'Der Spiegel' Studied Leaked Cables For Weeks

Several publications writing about the WikiLeaks diplomatic reports had them months in advance. One was the German magazine Der Spiegel, whose Washington correspondents include Gregor Peter Schmitz. He tells Steve Inskeep that reporters have been reading, and discussing what they read since August.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Several publications now writing about the Wikileaks diplomatic disclosures have had the documents for months. One was the German magazine Der Spiegel, whose Washington correspondents include Gregor Peter Schmitz. He says reporters have been reading and talking since August.

Mr. GREGOR PETER SCHMITZ (Der Spiegel): We agreed on certain guidelines on how we would present the findings and how we would cooperate with Wikileaks and the partners, and the editors received(ph) all the publications, were in close contact throughout this process, so yeah, there were some form of agreements, yeah.

INSKEEP: You were talking with each other about which stories you might cover, what you thought was important, what was not so important? That sort of thing?

Mr. SCHMITZ: Well, not necessarily. I mean clearly, we swapped views on what stories might be important, but then you have to keep in mind that we want to reach different audiences. So like the German magazine obviously focused more on European leaders. The Americans, of course, are focused on American strategic interest. And this is, I mean the first stories that are coming out now (unintelligible) the beginning. I mean we're going to keep rolling out stories over weeks, basically now, and we would like to cover the entire world. So - but still we have different perspectives and I think that is actually a very interesting thing, that you can see how the different outlets focus on different stories.

INSKEEP: What process, if any, have you had to make sure that whatever material you publish does not endanger people's lives?

Mr. SCHMITZ: Well, I mean, we have been in close contact with the other editors, obviously, but also with U.S. government officials. And they pointed that out very clearly, but that was clear from the beginning, that if you have information by an informant and naming this informant would put this person in danger, we left out the name or we left out details that might disclose the identity of that person.

INSKEEP: Just to your knowledge - and I know you're one of dozens of people at Der Spiegel working on this - were there cases that you're involved with where things are actually being withheld in that way?

Mr. SCHMITZ: Yeah, there have been instances, yes.

INSKEEP: I'm looking here at a webpage in which the editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, has been answering questions, because the New York Times, like Der Spiegel, got these documents in advance and is publishing stories related to them. And if I could sum up these questions, some of the angrier questions, they amount to: What right do you have to publish these? The United States has officials. They're elected. It's a democracy. Their job is to keep secrets, among other things, and they make decisions about what's classified. Why do you have the right to overturn that?

Mr. SCHMITZ: Well, again, I think we followed very strict guidelines when it came to the publication of the memos. We're not putting anyone into danger. We were in touch with government officials. We accepted some of their recommendations.

INSKEEP: Some.

Mr. SCHMITZ: We did not accept all consideration because in some cases, we think that it's more important for the public to know about these developments. That trumps the justified interest of countries to protect their diplomatic sources or diplomatic communication. This is not just about gossip. This is not just about badmouthing leaders.

If you read the whole coverage that is coming out over the next weeks or so, you will realize that this is about important global developments; it's giving you an insight into, well, basically how the world is perceived and run from an American's perspective, and I think that is something that the public has a right to know, yeah.

INSKEEP: Do you feel as a correspondent who's covered these stories from the outside that you have a different understanding or that you're only confirming your understanding of what has happened in the world in the last couple of years, last several years?

Mr. SCHMITZ: Well, I think there are some findings that are very - not necessarily surprising for somebody who has followed it closely. I think it's more surprising that people are actually putting that into writing. If you read, for example, how strongly Arab nations feel about the prospect of a nuclear Iran, if you see how in a way helpless U.S. diplomacy sometimes is when they have to bargain with other nations on whether these nations will accept Guantanamo prisoners or not, if you see how unreliable some partners have become or how sketchy the alliances with difficult countries or difficult partners, like Pakistan, have become, that is something that certainly as a person who covers such topics we have heard before, but to see it in writing and sometimes in very blunt writing and to realize that people, up to the secretary of state, expressing utter frustration with that, it is just very interesting, and I think it changes your perspective on also sometimes the limit of American power.

INSKEEP: Gregor Peter Schmitz is a correspondent based here in Washington from the German magazine Der Spiegel. Thanks very much.

Mr. SCHMITZ: Thank you.

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