Covering the Coverage of the Diplomatic Leaks

The major outlets that received document drops from Wikileaks are covering the story in different and interesting ways.

The publication of a quarter million diplomatic communiques by Wikileaks over the weekend continues continues to dominate the headlines. Doug Mataconis first posted on it here and I commented on the potential embarrassments some of the leaked documents might cause to the Arab states of the Gulf.

Wikileaks has apparently given the document drop to leading news sources here and in Europe including The New York Times, Britain’s The Guardian, Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde, and Spain’s El Pais. I found the differences among the ways in which the leaks were covered very interesting.

The New York Times

Of the coverage by the various media outlets by far the least useful is that of the New York Times. The Times’s coverage is resolutely stuck in a gatekeeper and dead tree mode. The style of the coverage is narrative, the article is fairly lengthy, a handful of interesting communiques are highlighted, and little attempt is made at categorizing, analyzing, or otherwise summarizing the scope of the documents received.

The Times did reprint at least one actual communication here.

It may be that the Times’s editors are concerned about being the receivers of stolen goods and this has hampered their coverage. Or it may be that they are attempting to be discrete. If that’s the case, it’s a futile task since the documents are being published rather than closely held by the Times. It may be that the editors plan to dribble the information out over days or weeks to gain maximum impact or allow them to scrutinize the information more closely. Again, that’s a futile task.

Update: It may be that I should cut the Times a little more slack. According to The Guardian the NYT didn’t receive the document drop from Wikileaks but from the Guardian. The NYT may not have had the time or access to enough documents to give us better coverage.

The Guardian

The Guardian’s coverage is only a little better than the Times’s and similar in format. One interesting addition in The Guardian’s coverage is a “live-blogging” of reactions from various parts of the world to the revelations in the leaked documents.

Spiegel Online

To the coverage from the American and British news sources Spiegel Online has added several interesting and handy features. One is an interactive analysis of the documents which enables the user to hone in on the leaked documents by source, time period, and degree of classification. If the interface allowed one to actually drill down to individual documents, it would be a near-perfect user interface. Alas, it does not. Perhaps that’s planned for the future.

Spiegel also helpfully supplied links to the articles of other major news outlets on the leaks, something absent from the Times’s or Guardian’s coverage (at least in their main articles).

Le Monde

Compared to the Times’s coverage Le Monde’s is short and punchy, providing 14 brief paragraphs of highly factual analysis followed by a dozen or so links to other articles in Le Monde that amplified the base article with more detailed analysis of individual communications and other topics.

El Pais

El Pais’s coverage resembles Le Monde’s somewhat, albeit a bit less organized. There are base articles followed by links to related articles. One interesting feature of El Pais’s coverage is that it appears to be more tailored to its readership than that of the other outlets. So, for example, there is detailed coverage of communications on Spain, Turkey, and Venezuela not found in the coverage of other outlets that I found particularly interesting. To my eye El Pais appears to have a lot more coverage of actual documents than any other news outlet.

Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. […] have handed them the stolen materials, not the press.  As the editorials quoted above imply and Dave Schuler states outright, the fact that five newspapers were given access to the material means that someone […]

  2. John Burgess says:

    Here’s the way I wrote up international coverage at Crossroads Arabia. Apparently, I didn’t find the El Pais links you did.
    All of the papers seem to be holding specifics for future reporting. The WikiLeaks site itself, which promises a download of the entire dump, is claiming server overload. I’m going to keep trying, as are, I’m sure, a gazillion others.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Thanks, John.  Your coverage is great, as usual.
    I didn’t even look at the El Pais English-language site.  What I found was in the Spanish-language version.   The English version doesn’t have the links.  Interesting.  What’s a poor English speaker to do?

  4. Andre Kenji says:

    in fact, these are differents newspapers. Most of the content of the Le Monde is only available in print and via a paywall, The Guardian tries to openly court English speaking readers from outside England and El Pais is in fact part of a major newsmedia group, that get readers in all the Spanish speaking world(There is plenty of Brazilian coverage, for instance). It´s the only one of the group in a really healthy situation.

  5. Franklin says:

    What’s a poor English speaker to do?
    Well I’ve never heard you speak, your writing seems fine … 😀

  6. steve says:

    What’s a poor English speaker to do?”
    Embrace free market economics and get rich.

  7. John Burgess says:

    Alas, Spanish isn’t one of my languages. If the links are on the Spanish-only pages, I’m not going to see them. If I understood correctly, though, these pages will be translated in the coming days.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    You have to ask the NY Times, why these leaks and not Climategate?

  9. John Burgess says:

    @ Steve Plunk. Really? Does that question have to be asked?

  10. Steve Plunk says:

    @John Burgess.  You’re right but can’t we at least bring it up so one of our resident liberals might bite?

  11. Brett says:

    I think I agree on the El Pais coverage, Dave, although I can’t be entirely sure – my Spanish isn’t too hot. I only got the jist of it.
    The fact that the New York Times got the documents from The Guardian, and not Wikileaks itself, is interesting. I suspect they may have refused some conditions that Wikileaks asked for in terms of release, since the Wall Street Journal‘s coverage of the issue said that they had been offered the cables with conditions, but had refused those conditions.
    I’m not quite as down on the Guardian’s coverage as you are. They do have an interactive map that lets you see the cables (and articles written about them) linked to specific countries. None of it, though, is as good as simply going to the Wikileaks website and browsing them there.

  12. Tlaloc says:

    You have to ask the NY Times, why these leaks and not Climategate?

    You really don’t understand the difference between communications between some scientists and those between the envoys of the most powerful nations on earth several of whom have the capacity to render the plant devoid of human life?
    Really?  You really just don;t get the difference in newsworthiness between those two?

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    Tlaloc,  It wasn’t the newsworthiness that the Times cited as a reason not to post the Climategate emails.  They claimed it was wrong to post ‘stolen’ emails.  Well what do we have here?  Stolen emails.  Both stolen from government entities by the way.
    I get the difference but was bringing up the Times hypocrisy on ethics.  Of course we should remember those scientist could have destroyed the world’s economy so I guess that is newsworthy.