March 16, 2013
Every time that there has been a hearing at Fort Meade, Maryland, I have made arrangements to attend and cover Pfc. Bradley Manning’s court martial proceedings. That involves flying from Chicago to Washington, DC, renting a car and then driving from the DC area every morning to the military base, where pretrial hearings have been occurring for months.
Alexa O’Brien, an independent journalist who has been producing near verbatim transcripts of the proceedings has been present for nearly all the proceedings (whether credentialed as press or not). Adam Klasfeld of Courthouse News has been at just about every hearing as well. After that, it becomes difficult to highlight the regulars. The Washington Post has been sending Julie Tate on a regular basis lately. The New York Times has begun to send reporters like Scott Shane or Charlie Savage when there is likely to be "breaking news." And Ed Pilkington of The Guardian has been there every now and then too.
Reporters from the Associated Press and Agence France Presse - both newswires – have had reporters there almost as much as O’Brien and I have been there. NBC News and CNN have occasionally had a person. There’s been foreign press like Al Jazeera English and even RT that have been present every so often. But, really, when one gets down to it, the media in general has not been there to cover the proceedings as they should.
Arun Rath of PRI’s The World talked with me about how shameful I think it is that there are not more media covering.
Gosztola is reluctant to beat up on the established news organizations — he says he recognizes many are strapped for resources these days — but still thinks the lack of coverage overall has been "shameful."
He doesn’t let other independent journalists off the hook though. "We’re missing established journalists, but we’re [also] missing independent journalists," Gosztola says. "We’re missing other journalists from organizations based in the DC area who could be covering this story. I don’t understand why there aren’t more journalists covering these proceedings."
Klasfeld, O’Brien and I do not live anywhere near the DC area and travel to cover proceedings. There must be a number of other people who could make this trip and become regulars in the press pool. That may happen during his trial (which begins on June 3). So far, despite major headlines and the fact that the publishing of information Manning disclosed garnered wide media attention, the same level of media coverage has not taken place.
Both O’Brien and I were featured on a segment of "On the Media," which airs on national public radio can be listened to here.
Rath describes during the segment what it is like to cover the proceedings as a reporter and the lack of access to court records. Host Brooke Gladstone asks, "Is there important stuff that we’re missing because there isn’t a big media presence there?" Rath replies, "There would be stuff that we would be missing if there weren’t this hardcore group independent journalists who are there all the time. There are three of them – Alexa O’Brien, Kevin Gosztola and Adam Klasfeld – every single day. If not all three of them are there, one of them are there reporting on this."
He highlighted how back in November, day after Election Day, I was almost a sole source for organizations reporting that Manning was going to enter a plea and accept responsibility for disclosing some of the charged information to WikiLeaks. (Clarification: I don’t think I was the only one who had this story. O’Brien was there and she could have been contacted as well. But there was no AP or AFP newswire reporter so there was nothing official for media outlets to republish for coverage.)
Now, here’s an important exchange:
GLADSTONE: Alexa O’Brien, part of Occupy Wall Street. Gosztola, works for Firedoglake. They’re clearly of the Bradley-Manning-is-an-unambiguous-hero school. Should those of us who are relying on their presence to bring us news of the trial be a little skeptical?
RATH: Like you said, they don’t pretend to be objective at all. These are people who believe Bradley Manning is a hero and come from that perspective.
A clip of O’Brien addressing her bias and saying, "There is nothing more objective than a transcript," is played. Gladstone and Rath react:
GLADSTONE: She’s supplying transcripts that the government doesn’t supply.
RATH: Yeah, because she’s there every day…
GLADSTONE: …I’ve used that transcript.
RATH: We all have. The most comprehensive record of what has happened in the Bradley Manning trial so far is being kept fastidiously by Alexa O’Brien who is completely in the Bradley Manning camp. The only meaningful record of that statement he made last month before it was leaked was on her website. The Guardian and others were linking to it on her website. We’re all relying on her at this point. And I have to say that from what I’ve seen of Alexa’s work and Kevin’s – in terms of their straight reporting, they get it right. [emphasis added]
That statement means everything. It means everything because if bias or sympathy toward Manning is ever used to deride, demean or discredit the reporting I do or the work that O’Brien does we can ask in response, "Do you find the bias gets in the way of us reporting what is actually happening during proceedings? Have you ever read what is reported and thought details were being hidden or embellished because of a lack of objectivity?"
The analysis or conclusions I draw about Manning typically come at the bottom after I have reported the latest developments: after reporting the government does not want to give the defense pretrial access to a Defense Department "operator" who was on the SEAL Team raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound who they intend to call as a witness; after reporting the basic content of the judge’s ruling that Manning’s defense cannot discuss motive during his trial; after reporting the basic testimony from officers who testified on Manning’s confinement at Quantico.
There does exist contempt and unabashed skepticism toward the government in my reporting. In the instances where it has been most apparent, I would argue this attitude complements the reporting appropriately. I have displayed this attitude when covering his Quantico pretrial confinement, where he was subjected to cruel and inhuman punishment, and when highlighting the "aiding the enemy" charge, which as charged does pose a threat to national security journalism.
But I would correct Gladstone in one respect: I do not consider Bradley Manning an "unambiguous hero." I consider him a whistleblower and, upon concluding that after many months of reporting, I do not condemn and am sympathetic to what he did when he disobeyed the law and disclosed information to WikiLeaks.