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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/26/11

Did PBS Smear Bradley Manning?

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I wrote a review of the PBS FRONTLINE documentary "WikiSecrets," which aired on Tuesday night. "The Alyona Show," a show on RT, invited me to appear and discuss the review.

As the segment is framed, I address whether a "publicly funded mainstream media organization" could "give an objective and detailed look at the whole story" of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks.

The quick answer is no. One hour is not enough time to cover the hugely complex story lines of Assange, Manning and WikiLeaks. Something would have to be omitted inevitably resulting in those sympathetic being upset or those being appalled by WikiLeaks questioning the "patriotism" of PBS.

In any case, here's my appearance. Be the judge of how I did in my first ever appearance on television:

Additionally, producer Marcela Gaviria and producer/correspondent Martin Smith, who both worked on the FRONTLINE "WikiSecrets" documentary that aired last night, and Brian Manning, Bradley Manning's father, participated in an online PBS chat that offered people an opportunity to ask questions and make comments about the film.

What was discussed in the chat merits further discussion.

Gaviria/Smith suggest the prosecution in the Manning case is "quite strong" and investigators have "matched Manning's computer to [computer hacker Adrian] Lamo's, verifying the authenticity of the chats." Gaviria/Smith add, "To be acquitted Manning's lawyer would somehow have to prove that Manning had been framed and his computer had been tampered with."

This focus on Lamo overlooks a key legal dilemma that has risen as a result of President Barack Obama declaring at a fundraiser that Manning "broke the law." That's the issue of "unlawful command influence."

Whether Manning could have a fair trial now that the Commander-in-Chief has told his subordinates he thinks Manning is guilty is doubtful. A military officer would be risking his career if he or she handed down a decision that did not meet the approval of the Obama Administration. Gaviria/Smith are seemingly oblivious to this when they type their answer.

Asked why the documentary overplayed Manning's homosexuality, Gaviria/Smith explain, "Manning's homosexuality is not relevant. What is relevant was his struggle with the Army's Don't Ask/Don't Tell policy. It eroded his respect for Army authority and led to disillusionment with Army life. It's not that he was gay, it was that he was discriminated for being gay."

A clarification is necessary. Two points are raised here: one is that he lost respect for authority. That is a point that could very well incriminate Manning during his trial. The other point that he was discriminated is much more benign. It implies his frustration with the military was justified because he was being treated unequally.

Particularly interesting is how Gaviria/Smith address Eric Schmitt's speculation that there was an "intermediary between Manning and Assange." Here's how they addressed this conclusion when asked if they had evidence to support such a claim:

We included a quote from Eric Schmitt of The New York Times who speculated that there was a possible intermediary. We also know that members of the Boston community have been subpoenaed by the Grand Jury that is investigating the case. It will be up to the Grand Jury to consider all the evidence and come to a conclusion.

What was the team on this project doing? What did the crew that produced this find when they did the research? If there was no conclusive information to support the existence of an intermediary or an outright connection between Manning and Assange, the answer to this question should not be open-ended. It should not be that the producers trust the Grand Jury will investigate, consider all the evidence and make a conclusion. The rational conclusion is there is no link.

Gaviria/Smith address why there is no mention that no people have been killed as a result of the release of US State Embassy cables. Their response is the following:

We don't know that to be true. We know that is Assange's claim, but at least two State Department officials that we spoke to, counter that. Since we were unable to verify either Assange's or the State Department's claims, we decided not to include either. What we did include were statements from Bill Keller and Dean Baquet of The New York Times, and from Julian Assange, stating that the release of the leaked cables have done good in their view.

Either the producers were careless or they made a shrewd decision to not make it clear that no one has died. The producers seem to have decided if Assange could not be verified and the State Department (a chief target in the release of cables) could not be verified then it was too much trouble to cover this detail. But, this fact did not have to come from sources at odds with each other. It could have come from a media organization that has partnered with WikiLeaks. And, if there was then no conclusive evidence that deaths occurred, the producers would have an obligation to debunk the myths being propagated by the State Department and other officials that hundreds of people have been endangered, as former State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley has stated.

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