Advancing a Free Society

Leaked documents can’t tell the whole story

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Critics and supporters of the Obama administration alike, others concerned foremost about national security, the so-called whistle-blowers of WikiLeaks, and both U.S. allies and enemies believe the released diplomatic documents contain significant revelations about U.S. foreign policy. But is this perception accurate?

This convergence of opinion from such conflicting groups is based on the premise that a document stands on its own. Read a memo, and you have the whole story.

But if historians and other scholars believed raw data mean nothing more than what appears on the page, they would have little need to write analyses creating or challenging conventional wisdom, nor would they need to spend long shifts in archives poring over aging documents.

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