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Transparency Tales

— So far, the revelations of the WikiLeaks diplomatic cables have ranged from being humorous to “no surprise” to reassuring. The U.S. and South Korea are talking about what will happen when North Korea falls apart? I’m glad to hear that. I’ve wondered, myself, what will come from the seemingly inevitable collapse of the North.

The Afghan vice president travels around with $52 million in his pocket? Not surprising, not to mention humorous in a black sort of way. Slovenian leaders were told they could have a meeting with President Obama, but only if they agreed to take at least one prisoner from Guantanamo Bay? Sounds to me like reasonable diplomatic deal-cutting.

Check out this New Yorker profile of Julian Paul Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. He clearly considers himself to be on a mission from God, and being a journalist I should certainly be on his side. But for me, it’s more a matter of seeing the unavoidable.

Greater transparency is something that can’t be stopped as communication technology becomes more sophisticated and more affordable. We really do live in a global village today where everyone knows your business, and transparency is a double-edged sword. It means more invasions of our personal privacy. It also means we get a much better look at what “Big Brother” is up to.

When I think about transparency I often think about Karl Rolvaag, who was Governor of Minnesota in the 1960s. Karl was an alcoholic and everybody who had any contact with him knew it. A veteran TV photographer once told me that whenever his station wanted an interview with the Governor they had to do it before 3 p.m. After that, Rolvaag was so soused you couldn’t hope for him to make any sense.

But Rolvaag’s alcohol abuse was kept under wraps, with the cooperation of the press. It reminds you of the fact that JFK’s womanizing never made the front page, even though it arguably posed a national security risk.

Discretion will continue to be something we can hope for. I hope news organizations will give WikiLeaks documents a hard look before they shout them from the rooftops. But transparency is here to stay, as an expression of our technology and our culture. So all of us who used to value our privacy had better get used to this.

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