Richard Cohen: A Journalist's Job Is to Keep the Government's Secrets

Doddering cottonhead Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen has already stated that he doesn't know what "Wikileaks" is. Today, he adds: can't we just go back to the days when Richard Cohen could caress the testicles of the powerful, in peace?

We don't mean to sound disrespectful; Richard Cohen has already been awarded the titles "World's Worst Writer" and "America's #1 Hack;" he's come out in favor of freeing rapists but against insulting presidents; he's an allegedly liberal columnist at one of America's allegedly greatest institutions of investigative journalism, yet he consistently calls for obeisance to the powerful; he is, in other words, required reading. And today's column may be his most "You'd never guess I'm employed in journalism" one yet!

Whereas journalists have traditionally defined the exposure of important and newsworthy government secrets as "news," Cohen defines the work of Wikileaks' Julian Assange as "thoroughly contemptible." Even worse than the time everyone found out about Monica Lewinsky!

What the Clinton scandal and the WikiLeaks disclosures have in common is a sad collapse of the mainstream media's gatekeeper role. Newsweek presumably had good reasons to postpone publication of Isikoff's story - reasons that Drudge did not share. The Times had good cause to parse the WikiLeaks cache - lives could be in danger - but Assange launched them into cyberspace anyway, not caring if American interests were damaged. In fact, that might have been the whole point.

Two things outrage Richard Cohen more than anything else: when Richard Cohen and his closest friends are not allowed to be the sole arbiters of what Americans learn about the conduct of their elected officials; and when anti-secrecy crusading Australian computer hackers do not base each and every decision on whether or not that decision is good for "American interests." It just burns Richard Cohen up (as a journalist).

The natural reaction is to want to pop Assange in some way, possibly by indicting him for violating the totally impractical Espionage Act of 1917 or, in the superheated imaginations of some, by declaring him a terrorist and targeting him for something irrevocable. The trouble with any of this is that you inevitably get entangled with the Times and other newspapers such as The Post, which also has devoted considerable space and talent to the stories.

The desire to imprison or assassinate Julian Assange—who has not been convicted of any crime—for revealing diplomatic gossip? Perfectly natural! Richard Cohen had the same reaction—naturally! But the reason you don't want to assassinate this man is it might look bad for the Washington Post. That's the main problem with that otherwise natural course of action.

Governments, like married couples, are entitled to their secrets - from us, from the kids and from the neighbors...Now, everything sees the light of day and media organizations like Gawker, journalism's own little cesspool, pay for such scoops as pictures allegedly sent by Brett Favre to a young lady of his passing acquaintance. This is not what Jefferson had in mind when he championed freedom of the press.

Richard Cohen imagines the job of a journalist to be more like that of a government functionary who censors TOP SECRET documents—deciding what must be blacked out, lest average Americans like you who don't Understand How These Things Work be misled into believing that the government is not always and everywhere Doing The Right Thing, just because of a few misleading characterizations and unguarded moments in documents here and there—which is why, of course, journalists much help the government keep all these documents TOP SECRET. For the good of the little people, like you, who can't be trusted to analyze these things yourselves.

Also, Richard Cohen doesn't know much about Thomas Jefferson's tastes.

[WP]