Coverage of the Manning trial has been inconsistent at best - in part due to a lack of press interest, and in part because the government is making this story difficult to report. Brooke talks to Arun Rath, a reporter for PBS's Frontline and PRI’s The World, who says that few members are actually there following the pre-trial minutiae at Fort Meade. When they are, he says, they’re not in the courtroom, but in the press room.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Media attention to Manning spiked when his lawyer described his prolonged detention in solitary confinement, without his clothes or his glasses, or even sheets. Then, the attention waned, again. Arun Rath, who reports for PBS Frontline and PRI's The World, says that mostly the press aren’t following the pretrial minutia in Fort Meade and, when they are they’re put in a room outside the court.
ARUN RATH: It's sort of like an auditorium at a community college. It’s not very big.
There’s a projection screen in the front where we watched the proceedings on closed-circuit and hear it over speakers. The difficult thing about it is that we don't get much support from the government in terms of supplying court documents, transcripts, even a docket about what's going to be coming up next in, in court. You know, there was a discussion early on among some of the, the networks about basically hiring a court reporter to sit there in the Media Center and transcribe everything that was going on but nothing really came of that. I’m not sure why.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So is there important stuff that we’re missing because there isn't a big media presence there?
ARUN RATH: Well, you know, there would be stuff that we would be missing if it weren’t for this group of hard-core independent journalists who, who are there all the time. There are three in particular, Alexa O'Brien, Kevin Gosztola and Adam Klasfeld, every single day. And if not all three of them, at least one of them is there reporting on this. And there was an amazing moment, I think, for the media and the coverage of the – of the story when back in November there was a huge development in the story and there was only one person there to cover, and that was Kevin Gosztola, for the blog FireDogLake. I talked to him about it. Here he is.
KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Manning’s defense lawyer, David Coombs, stood up in the courtroom and announced that Manning would be accepting responsibility for providing some of the charged information to WikiLeaks. And this was an incredible development in the court-martial.
ARUN RATH: So then he writes up his story and then, all of a sudden, Kevin Gosztola, who a year ago was covering it as an intern for The Nation, all of the major news organizations and, and my – my own are linking to his story. And if he hadn’t have been there, we wouldn’t have heard about it.
BROOKE 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.
ARUN RATH: Yeah.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Should those of us who are relying on their presence to bring us news of the trial be a little – skeptical?
ARUN RATH: Well, like you said, they don’t pretend to be objective at all. These are people that do believe Bradley Manning is a hero and come from that perspective. But here’s – here’s Alexa’s response to that.
ALEXA O’BRIEN: I’ve thought about it quite a bit because this question oftentimes comes up, you know, with the sort of pejorative-ness of being an independent journalist. And my response is there's nothing more objective than a transcript.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: She's supplying transcripts that the government doesn't supply.
ARUN RATH: Yeah, because she is there every day.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I've used that transcript.
ARUN RATH: Yeah, we, 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 full record we had of that statement he made last month before it was leaked was on her website. The Guardian and others were all linking to it. We’re all relying on her at this point.
And I have to say that, you know, from what I've seen of Alexa's work, as well as Kevin’s, you know, in terms of their straight reporting they get it right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Since most of us don't get to see Bradley Manning, what did he look like, what did he sound like over the course of his confinement?
ARUN RATH: Well, the image that we have had of Bradley Manning has changed quite a bit because we’re – we’re really, for the first time, hearing him speak for himself. For so long, his story has been told by other people. We've had a few chat logs and, you know, friends and family and other people talking about him. When he spoke for the first time last year, he was very articulate. He was actually the most sympathetic witness that has been on the stand.
Where before we might have this image of him as being, you know, a confused kid, didn't really know what he was doing, he was a gay soldier living in a “don't ask, don't tell” and that was pretty horrible for him, in court, and especially in the statement that he gave a couple of weeks ago, people have been talking about him being the new Daniel Ellsberg. And it seems like he's really assume that mantle. He gave a very articulate, almost a manifesto of sorts, about why he leaked, why he was justified and, and why it was the right thing to do.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some suggest that this mantle may have been assumed after the fact, but if you read the exchanges with Adrian Lamo, the hacker acquaintance who ultimately turned him in to the FBI, you see someone who was seriously motivated by what he saw as improper conduct by the government.
ARUN RATH: You know, there’s a lot of shallow stuff and a lot of silly stuff in the chat logs, as there are in, in everybody’s chat logs, but very clearly he is wrestling with the morality of, this. And a lot of the stuff that he expresses in a more articulate way in that statement he made before the court a couple of weeks ago, the seeds of that are in there; they’re in the chat logs, and maybe more articulate now and maybe more coherent, maybe, you know, in a way more edited for the public, but I don't think it's inauthentic.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arun, thank you very much.
ARUN RATH: You bet, Brooke. Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arun Rath reports for PBS Frontline and PRI's The World.