As the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning is about to begin at Fort Meade, Maryland some US media outlets are rediscovering his case and posting “rundowns” so Americans can understand what will be happening at the trial.
NBC News’ “rundown” stated:
This much is undisputed: Manning, while serving in Iraq, stole U.S. diplomatic cables and other military documents. While on leave in Maryland in 2010, he began sending them to WikiLeaks.
That it is “undisputed” that he “stole” cables or military documents could not be more false. He has not pled guilty to any of the five specifications or counts he faces, which allege that he stole, purloined or knowingly converted the information.
Manning did generally plead guilty to unauthorized possession of the information and willfully communicating it to a person who was unauthorized to receive it, but because Manning had access to all of the documents he was alleged to have released while he was working as an intelligence analyst at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Iraq.
Erin McClam, the staff writer for NBC News who wrote the story, should know that is not true that it is “undisputed” Manning “stole” documents because she later notes that prosecutors are pressing “forward on the more serious charges,” which include larceny.
There is a legal disagreement between the government and defense over whether what Manning did constitutes stealing and the judge will ultimately decide whether he, in fact, stole the documents.
But much more problematic is the level of discourse around the Manning case that NBC News and other establishment media outlets are promoting by presenting this story as being about those who think Manning is a hero versus those who think Manning is a traitor.
On the one hand, it is lazy on the part of media to frame it in this way and a reflection of how little those producing these stories may or may not know about what happened during the pretrial process.
Also, as Denver Nicks, author of Private: Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks and the Biggest Exposure of Official Secrets in American History, told TIME just over a year ago,”The more conversations we have about Bradley Manning in which neither of these largely meaningless buzzwords is said, the better off we’ll be as a country.”
When considering how President Barack Obama’s administration has investigated and prosecuted a record number of whistleblowers or alleged leakers, whether Manning is a hero or traitor is unimportant. What of the information that he disclosed did the public have a right to know? What about the legal argument behind the “aiding the enemy” charge or the fact that he is being charged with violating the Espionage Act, as if he were a spy?
In order to maintain “objectivity” or “balance,” NBC News and other establishment outlets shy away from pursuing these critical questions, the very questions they should be exploring given the fact that, in two separate leak investigations, the Justice Department is now known to have seized the Associated Press’ phone records and also investigated Fox News reporter as if he were a “co-conspirator.” But, just because this case did not involve a source going to a traditional media organization with government documents does not mean there is no good reason to focus on what it could mean for the press if Manning is convicted of the more serious federal charges, particularly the “aiding the enemy” charge.