This evening WikiLeaks, working in conjunction with several major newspapers including the New York Times, released six years of classified reports about the Afghanistan war. Based on the play already being given this release, the news media and the pundit class expect this to be a major event. Glenn Greenwald has compared this to the release of the Pentagon Papers in 1971, stating that the Pentagon Papers caused the public to "behold the dishonesty about the war" and "had a significanteffect on public opinion, as well as their willingness to trust future government pronouncements. At the very least, it's difficult to imagine this leak not having the same effect."
I disagree. This leak won't matter that much. Here's why:
- Few people trust our public institutions anymore. Back in 1971, most people trusted the government, which is why the Pentagon Papers were so shocking. But we are now living in the bastard days birthed by events like the Pentagon Papers. Trust in all our public institutions is way down. So the government didn't tell the whole truth? That's like a dog bites man story--not notable to most people.
- Information overload. The more information that is thrown out there, the less people care. This is similar to what I was saying the other day about people in the future not caring if you have an opinion. The exception, as I mentioned, was when people risked something for their opinion. Likewise, the exception to people caring about information like these Afghanistan war reports is if the information has direct relevance to their lives. Unfortunately, in the United States and most Western democracies the people who fight our wars are a small subset of the population. Most people don't feel a connection to the war, so most people are likely to ignore this information.
- Information spin. When people are overloaded with information and don't trust official sources of information like the government, they cherry-pick the places they decide to trust. So they turn to partisan news outlets and blogs, or to talk radio and opinion-oriented broadcasts. They choose news which reinforces their own views even as these outlets filter the information that reaches their ears. In such an environment, I don't see these reports making much of an impact.
Of course I could be wrong, but that's my take on all this. Any thoughts?