June 10, 2012 · 2 Comments
Above: Bradley Manning at Fort Meade. Colonel Denise Lind refused to meet a request to throw out 10 of the 22 counts against him. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images
By Marie Burns:
Evidently, nothing. Or so you would think if you relied on New York Times coverage. Bradley Manning, as Times readers may recall if they consult their way-back machines, is the American soldier whom the U.S. Army has charged with crimes related to his alleged passing of classified material to WikiLeaks. The 22 charges against Manning include aiding the enemy, communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source and theft of public property. His court-martial, being held at Fort Meade, Maryland, is ongoing. If found guilty of all charges, Manning faces life in prison.
It is not that Bradley Manning is inconsequential or that the New York Times had no interest in Manning or in matters relating to WikiLeaks. Manning is probably the only accused whistleblower most Americans can name. The New York Times has extensively reported on two huge caches of documents released by WikiLeaks – the first of which it received directly from WikiLeaks and the second via the British paper the Guardian, one of the papers to which WikiLeaks released the second cache. But there can be no question that Times management, which profited from its access to the WikiLeaks documents, has knocked itself out distancing the paper from Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. As Washington Post reporter Paul Fahri wrote in November 2010,
Bill Keller, the Times’ editor, wasn’t certain why WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, chose not to work with his newspaper on the [second batch of] leaks. But he suggested it might be related to a hard-hitting profile of Assange that the Times published in October. The story, which described Assange as “a hunted man,” said that “some of his own comrades are abandoning him for what they see as erratic and imperious behavior.”
The Times was also tough on Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who is suspected of stealing the classified military and State Department documents and passing them to WikiLeaks. In August, the newspaper reported Manning’s relationship with ‘a self-described drag queen’ and said that as a teenager “classmates made fun of him for being a geek … [and] for being gay.’
The last time a New York Times writer wrote anything substantive on Manning was on February 20 of this year. That writer was none other than Bill Keller – who by that time had stepped down as executive editor and was writing a Times op-ed column every two weeks. His February 20 column was a sustained screed against Assange, speculating that Assange just might have motivated multiple beheadings and other atrocities throughout the world. “But would we even know?” Keller asks. It is so difficult to know what inspires bloody executioners. Could it be a WikiLeaks download? Could it be something they read while perusing the Sunday Times? Despite Keller’s intense dislike of Assange, it seems Keller occasionally still finds Assange useful; to wit, Keller is often asked to speak about WikiLeaks, and after one such panel discussion in Madrid, Keller enjoyed “an after-hours prowl through the Prado Museum and a 27-course meal cooked by master chef Ferran Adrià.” Of Manning, Keller wrote,
The Army private accused of divulging three-quarters of a million secret documents to WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning – who was at first kept in such inhumane custody that the State Department spokesman quit in protest – is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on charges that could mean life in prison. You don’t have to excuse his alleged crime to think the original sin in the whole drama is that this tormented soul had access to so many secrets in the first place.
That’s all he wrote. On March 17, the Times published a one-paragraph brief written by the Associated Press about hearings in the Manning case. April 24, the Times published another one-graf AP brief on subsequent hearings. And on April 27, the Times published a one-paragraph Reuters brief noting that the military judge in Manning’s case denied a defense motion to drop one of the charges against Manning. Other than the four paragraphs cited above, none of which is a New York Times report on the Manning case, the Times has not covered Bradley Manning’s court-martial at all.
Perhaps the Manning story isn’t so newsworthy. To test that premise, let’s see what another major newspaper did over this same four-month period. The Guardian, a well-respected British daily, published the following reports and opinion pieces. All of the reports cited are full reports, not briefs like those single-paragraph items that appeared in the New York Times:
February 4: published an Associated Press report that the U.S. Army had ordered a court martial for Manning.
February 9: report by the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington on the impending arraignment of Manning.
February 23: report by the Guardian’s Karen McVeigh, who was at Fort Meade for Manning’s arraignment.
February 23: a second report by Karen McVeigh on the arraignment: Manning “deferred his plea to the 22 charges against him, and deferred a decision over whether he wanted a military judge or a jury to hear his case.
February 24: published a guest opinion piece by Logan Price in support of Manning.
March 1: published a guest opinion by Amy Goodman in support of Assange and Manning.
March 12: report by Ed Pilkington: “The UN special rapporteur on torture has formally accused the US government of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment towards Bradley Manning….”
March 15: published an AP report on a hearing in the Manning case.
April 24: report by Ed Pilkington on developments in the Manning case, noting that Manning “will face his military detractors again on Tuesday at the start of up to three more days of procedural hearings ahead of a full court martial.”
