Chelsea Manning Speaks—But Who Listened?

Peter Hart

US Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning wrote a remarkable piece for the Sunday edition of the New York Times (6/15/14), one of the most prestigious venues in the corporate media. It represents an extraordinarily clear statement from someone who is certainly one of the country’s most important political prisoners.

But was anyone else in the media listening?

Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence for sharing intelligence documents with the website WikiLeaks. The revelations have made news around the world, providing a glimpse into the US military’s own assessments of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a glimpse at various US diplomatic efforts.

Manning’s Times op-ed makes three important claims. First, she explains that the US military intelligence aided Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki’s repression of political dissent:

I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn’t need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more “anti-Iraqi” print shops.

Given that Maliki’s misrule is very much a part of current commentary about the state of that country, it is important and newsworthy that Manning is saying the US military aided those efforts.

She also explained that US news reports about Iraq were very different from internal assessments:

Among the many daily reports I received via email while working in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 was an internal public affairs briefing that listed recently published news articles about the American mission in Iraq. One of my regular tasks was to provide, for the public affairs summary read by the command in eastern Baghdad, a single-sentence description of each issue covered, complementing our analysis with local intelligence.

The more I made these daily comparisons between the news back in the States and the military and diplomatic reports available to me as an analyst, the more aware I became of the disparity. In contrast to the solid, nuanced briefings we created on the ground, the news available to the public was flooded with foggy speculation and simplifications.

She also shed light on the embedding process in Iraq:

Unsurprisingly, reporters who have established relationships with the military are more likely to be granted access.

Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as likely to produce “favorable” coverage, based on their past reporting, also get preference. This outsourced “favorability” rating assigned to each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage.

As a whole, this represents one of the most noteworthy and comprehensive explanations of Manning’s actions.

But the US media didn’t seem to think so. According to a search of the Nexis news database, Manning’s op-ed received scant coverage. There were three mentions on CNN on June 15, one of which was a discussion with Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr on the show New Day Sunday.

Starr said there was “a lot of validity” to Manning’s argument about how coverage of the war did not always present the “full picture”— but that this was only in the early part of the war: “I think there’s a good case to be made that journalistic life moved on very rapidly from that potential assertion.” Manning was, for the record, writing about events in 2010.

Beyond that, Manning’s news just wasn’t treated as news. In the abstract, journalists often profess a great deal of admiration for whistleblowers, and value the service such individuals provide to the news media. Indeed, Manning’s disclosures are still referenced regularly by journalists, clear evidence that the information she shared with WikiLeaks was vital.

But, as with the scant coverage of her trial (FAIR Media Advisory, 12/4/12), big media don’t seem to have a use for telling her story.

Reprinted with permission