In light of the mammoth leak of diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks earlier this week, and the numerous new stories that have followed, we thought it’d be worth taking the time to zoom out, and find out who’s providing the necessary context (and explanation) to what some people are calling Cablegate.
A good explainer begins by answering the most fundamental questions about the issue at hand. To that end, we’ve posed three questions that we thought, if answered well, amount to a great explanation of what’s going on with WikiLeaks and its treasure trove of leaked cables.
Q: What is WikiLeaks (a distant cousin of Wikipedia?) and how do they “leak”?
A: The latest short video by CNN.com’s Tech Connect web series gives an excellent explanation of what WikiLeaks is and why they’re making headlines today. Clocking in at under two minutes, this video is the best way to get quickly caught up on the WikiLeaks drama.
Q: What is a diplomatic cable?
A: Slate published an article in its Explainer section that gets straight to the point. The article, What’s a “Diplomatic Cable”?, is reason #99 why we love Slate, and demonstrates why they’re at the vanguard of explanatory journalism. In a nutshell: Slate says the cables are basically the State Department’s version of “a group e-mail.”
Q: What’s in the leaked diplomatic cables (and who cares)?
A: WikiLeaks’ huge trove of 250,000 secret diplomatic cables were released (in their entirety) to a number of international media organizations in advance of their public release. A limited number of cables have now also been released to the public via the WikiLeaks site, and more are trickling in to the public domain daily.
So how do you access the cables and find out what’s in them? The Guardian, one of the first media organizations to get access to all of the cables, produced a great interactive map that organizes the enormous database of cables and visualizes the information in them. It also makes it easy to access cables by country, and preview what’s in the cable before reading it in full.
If you don’t want to dig through the original cables yourself and just want a summary of the juiciest details, this Huffington Post slideshow highlights the nastiest comments made by American diplomats about world leaders.
For a more detailed look at what’s in the cables and why it matters, visit the New York Times’ series, State’s Secrets, which delves deep into the cables. Also, the Times article Leaked Cables Offer Raw Look at US Diplomacy takes chunks from some of the most important cables and explains their significance.