December 8, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Chris Spannos:
It took the New York Times approximately eleven days to send a journalist to report on army Private Bradley Manning’s historic Fort Meade court hearing. It took the Times twelve days to publish a story that did not originate from a newswire.
Even though Manning’s hearing will continue to unfold next week, the paper’s Washington bureau chief and its journalists on the beat do not currently consider Manning’s hearing important enough to dedicate substantial time and resources to.
Manning is allegedly responsible for the largest classified military leaks in history. These include a quarter-million U.S. Embassy cables and hundreds of thousands of other documents relating to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The whistle blowing organization WikiLeaks, including the Times and other international press, published this material.
During the hearing’s first week many Times’ readers were upset that the paper had not dedicated a reporter to cover the event. This prompted Times’ Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, to write last Wednesday that her paper had “missed the boat” and that “The Times should be there.”
On Friday, Twitter users attending Manning’s hearing began reporting sightings of Scott Shane, the Times’ Washington bureau reporter, saying he had finally arrived at the Fort Meade location.
Shane confirmed to NYT eXaminer (NYTX) yesterday evening that he was there and would have a front-page article reporting the hearing in today’s paper.
The article, bylined with Charlie Savage, is now online and landing on doorsteps around the country. It bares the web title “In WikiLeaks Case, Defense Puts the Jailers on Trial.”
But even though Shane and Savage have written today’s article, citizens and press members attending the hearing say Shane was not participating in the press pool and did not get — nor want — press credentials to do so.
The hearing ended Friday evening and is in recess now. It will continue Monday morning, 9:30 AM (EST).
Statements from Shane to NYTX about press credentials, and the news that the hearing offers relative to other stories that the Times must cover, indicate their non-commitment to reporting future sessions of the hearing and the numerous related news stories that could be written.
Journalist Alexa O’Brien, who has been documenting the hearing in detail from Fort Meade, informed NYTX that a spokeswoman for the Army’s Military District of Washington (MDW) told the press pool that Shane did not want credentials.
O’Brien explained that, at her prompting, the MDW spokeswoman told the whole press pool that she and Shane had spoken a few days before and that she had in fact asked him if he wanted credentials and Shane refused.
I asked the MDW spokeswoman to confirm that she told the press pool that Shane did not want press credentials.
The spokeswoman deferred the question to Shane, saying “What someone chooses to do or not do as far as credentialing, that’s their right. So I think you should talk to him.”
Not satisfied with her answer, I again asked the spokeswoman to confirm what she told the press pool regarding his decision.
“The press pool is here and that’s what I am saying is that, that doesn’t have anything to do with the case itself. You’re asking about someone’s press credentials,” she said.
I asked Shane to verify the claim that he did not want credentials and, if not, why not?
I also asked him to clarify the allegation that he and the MDW spokeswoman had spoken a few days before and if he would explain what the content of that discussion was. He did not answer this question.
Regarding the claim that the MDW spokeswoman said that they had in fact asked him if he wanted credentials and that he refused them, Shane replied “Don’t fret about the credential business.”
He explained that he had requested credentials “a couple of times and didn’t hear back, so today I decided to go as a citizen!”
He said that he was the first to arrive and “got to chat with other attendees and sat in the courtroom instead of the satellite building where the press sits.”
He explained that yesterday a press officer told him that there was an email problem, “which may explain the non-response on credentials.”
It’s good that Shane got to report on the hearing as a citizen without credentials. However, by mid-day Friday others attending the hearing were circulating new Twitter reports pointing out that Shane had left early.
Jesselyn Radack, National Security & Human Rights Director at the Government Accountability Project, tweeted:
— Jesselyn Radack (@JesselynRadack) December 8, 2012
And an activist attending the hearing tweeting as the “WikiLeaks Truck” wrote:
— Art Superheroes (@WikileaksTruck) December 7, 2012
I asked Shane why he left when there was more than six hours remaining of the hearing, “How will your report cover what you were not there to see and hear?”
Shane did not answer this question.
In response to him telling me not to “fret about the credential business,” I asked him if his lack of concern about obtaining press credentials means that he does not plan on reporting the continuing sessions next week, and, if not why not?
Shane explained that the Times has written lots of stories about Manning and will write many more, “we have a lot of competing issues and events to cover, and sadly we can’t spare a reporter to sit through all the hearings.”
“Even if we did, we wouldn’t write daily on this — just too much else to cover,” he said.
Regarding whether or not he will return on Monday to cover the story Shane says, “I’m not certain when I or a colleague will be back at the hearing — depends on competing stories, prospect for significant news from the hearing etc.”
Shane’s answer echoes what the Times’ Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt told Public Editor Margaret Sullivan earlier this week:
We’ve covered [Manning] and will continue to do so. But as with any other legal case, we won’t cover every single proceeding. In this case, doing so would have involved multiple days of a reporter’s time, for a relatively straightforward story.
As NYTX has already argued, by saying that they have covered Manning and “and will continue to do so” means that the Times will do so in a particular way to marginalize the importance of his case.
Until their dedication to Manning’s hearing changes, they will continue to report only just enough to say that they have.
I replied to Shane explaining that “the press generally, and the Times specifically, has a responsibility to be covering this hearing in detail, and also the many other stories that could be spun off from it.”
Relative to other stories of similar importance, for example Pussy Riot, the Times has dedicated much less ink to Manning.
His front page article today — with the shared byline explaining “Scott Shane reported from Fort Meade, and Charlie Savage from Washington” – is a decent first step towards rectifying the Times problematic lack of coverage.
It is a basic overview of what happened at the hearing on Friday.
“In a half-empty courtroom here, with a crew of fervent supporters in attendance, Pfc. Bradley Manning and his lawyer have spent the last two weeks turning the tables on the government,” they wrote.
But while most of Shane and Savage’s reporting is straight forward other segments hint at a dismissive attitude towards international law and those who seek to up hold it:
In a long day of testimony last week, Private Manning of the Army, vilified as a dangerous traitor by some members of Congress but lauded as a war-crimes whistle-blower on the political left, heartened his sympathizers with an eloquent and even humorous performance on the stand.
I replied to Shane explaining that his phrasing in the article demeans the law.
“As you know, war crimes are not a partisan issue but are measured by international legal norms that are widely agreed upon and should be enforced by international legal instruments,” I wrote.
To say Manning is “lauded” by the “political left” also marginalizes anyone who is against war crimes — no matter what position on the political spectrum they come from.
Please “re-consider your framing of war crimes as a non-partisan issue in your future reporting,” I recommended.
I congratulated him on his article today and thanked him for his time.
“I hope the Times will change its mind and send you next week,” I stated.