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WikiLeaks (and a kiss stolen in the 13th century)

[ by Charles Cameron — Assange, WikiLeaks, Google Ngrams, impact assessment — and a digression ]


Charles, duc d’Orleans


Let’s start with Julian Assange; we’ll get to Charles d’Orleans later.

In the movie Julian Assange: a Modern Day Hero? Assange claims for WikiLeaks‘ massive Afghan / ISAF leak

It’s the most detailed history of any war that has been made, ever. It’s significant.

I don’t think there’s much doubt that WikiLeaks has had some impact in many areas of our complex world — but as I was watching the film the other day, I found myself wondering just how small its cumulative impact is, in comparison to that immense complexity.


Assange makes various claims for WikiLeaks in the movie, but perhaps the most instructive one comes at the tail end of his statement describing the WL project as a whole:

WikiLeaks is a project of Sunshine Press; Sunshine Press is a collaboration between journalists, technical people, cyberpunks, some anti-corruption people, and some fairly famous civil rights activists, to try and get as many documents as possible out onto the internet that have never been released before that will produce positive political reform.

Let’s take Assange’s expressed hope that WL will “produce positive political reform” as the benchmark here.

Has it done that? Are there any signs that it will? What positive political reform, precisely?

Have, for instance, the Afghan WikiLeaks influenced the outcome of the war in Afghanistan?


Or – to put the same question slightly differently – is or was WikiLeaks all a bit of a nine-days-wonder?

Google’s Ngram Viewer allows users to search for the frequency of uses of specific terms across a large volume of books over a specific time frame. It cannot have escaped the attention of folks at Google (or no such agency) that an Ngram-style timeline of mentions of names and terms of one sort or another in news articles from the leading news sources would be of similar interest.

A promo page on the movie notes that “WikiLeaks and Assange have been one of THE news stories of 2010” and suggests “There is a new WikiLeaks story in the media every week and the next wave involves the big banks in 2011” – not to mention “Julian Assange will remain in the news all year as his controversial sex crime charges come to a head later in 2011” – no doubt a popular selling point…

Is there a new WikiLeaks story in the media every week? I’m wondering what a Ngram of news mentions of WikiLeaks across the last two or three years would show.


What’s a “nine days wonder”?

I had to use Google myself to verify that “a nine days wonder” (as opposed to “a seven days wonder”) was the phrase I should be using.

I was delighted to find that an old hero of mine – the poet Charles d’Orleans – was among the first to use it:

For this a wondir last but dayes nyne, An oold proverbe is seid.

I have always liked d’Orleans since I first ran across his poetic “confession” to God and his priest:

My ghostly father! I me confess,
First to God, and then to you,
That at a window, wot you how,
I stole a kiss of great sweetness!

To steal is sinful, to be sure, and kisses carry their own moral burden – but confession and penitence purifies the soul.

The thing is, reparation must also be made — and so it is that d’Orleans continues by vowing to God:

But I restore it shall, doubtless…

— the stolen kiss, that is.

He’s willing to give it back — always assuming that particular “window of opportunity” is still open…


But I digress.  Which raises the question: is there a purpose to digression, do you suppose?

7 Responses to “WikiLeaks (and a kiss stolen in the 13th century)”

  1. zenpundit.com » Blog Archive » WikiLeaks (and a kiss stolen in the … | 6d Says:

    […] the film the other day, I found myself wondering just how small its cumulative impact is, … Persistent Search Charlie Beckett, POLIS Director ? Blog Archive ? WikiLeaks and the …Knight Science Journalism […]

  2. seydlitz89 Says:

    As to JA’s achievement in terms of strategic effect we have this . . .
    Reform, or even "reform" was his/their goal, correct?
    How does JA compare to the NeoCons do you think?

  3. Bryan Alexander Says:

    Of course there’s a purpose to digression.  Tristram Shandy explains it quite clearly!
    Which reminds me of a story…

  4. Charles Cameron Says:

    Yup, I was thinking of Shandy as I wrote that…
    Delighted that you read that far and picked up on it!

  5. Charles Cameron Says:

    Hi, Seydlitz:
    Okay, I see the NYT says:

    The protesters, led at first by unemployed college graduates like Mr. Bouazizi and later joined by workers and young professionals, found grist for the complaints in leaked cables from the United States Embassy in Tunisia, released by WikiLeaks, that detailed the self-dealing and excess of the president’s family. And the protesters relied heavily on social media Web sites like Facebook and Twitter to circulate videos of each demonstration and issue calls for the next one.

    Since I tend to follow Zeynep Tufekci in these matters, I took note of her comment that Ethan Zuckerman "is, along with Jillian C. York … among the few people participating in this debate who were in touch with Tunisian dissidents on the ground not just through this crisis but over the years" – and he wrote:

    Pundits will likely start celebrating a "Twitter revolution" in Tunisia, even if they missed watching it unfold; the Atlantic‘s Andrew Sullivan already revived the dreaded phrase Thursday. Others are seeking connections between unfolding events and a WikiLeaks cable that showed U.S. diplomats’ frustration with Ben Ali, and with denial-of-service attacks by online activist group Anonymous, which has been targeting entities that have tried to stop the dissemination of WikiLeaks cables, like the Tunisian government. But any attempt to credit a massive political shift to a single factor — technological, economic, or otherwise — is simply untrue. Tunisians took to the streets due to decades of frustration, not in reaction to a WikiLeaks cable, a denial-of-service attack, or a Facebook update.
    But as we learn more about the events of the past few weeks, we’ll discover that online media did play a role in helping Tunisians learn about the actions their fellow citizens were taking and in making the decision to mobilize. How powerful and significant this influence was will be something that academics will study and argue over for years to come.

    — Ethan Zuckerman, The First Twitter Revolution?

    So I guess I have to plead ignorance — I’m really not clear on how the credit for Tunisia — and all that follows, whether for good or ill — should be divided. 
    But your point is well-taken — WikiLeaks may indeed have been among the factors in a still unfurling shift the the global political climate…

  6. seydlitz89 Says:


    Such events are by their very nature highly complex and there were unquestionably various causes for the revolution in Tunisia. My point was that there is some indication that the leaked cable did have some influence in this case . . .

    That’s one example of JA’s possible achievement of strategic effect . . . then there’s this . . .


  7. Charles Cameron Says:


    Complex and multi-causal indeed…  

    It looks as though WL has had more of an impact than I’d realized.  Anything clearly negative, especially as a result of the most recent, un-redacted batch?  Is anyone keeping tabs?

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