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Why Did The New York Times Give A Right Wing Parasite A Platform To Slander Chelsea Manning?

The New York Times published a scurrilous column on United States military whistleblower Chelsea Manning and provided a platform to a right-wing neoconservative writer, who was disappointed the military did not sentence Manning to execution in the electric chair.

Jamie Kirchick also initially refused to refer to Manning as Chelsea and use appropriate gender pronouns after she came out as a woman in August 2013. In fact, two months later, for Commentary Magazine, Kirchick labeled Chelsea Manning, a transgender person, a man.

“Supporters of [Edward] Snowden and Bradley Manning (the former Army private who released more than a quarter million classified diplomatic cables to the anarchist web collective WikiLeaks and who was recently sentenced to 35 years in prison after being found guilty of violating the Espionage Act) claim that the men are ‘whistleblowers,'” Kirchick wrote. “Far from betraying their country, both men’s backers say, they in fact served it by revealing egregious wrongdoing.”

Kirchick insists on pushing the notion that Manning engaged in treason or treachery, even though a military judge acquitted Manning of this very offense: “aiding the enemy.” He also compares Manning to the wife of Bashar al-Assad, and by dropping the Syrian leader’s name, goes low again just to push a cheap guilty-by-association smear into the minds of readers.

Why did the New York Times editorial board publish such malevolent commentary and give a platform to someone with such a toxic reputation? What is with the vitriolic headline, “When Transgender Trumps Treachery”?

The Times has come under robust criticism recently for hiring Bret Stephens, a conservative commentator known for pushing climate change denial and warmongering against Iran. New York Times editors defend such commentators as Stephens and Kirchick by arguing the paper must present a “range of views” to the outlet’s liberal-leaning readers.

In this instance, the New York Times Editorial Board has had seven years to publish commentary on Manning’s case. It published commentary in March 2013 by First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams and Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler, who testified as a witness at Manning’s trial. Both argued against punishing her with the “death penalty or life imprisonment without parole.”

The Editorial Board published two editorials on the Manning trial: one, “A Mixed Verdict On Manning,” attributed the conviction of Manning to a “national security apparatus that has metastasized into a vast unchecked exercise of government secrecy and the overzealous prosecution of those who breach it.”

It acknowledged the disclosure of records on the war in Iraq, including the “Collateral Murder” video showing a bombing attack that killed civilians, including two Reuters journalists, had real public value. It protested over-classification of information by the government and maintained Manning was not intent to bring down the U.S. government but had a “devotion” to the country.

The second editorial spoke out against the “excessive sentence” issued against Manning, contending 35 years in prison was “far too long a sentence.”

“In more than two weeks of hearings, government lawyers presented vague and largely speculative claims that Private Manning’s leaks had endangered lives and ‘chilled’ diplomatic relations,” the Editorial Board suggested.

Remarkably, the Editorial Board seemed to oppose harsh prosecutions aimed at deterring government employees from leaks because it was not reasonable to expect this to prevent leaks. There will be disclosures so long as the government keeps far too many secrets.

The wider newspaper developed a reputation for inadequately covering Manning’s court martial. The Times often did not send a reporter to cover the pretrial hearings, including major proceedings involving cruel and inhuman treatment during her pretrial confinement.

Yet, around one month after Manning was released, the New York Times Magazine had a major story about her that was a kind of post-release portrait that went a long way toward humanizing her.

Given the sympathy of the Editorial Board and the exclusive Manning gave to them for their magazine, it is a bit stunning that they would be open to publishing a reactionary op-ed.

It uses Vogue’s September profile of Manning to suggest that she—and her supporters—regularly exploit her transgender identity to distract from the “treachery” she committed.

For years, Kirchick has pushed the slanderous myth that Manning disclosed information as “revenge” against the anti-LGBT policies of the military. He perversely argues Manning’s defense used her gender identity disorder in a way that set back the ability of LGBT people to obtain “sensitive government jobs.” However, Kirchick, who is gay, apparently lacks a basic grasp of medical science.

The popular and widely utilized WebMD.com plainly states, “Gender dysphoria is not homosexuality. Your internal sense of your gender is not the same as your sexual orientation.”

Manning’s defense never invoked her homosexuality or sexual orientation to argue she didn’t deserve harsh punishment. They did, however, invoke a medical diagnosis as a mitigating factor to persuade the judge not to punish her too harshly.

Kirchick maintains LGBT activists, who support Manning, play into right-wing slanders. Unfortunately, it is misinformation and crude polemics like this op-ed that feed into the right-wing demonization of LGBT people. He constantly revives the far-right attacks on Manning to pressure the LGBT community into joining him in despising Manning.

During her sentencing, the military failed to link Manning to any deaths. “A former brigadier general, who headed the Information Review Task Force investigating the leaks, said that he had never heard that a source named in the Afghan war logs was killed,” Courthouse News journalist Adam Klasfeld reported.

Once again, why did the New York Times Editorial Board find it acceptable to publish Kirchick?

He infamously published a screed that purported to name “Hillary Clinton-loathing, Donald Trump-loving useful idiots of the left.” It backfired on him marvelously, as those in establishment media recognized none of the individuals smeared in the piece actually ever expressed support for Trump. In fact, each of them had records, where they denounced him before Kirchick accused them of being Trump Lovers.

It is hard to discern what value the New York Times editorial department gains from publishing Kirchick, unless they truly do want to discourage readers from supporting Manning.

If the Times merely wants to play the role of contrarian to drive traffic to their website, that is vile because it comes at a cost to Manning. She opened up to them for an exclusive, and they turn around and grant a professional right-wing parasite a pedestal to hurl slime at her.

This may not convince readers to cancel their subscriptions, but they should force the New York Times Editorial Board to answer for their decision to advance such prejudice.  That may be difficult, however, because the paper recently axed its public editor position.

The person who took the media organization to task for its failure to cover Chelsea Manning’s court martial is no more, and that gives the Editorial Board a bit more room to get away with turning to right-wing reactionaries for content that will upset their readers and give them the clicks they need to maintain steady ad revenue to keep the organization going.

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

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