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Hillary Clinton and Wikileaks: Is it legitimate to release personal emails in full?

Should Wikileaks ensure that only details of public interest are released? The answers are not black and white, writes Julien Mercille.

Julien Mercille Associate professor, UCD

WIKILEAKS STRUCK AGAIN recently by posting online the hacked emails of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

But Ecuador then retaliated against Julian Assange, who directs Wikileaks, by cutting off his internet access in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been confined for over four years. (Ecuador has since restored “partially” Assange’s internet access).

Reports indicate that US government officials, who hate Assange and Wikileaks for having exposed important national security secrets in the past on Afghanistan and Iraq, may have pressured Ecuador to cut his online access.

However, Ecuador maintains that the decision was their own because they oppose interference in other countries’ elections.

In any case, the latest Wikileaks actions, like previous ones, raise a number of issues about ethics in journalism, the right to privacy, and the right to know what those in power are plotting.

Is it legitimate to release personal emails in full? Or should Wikileaks ensure that only details of public interest are released?

For example, there is a difference between posting online an email demonstrating Hillary’s cosy links with Goldman Sachs and the financial sector in general, versus an email in which campaign officials talk about their family problems.

Campaign 2016 Clinton Source: Andrew Harnik

This conversation between journalists Glenn Greenwald and Naomi Klein is informative in this respect. The answers are not black and white but worth pondering over.

For example, although one may say that a news organisation should sift through the emails to remove personal issues, one may counter that this leaves us all at the mercy of news organisations, which may be biased in their coverage.

Also, should privacy rights extend equally to ordinary people as to very powerful people like someone who will likely become US President? Surely the latter’s actions should be subject to higher scrutiny?

Also, although Julian Assange seems to have become more vindictive than previously, how would we react if we had been virtually imprisoned in a small embassy for over four years?

Whatever the case may be, the latest disclosures are important, although not as significant as previous ones. There is a summary here of the main revelations in the Podesta emails, including issues around the Clinton Foundation, ties to Wall Street, the Clinton campaign machine, and political gossip and infighting.

Germany WikiLeaks Source: Markus Schreiber

The intercepted communications add to our knowledge of Hillary’s campaign. For example, one headline remarked: “Hillary Clinton made more in 12 speeches to big banks than most of us earn in a lifetime”.

One of my favorite juicy bits, among others, is the following one. In 2014, Hillary gave a speech to Deutsche Bank executives for which she was paid $260,000.

But one of Hillary’s aides inserted a passage in that speech to make her sound mildly critical of banks, calling for less inequality in society. For example, as revealed in an email posted online by Wikileaks, she said: “so many hardworking American families… feel like they’re falling further and further behind, while they see, in their view, the playing field becoming more unlevel, and feeling as though it doesn’t matter how hard they work because the game is rigged against them… So even if it may not be 100 percent true, if the perception is that somehow the game is rigged, that should be a problem for all of us, and we have to be willing to make that absolutely clear”.

But why was that passage inserted?

Because if Hillary faced criticism of her links to Wall Street, her campaign could take that passage and show it to journalists. This would give the impression that Hillary is indeed critical of bankers even in paid speeches to them. The aide who wrote the passage said it himself: “I wrote her a long riff about economic fairness and how the financial industry has lost its way, precisely for the purpose of having something we could show people if ever asked what she was saying behind closed doors for two years to all those fat cats… Perhaps at some point there will be value in sharing this with a reporter and getting a story written. Upside would be that when people say she’s too close to Wall Street and has taken too much money from bankers, we can point to evidence that she wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power”.

So next time you hear a politician anywhere criticise fat cat bankers and call for equality, keep in mind that a lot of what they say is for propaganda purposes—and they know it.

Was that worth hacking emails? You decide!

Julien Mercille is a lecturer at University College Dublin. Twitter: @JulienMercille

Read: Wikileaks accuse John Kerry of ordering Ecuador to cut off Julian Assange’s wifi >

Read: Wikileaks has accused unknown state actors of cutting Julian Assange’s internet connection >

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About the author:

Julien Mercille  / Associate professor, UCD

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