Wikileaks has struck again, this time releasing a quarter of a million confidential US diplomatic cables to select news organisations. After several days of anticipation following the US state department's warning to Congress on 24 November, The Guardian, The New York Times, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais published their first stories yesterday.
Wikileaks itself is publishing the cables in batches over the next few months. "The subject matter of these cables is of such importance, and the geographical spread so broad, that to do otherwise would not do this material justice," said the organisation's dedicated site for this leak. It is the largest classified information release so far. The site allows users to browse the cables by date or by origin.
The newspapers were given access to the material "several weeks ago," according to the New York Times, and the five agreed to begin publication online on Sunday. All the publications involved gave the US government early warning of their intention to publish, according to the Guardian.
Italian daily La Repubblica saw this decision to publish online first as highly significant, describing 28 November as "the day that changed the news." No newspapers were asking themselves, "should we publish first in print or on the web?" Repubblica also discussed the changes that Wikileaks has brought to the relationship between the news media and the reader, by making data available directly to the public.
The US government and others have condemned the leak as endangering national interests. But the newspapers decided it was in the public's interest to go ahead and publish their stories. NYT executive editor Bill Keller explains, "As daunting as it is to publish such material over official objections, it would be presumptuous to conclude that Americans have no right to know what is being done in their name."
"Clearly, it is for governments, not journalists, to protect public secrets," wrote the Guardian's Simon Jenkins. The Guardian and NYT both said they had carefully considered which cables it was wise to publish, taking into account questions of national security and legal considerations of defamation, and shared their concerns with Wikileaks.
Roy Greenslade provides a summary of what the British papers have been saying here.
For the Guardian's analysis of the key data, see here.