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A farewell to Reinharz

Friedman discusses WikiLeaks, technology at symposium

Published: January 21, 2011
Section: Features

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman ’75 questioned the ethics of WikiLeaks and technology in journalism during an academic symposium to honor outgoing university President Jehuda Reinharz Dec. 15, 2010 in the Shapiro Campus Center.

Friedman, who writes many columns on politics and globalization, said that he was torn about whether WikiLeaks was justified to release the more than 250,000 diplomatic cables that it did to The New York Times last month.

“I would not want to live in a world without whistleblowers,” Friedman said. “But I would not want to live in a world where any individual can expose all the internal e-mails [of an organization].”

Yet Friedman also explained that while America “on balance [is] a real force for good in the world,” Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, does not believe in or support American values.

Commenting on the role of technology, Friedman said that the benefits include the rise in globalization, but WikiLeaks demonstrates some of the potential issues with rapidly growing technology.

“It’s incredibly empowering and it’s incredibly disempowering,” Friedman said.

Friedman and Harvard Professor Michael Sandel ’75, who teaches a famous course called “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?” discussed the connection between justice, economic growth and China’s rise as a global economic power during the symposium.

Politics allows society to maximize the benefits of globalization, while minimizing the risks, Friedman said.

“Politics is about how we get the best out of [globalization] and cushion the worst,” he said. “Without economic growth, there is really just a conflict over diminishing and scarce resources.”

Although he and Friedman agreed on many economic trends, Sandel said that economic growth alone was not an effective measure of progress. Since 1980, nearly all economic growth has been in the top 20 percent of society, according to Sandel.

“The case for economic growth is important, but how that economic growth is distributed is a political, not just an economic question,” said Sandel.

Referencing the Obama administration’s bailout of Wall Street as an example, Sandel said that its excuse of needing to prevent a recession from worsening is not enough.

“I think that answer overlooks an enormous political price,” Sandel said, explaining that there should have been public, tax-payer representatives on the boards involved with the bailout.

Because of the failure to recognize that political cost, Sandel argued that “the Obama administration has become the target of that anger,” even though the bailout’s foundation began under President George W. Bush.

When discussing China’s economic rise, Friedman warned that the country’s model of government is dangerous and makes him worry about the world’s future.

When Great Britain fell as the economic superpower, America was there to take its place, Friedman said. If America falls today, China’s repressive politics should concern the world.

“There’s something really cold-blooded about China,” Friedman said. “It is an economic rise without values.”

Sandel disagreed, predicting that China can maintain a capitalist and market economy even if one party unjustly dominates the government.

When discussing technology, Friedman insisted that despite new inventions with Facebook and online media, personal interviews and conversations are irreplaceable.

“If you want to have an impact on your world, get off Facebook and into somebody’s face,” Friedman said. “I still get enormous satisfaction from interviewing people wherever I go.”

Admitting that he has never been to Facebook’s website before, Friedman said that “your world may be digital, but politics, God bless it, is still analog.”

But Reinharz reminded Friedman that society cannot deny the impact of websites such as Facebook.

“The fact is, Tom, that Mark Zuckerberg [the founder of Facebook] is the man of the year this year, not you and I,” Reinharz said.

Sandel and Friedman were childhood friends, co-starring in a play on Purim at age seven, who reunited during their studies at Brandeis and have since co-taught courses on globalization with Director of President Obama’s National Economic Council and former Harvard President Larry Summers as well as Harvard Professor Stanley Hoffman.

Reinharz spoke briefly in his final words to the university community as president.

He officially stepped down as president on Dec. 31, 2010 and Fred Lawrence became president on Jan. 1.

“I didn’t know how smart my move to Brandeis was in 1968,” Reinharz said. “It was the smartest thing I ever did.”