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Media’s Inconsiderable Coverage of Bradley Manning’s Hearing on Confinement at Quantico

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As the latest hearing in the court martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning unfolded, a story about media developed. The New York Times did not send a staff reporter to cover testimony by the soldier the United States government is prosecuting for allegedly transferring classified information to WikiLeaks. Margaret Sullivan, the newspaper’s public editor, wrote a column calling out the Times for not being there. The paper was pushed into sending journalist Scott Shane on December 7 and then journalist Charlie Savage on December 11.

Al Jazeera English’s program, “The Listening Post,” produced a segment in which I appeared, along with Peter Hart of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), Eliza Gray of The New Republic (who wrote this key blog post on the Times and Manning), Al Jazeera English Washington correspondent Rosiland Jordan.

Hart says, “If we accept the argument that Manning is the source of this WikiLeaks information, then we have to assume that Manning is one of the most important sources for journalists in the past twenty to twenty-five years being put on trial for the information that he shared with WikiLeaks and thus with the world.” But the Washington Bureau chief did not think the Times had to have someone there, even though the Times published information from WikiLeaks that the government believes came from Manning.

As I would put it, if I were to have a source provide me—a journalist—with sensitive or classified information and I chose to publish (as I have a right to do) and that source was later under prosecution and I did not cover the legal proceedings, I would be guilty of neglecting someone who I had benefited from by publishing their information. It would be appalling to me to keep my distance because I would feel like I bore some responsibility since I played a role in the distribution of information my source was alleged to have released.

The segment looks at this and then goes back to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers to show there was a time when media saturated print, radio and television with coverage of the US government going after a whistleblower.

I did a good amount of radio interviews these past weeks, so to be clear, it would not be true to say there was no media interest. I feel like this hearing on Manning’s confinement at Quantico, where the defense was arguing he was punished before trial, did receive good attention but it should have received much more coverage. Still, there should have been more reporters there to cover the entire hearing and not just Manning’s testimony.

This is the biggest military justice case in the history of the United States. This case is not just about Manning. The manner in which Manning is being prosecuted by the government will have implications for years, if not decades, after his trial is completed.

That said, I would like to call attention to what I consider the best interview I gave. It was for “Citizen Radio” w/ Allison Kilkenny and Jamie Kilstein and can be listened to here. Honorable mention would be this interview I did for “Counterpoint” w/ Scott Harris on WKPN. It can be heard here.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."