News Interest Index: Mixed Reactions to Leak of Afghanistan Documents

Aug 03, 2010

The disclosure of 75,000 classified documents about the war in Afghanistan by the website WikiLeaks garnered significant media coverage last week, and those familiar with the story were split over the effect of the leak: about equal percentages say the release harms the public interest as say it serves the public interest.

The latest News Interest Index survey, conducted July 29-August 1 among 1,003 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, finds that while news about the Gulf oil leak continues to top public interest, attention to news from Afghanistan spiked following the WikiLeaks report, with 34% following Afghanistan reports very closely, up from 22% the previous week.  This is the highest interest in Afghanistan news since December 2009, in the weeks following Barack Obama’s decision to increase troop deployments there.

Most Americans have heard either a lot (37%) or a little (36%) about the WikiLeaks story specifically, though 27% say they heard nothing at all about it. Among those who have heard about the leak, 47% say the disclosure of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan harms the public interest while 42% say it serves the public interest.

Those most attentive to the story take a more critical view of the WikiLeaks release. Among the 37% of the public that has heard a lot about it, most (53%) say the disclosure of classified documents about the Afghanistan war harms the public interest; those following the story less closely are divided: 42% say the leak serves the public interest, 40% say it harms the public interest, while another 18% say they don’t know or say it does both or neither.

Age is also a factor in views of the classified document leak with younger Americans taking a less critical view of the disclosure made on the WikiLeaks website. On balance, those under age 50 think the leak serves the public interest (48% serve, 40% harm). By contrast, those over 50 say the leak harms the public interest by a 55%-40% margin.

Read the full report, Mixed Reactions to Leak of Afghanistan Documents on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press' Web site.

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