April 24: published a guest opinion by U.S. civil liberties attorney Michael Ratner who writes that “The US government’s suppression of all accountability and transparency in prosecuting [Bradley Manning] is totalitarian.”
April 24: report by Ed Pilkington: “A military judge has ordered the state department to release into her hands official documents that assessed from the viewpoint of the US government how damaging the leak of state secrets to WikiLeaks had been to American national interests. The order of the judge, Colonel Denise Lind, came at a hearing in Fort Meade, Maryland, in the court-martial of Bradley Manning.”
April 26: published an AP report: “A military judge has refused to throw out the charges against US army private Bradley Manning….”
April 26: report by Ed Pilkington: “The military judge in the court-martial of the US soldier accused of handing WikiLeaks the biggest trove of unauthorised state secrets in American history has put army prosecutors on notice that they must prove Bradley Manning knew he was helping the enemy or face the possibility that the most serious charge against him be dismissed.”
Included with above report by Pilkington: a 19-minute Guardian-produced video about Bradley Manning.
May 24: report by Ed Pilkington: “… a coalition of lawyers and media outlets … has petitioned the Army court of criminal appeals calling for the court-martial against Manning to be opened up to the press and public.” Pilkington reports on the names of several prominent petitioners; the New York Times is not among them. The New York Times was a co-signer of a letter (pdf) from “a media coalition comprising 47 national and local news organizations and associations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press,” to the Department of Defense “to express concern about reports that journalists covering the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning have been unable to view documents filed in the proceeding.”
May 27: report by Ed Pilkington on a formal complaint to the court by Manning’s attorney, claiming that the government is withholding key evidence that might be exculpatory.
May 29: report by Ed Pilkington: an interview of Manning’s aunt, who described Manning’s mood and his activities in Fort Leavenworth.
May 29: published an opinion piece by Birgitta Jónsdóttir – a member of Iceland’s parliament who helped publish the 2007 footage of U.S. military personnel shooting and killing at least 12 unarmed civilians from an Apache helicopter – writing in support of Bradley Manning.
June 3: report by Ed Pilkington of Manning’s attorney’s continued attempt to obtain some 250,000 documents the government is refusing to disclose to the defense.
June 6: report by Ed Pilkington: Manning’s defense “has won a partial victory in his battle to force the government to disclose vital information that could help his defence. The judge presiding over his trial at Fort Meade in Maryland has ordered the US government to hand over several confidential documents relating to the massive leak to the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. In particular, the Obama administration must now disclose to Manning’s lawyers some of the damage assessments it carried out into the impact of the leak on US interests around the world.”
June 8: report by Ed Pilkington that “Colonel Denise Lind, presiding over the [Manning] proceedings at Fort Meade in Maryland, rejected a defence motion that 10 of the 22 counts against the US soldier should be dismissed.”
Besides the reports and opinion pieces cited, quite a number of opinion pieces mentioned Bradley Manning in relation to larger issues such as U.S. government secrecy and treatment of whistleblowers. At least a dozen other pieces featured, reviewed or mentioned the play “The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning” by Tim Price.
The Guardian, then, published 21 stories or opinion pieces in which Bradley Manning was the main subject, including the 19-minute video during the past four months. During that same period, the New York Times published four paragraphs.
There can be several explanations for this startling contrast in coverage, one of which, of course, would be that the Guardian has sensationalized the Manning story and is overreporting it. But that does not appear to be the case. Each news story the Guardian published had a reason for being. Even the May 29 report on Manning’s “mood” – the sort of story that might be suspected of being mere fluff – contrasted Manning’s treatment at Fort Leavenworth with his documented abuse at Quantico and emphasized the importance to Manning of contact with family, friends and his attorneys.
So if the problem isn’t with the Guardian, then it would seem to lie with the New York Times. As Michael Ratner, who also advises Julian Assange, wrote in the Guardian, Bradley Manning’s “status as an alleged high-profile whistleblower and the importance of the issues his case raises should all but guarantee the proceedings a prominent spot in major media, as well as in public debate.” One need not agree with or even be sympathetic to Manning to acknowledge that Ratner is right. The Manning case tests fundamental American rights and should receive regular, prominent coverage. The New York Times would seem to agree in principle. After all, Times management co-signed a letter which said, in part,
The prosecution of an American service member for the alleged leak of the largest amount of classified information in U.S. history is a matter of intense public interest, particularly where, as here, that person’s liberty is at stake. Public oversight of the proceeding is of vital importance. Indeed, the interest in openness in this case is not mere curiosity but rather a concern about the very integrity of this nation’s military courts…. (Emphasis added.)
So why is the major domo of American major media – the New York Times – giving this matter “of intense public interest” almost no coverage at all? This is a question the Times should answer. Something is wrong at the New York Times.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com