Time’s Rick Stengel: WikiLeaks helps U.S.

Editor’s note: A podcast of this program featuring Rick Stengel can be streamed by clicking the play button below: :

WikiLeaks, the controversial non-profit website for whistleblowers, has been at the center of the news and legal debate since the recent release of over 250,000 US Embassy diplomatic cables. Their home page, which describes their efforts as promoting transparency, displays the following quote attributed to Time magazine: “Could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.”

During his recent visit to the National Constitution Center we asked Time’s managing editor Rick Stengel about WikiLeaks and whether their actions were helping or hurting America’s diplomatic efforts:

Stengel then took the F.M. Kirby Auditorium stage for the first time since stepping down as CEO of the Center in 2006 to discuss American history and politics through the lens of the newly published book TIME: The Illustrated History of the World’s Most Influential Magazine.

Led by current CEO David Eisner, the public conversation covered a wide range of issues from political partisanship, to philanthropy, to the influence of the iPad on the traditional media business. The discussion, of course, also addressed the hot topic of WikiLeaks, as it was Stengel who scored the only interview with its founder Julianne Assange after the cables were released (click here to read a transcript of the full interview).

Time Managing Editor Richard Stengel (left) and National Constitution Center CEO David Eisner. Photos: Copyright Carol Feeley Photography.

Despite the media frenzy and attention that the interview attracted, Stengel pointed out that the “news” was not that Assange had demanded Hilary Clinton step down as Secretary of State. In fact, he used the media’s fixation on this one aspect as an illustration of what, in his words, “passes for news these days.”

Stengel went on to articulate the inherent tension for the media business which, on the one hand, wants to stimulate thoughtful discussion and debate and, on the other, lures the public with sensationalism like a “carnival barker” who “has to get people into the tent.”

Stefan Frank is the National Constitution Center’s Director of Digital Engagement and manager of Constitution Daily’s Twitter account @ConDailyBlog. Follow us!