A Harvard law professor testified Wednesday in the court martial of Bradley Manning that the Army private’s leak of hundreds of thousands of classified materials changed how Wikileaks was viewed by government and media outlets.

From the Albany Times Union:

An Army private’s leak of classified information to WikiLeaks changed how the public, the government and traditional news media perceived the anti-secrecy organization — from a legitimate journalistic enterprise to a group that supported terrorism, a Harvard law professor testified Wednesday.

Pfc. Bradley Manning’s lawyers called Yochai Benkler to testify about the government’s response to WikiLeaks’ publication of Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports, State Department diplomatic cables and battlefield video that Manning has acknowledged sending to the anti-secrecy group.

Before that material was published, starting in April 2010, major newspapers and even a Pentagon report generally portrayed WikiLeaks as a new kind of journalistic organization, Benkler said.

But after WikiLeaks began publishing the hundreds of thousands of battlefield reports Manning leaked, that perception changed substantially, he said.

After WikiLeaks began publishing more than 250,000 leaked State Department cables in late November 2010, “the response is hard to define as anything but shrill,” Benkler said. He cited Vice President Joe Biden‘s comment in a Dec. 19, 2010, appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that, “I would argue it is closer to being a hi-tech terrorist than the Pentagon papers.”

And from Reuters:

WikiLeaks is “a clear distinct component of what in the history of journalism we see as high points, where journalists are able to come in and say, ‘Here’s a system operating in a way that is obscure to the public and now we’re able to shine the light,'” said Benkler, the co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Benkler, who has extensively studied WikiLeaks, said the website founded by Julian Assange might fail because of the fallout from the Manning case and its role in aiding Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor.

But former media partners of Wikileaks that were instrumental in publishing selective portions of those materials later abandoned Julian Assange and his organization over his handling of the information leaked by Manning.

In 2011, against the warnings of collaborative media outlets, Wikileaks published over 1,000 of the US State Department cables that contained the names of individual activists who had been sources for the US government, placing those individuals in potential danger and chilling the environment for future leakers and whistleblowers.

From The Guardian in September 2011:

“We deplore the decision of WikiLeaks to publish the unredacted state department cables, which may put sources at risk,” the organisations said in a joint statement.

“Our previous dealings with WikiLeaks were on the clear basis that we would only publish cables which had been subjected to a thorough joint editing and clearance process. We will continue to defend our previous collaborative publishing endeavour. We cannot defend the needless publication of the complete data – indeed, we are united in condemning it.

“The decision to publish by Julian Assange was his, and his alone.”

Those actions from Wikileaks and the strong condemnation of them also influenced how the organization was viewed.

It’s interesting to observe the change in perception, depending upon the subjects with which critics have been concerned – for the government, the concern may have been primarily for its own interests; for the media, its concern for the identities of activists.

In both scenarios, the image of Wikileaks was no longer perceived to be one that functioned with the responsibility and caution of a legitimate journalistic outlet that could be trusted with appropriate handling of sensitive information.

I wonder if that’s something the Harvard law professor ever took into consideration about Wikileaks.