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Bradley Manning’s Statement, The Press and Whistleblowing

A statement Pfc. Bradley Manning read in court yesterday as part of his guilty pleas provided further evidence of how organizationally establishment US media organizations are incapable of responding to tips from whistleblowers. It also included much to ponder as President Barack Obama’s administration continues to maintain a war on whistleblowers, especially those whose work involves so-called national security.

According to a near verbatim transcript of his statement produced by Alexa O’Brien, who has been covering the court martial every day there have been proceedings, Manning recounted how he tried to share the Iraq and Afghanistan war logs with US media outlets before submitting to WikiLeaks:

At my aunt’s house I debated what I should do with the SigActs [war logs]– in particular whether I should hold on to them– or expose them through a press agency. At this point I decided that it made sense to try to expose the SigAct tables to an American newspaper. I first called my local news paper, The Washington Post, and spoke with a woman saying that she was a reporter. I asked her if the Washington Post would be interested in receiving information that would have enormous value to the American public. Although we spoke for about five minutes concerning the general nature of what I possessed, I do not believe she took me seriously. She informed me that the Washington Post would possibly be interested, but that such decisions were made only after seeing the information I was referring to and after consideration by senior editors.

I then decided to contact [missed word] the most popular newspaper, The New York Times. I called the public editor number on The New York Times website. The phone rang and was answered by a machine. I went through the menu to the section for news tips. I was routed to an answering machine. I left a message stating I had access to information about Iraq and Afghanistan that I believed was very important. However, despite leaving my Skype phone number and personal email address, I never received a reply from The New York Times.

Spokespeople for both the Times and the Post said they had no knowledge of Manning ever trying to offer up copies of the war logs.

What seems to have happened is a comedy of errors. There may be no single person at fault. The staff involved with these newspapers may be able to say a receptionist did not pass along the news tip or, in terms of the message left for the public editor, the Times can say we get eighty to a hundred of these in a day. Only about ten seconds of each are listened to before deleting and moving on to the next message because many are from crazy people. But, does that excuse what happened?

Do press want to be able to accept disclosures from soldiers who believe they have uncovered something they believe the public has a right to know? If outlets do, it would seem the process for accepting news tips is in disarray. He was only on leave for a short period in January 2010 and that was the time when he could share what he had with media organizations. He had a small window and, when the papers he wanted to publish did not appear interested, he decided to try WikiLeaks and submit the war logs from a Barnes & Noble in Rockville, Maryland.

Though WikiLeaks did not publish the war logs for months, the organization did not give him the feeling that he was being blown off because they had the material. He felt a sense of relief that they had the documents. It “allowed [him] to have a clear conscience” on what he was seeing happen every day.

Had the Times or Post obtained the logs and begun to examine them for publication, what would the organizations have done? Would they have published? Would they have notified the government they now possessed the documents? The Times communicated with the government when preparing to publish State Department cables:

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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."