We are Manning

I have just one problem with David Carr’s good column decrying government opacity in the prosecution and trial of Bradley Manning: He lets us in the press (as well as in the chattering blog class) off easy.

Carr doesn’t mention the wrist-slap given The Times by its own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, for not sending a reporter to the Manning hearings.

He also gives newspapers as a group a too-easy excuse for not covering Manning: “Yet coverage has been limited, partly by the court’s restrictions and partly because an increasingly stretched news media business often does not have the time, or the resources, to cover lengthy trials.”

We aren’t going to use that excuse all the time now, are we? “Oh, we couldn’t cover that story vital to the nation and the fate of a free press because not enough of you are paying or because retail advertisers are dying or because Google took our customers.” Yes, our resources are scarce — always have been — and getting scarcer. But this is still a matter of news judgment. What was covered while Manning wasn’t? I’ll bet we can find stories to have sacrificed.

If we’re going to argue that the public still needs editors and their news judgment, then it’s a tad disingenuous to say that this is a story of vital national interest that the government has been trying to hide from us but we don’t have the time to cover it. Isn’t that precisely the story we should be covering? Isn’t coverage just what is needed to keep a watch on government and its efforts at secrecy?

The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, whom Carr quotes, has maintained coverage of the Manning story long after the splash of the Wikileaks revelations that both papers carried — thus he helps to secure the Guardian’s role as a truly international news organization. Greg Mitchell has also been diligent in pursuing the story. Beyond that, there has been too little coverage from The Times and other U.S. news organizations.

And there has been too little discussion from bloggers like me, I’ll confess. I care about openness, about journalism, and about over-aggressive prosecutions and legislation that demonize technology. So I should have been talking about Manning more and also about the case of Aaron Swartz. These are stories central to the fate of free speech. In both cases, I fear the attention came too little, too late, which makes it all the more vital that we concentrate on them now, for every reason Carr gives.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/PJ-Schwackhammer/100003243883722 PJ Schwackhammer

    Private Manning’s actions were not “free speech.” He signed and swore to multiple security clearance agreements before he chose to violate those agreements and God only knows how many federal laws. He was completely free to (a) not join the Army, (b) not apply for or accept his clearance, or (c) not accept a SIPRNET account in the full knowledge that he would be held responsible for securing that information.

    While it’s certainly true that a lot of military and government information is misclassified, determining which items might fall into that category (much less declaring them declassified and fit for public release) was not in his job description. Shame that “journalists” have no concept of such facts.

    • http://twitter.com/bradbelltv Brad Bell

      Private Manning’s actions were not free speech – they were obligations under international law. Soldiers have a duty to report war crimes, even if the laws of their own countries suggest otherwise. This law is higher than national law to ensure a country engaged in war crimes does not make it illegal to report war crimes. We decided this after the holocaust, I believe. The US was undoubtedly a key author. One of the reasons Manning has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is he distinguishes himself by *avoiding* being an accessory to war crimes.

  • daniel thornton

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing, This applies to journalists as well as Army privates.

  • http://twitter.com/bradbelltv Brad Bell

    For a concise catchup on the war on whistleblowers, journalists, the internet, and everything, watch “Inside Story : Policing the freedom of the internet,” a discussion which highlights the plight of the journalist Barrett Brown, among others including Aaron Swartz.
    http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/insidestoryamericas/2013/03/2013323112814804144.html

    With Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and columnist for the Guardian newspaper; Christian Stork, who has written extensively on the Barrett Brown case for the investigative journalism site, WhoWhatWhy.com; and Kevin Gallagher, founder of the Barrett Brown Legal Defense Fund.

  • Matt

    If I were trying to interest my local news media in covering the Manning trial, I’d want to be able to educate them about the specifics of what the world has learned from Manning’s leaks to WikiLeaks. Can anyone suggest good resources for that? One recent case of media coverage inspired by the Manning leaks which led to significant investigative results can be found in the new BBC-Guardian documentary, “James Steele: America’s Man of Mystery in Iraq,” an exposé of America’s central role in the establishment of a network of Iraq torture centers during the Iraq War. Interviewed by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, the producer of the documentary explains exactly how one message among the many thousands leaked by Bradley Manning, which noted an order that U.S. military personnel ignore any Iraqi-on-Iraqi torture they might witness, alerted her investigation unit to a possible story: http://www.democracynow.org/2013/3/22/new_expos_links_torture_centers_in

  • Stan Hogan

    As you might point out, that information is out there. Free.

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