comfort when New York is swallowed by the sea.

  3. Keith
    December 22, 2016, 3:58 pm

    PHIL /JAMES- “It is even arguable that the leaked emails did not hurt Clinton politically.”

    I doubt that the Wikileaks emails had a significant impact on the election results. I suspect that there is poll data showing this, but that it is not being publicized because it would conflict with the “Putin hacked the election” meme.

  4. Bandolero
    December 22, 2016, 7:01 pm

    While I agree with that “whoever got into those emails did” the public “a tremendous public service” I disagree with the notion that if a newspaper had managed to publish these emails on its own, documenting these practices, its reporters would be in line for the Pulitzer Prize.

    I believe Pulitzer Prizes are not given to people doing a “a tremendous public service” but to people writing nothing important enough to suppress. See what Gary Webb, Pulitzer Prize winner of 1990, had to say in 2002, a couple of years after publishing his world moving series Dark Alliance:

    If we had met five years ago, you wouldn’t have found a more staunch defender of the newspaper industry than me … And then I wrote some stories that made me realize how sadly misplaced my bliss had been. The reason I’d enjoyed such smooth sailing for so long hadn’t been, as I’d assumed, because I was careful and diligent and good at my job … The truth was that, in all those years, I hadn’t written anything important enough to suppress …

    Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gary_Webb

    So that’s the insight of a Pulitzer price winner: Pulitzer Prizes are given to people writing things not important enough to suppress. And Gary Webb paid dearly for writing something important enough to suppress. People writing and publishing important stuff are not given Pulitzer prizes, but harassed, just like Gary Webb was in his time, and Wikileaks and Julian Assange are nowadays.

    It’s logical: just have a look who is donating the Pulitzer Prizes. It’s the same people who regularly suppress the truth, on war and peace, on Israel and Palestine, and on most other important matters.

    • Keith
      December 23, 2016, 10:53 am

      BANDOLERO- “It’s logical: just have a look who is donating the Pulitzer Prizes.”

      That is exactly correct. The purpose of all of these awards is both to reward and provide gravitas to those who on their own advance the goals and objectives of those sponsoring these awards. It is a sham with a purpose.

    • CigarGod
      December 23, 2016, 10:53 am

      Now that post is a holiday gift I truly appreciate.

    • iResistDe4iAm
      December 24, 2016, 5:21 am

      This is what John Swinton, chief editorial writer of The New York Times (1860s) and chief editorialist of the New York Sun, had to say about the ‘independent press’ (aka mainstream media)…
      https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Swinton

      “There is no such a thing in America as an independent press, unless it is out in country towns. You are all slaves. You know it, and I know it.

      There is not one of you who dares to express an honest opinion. If you expressed it, you would know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid $150 for keeping honest opinions out of the paper I am connected with. Others of you are paid similar salaries for doing similar things. If I should allow honest opinions to be printed in one issue of my paper, I would be like Othello before twenty-four hours: my occupation would be gone. The man who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the street hunting for another job.

      The business of a New York journalist is to distort the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to villify, to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread, or for what is about the same — his salary. You know this, and I know it; and what foolery to be toasting an “Independent Press”! We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are jumping-jacks. They pull the string and we dance. Our time, our talents, our lives, our possibilities, are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.”

  5. George Smith
    December 23, 2016, 12:19 pm

    James North: What happened to the triple parentheses?

  6. Mooser
    December 23, 2016, 1:01 pm

    That photograph has a little too much of the ventriloquist-and-dummy about it.

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