No question, the journalistic “problems” of this latest WikiLeaks episode put a lot of pressure on the news organizations that got the material. The Times was perhaps blessed this time that it didn’t have to deal directly with Mr. Assange. But the path ahead was clear to Times journalists, justifiably, from the moment they saw the documents.
What if The New York Times in 1964 had possessed a document showing that L.B.J.’s intent to strike against North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident was based on false information? Should it have published the material?
What if The Times had possessed documentary evidence showing that the Bush administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction were unfounded? Should it have published the material?
These questions, which need only be posed rhetorically, supply an answer to the larger question: Would you as a reader rather have the information yourself or trust someone else to hang on to it for you?