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.
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.
Julian Assange stopped by the chat to ask the producers a question:
Why did Frontline not do basic fact checking on the false and libelous statement "Julian said 'Informants deserve to die'"? This has had substantial re-reportage based on its airing by Frontline. Its speaker, David Leigh is well known to be locked into tawdry personal vendetta against WikiLeaks (as any check of his twitter feed davidleigh3 would show). The statement has been repeatedly denied by me, is the subject of pre-litigation legal action and two Spiegel reporters who were at the table, John Goertz and Marcel Rosenbach (the only independent witnesses) deny it. Is this Frontline's standards for journalism? Similarly, Why did Frontline present Daniel Domschiet Berg's claims about WikiLeaks content sales as credible, when two thee prior accusations (in relation to Aftonposten, Aftonbladet and Al Jazeera) have been demonstrated to be wholesale inventions?
The producers responded:
We did talk with others about David Leigh’s allegation. Several people confirmed that you had initially wanted to publish all the Afghan War Logs without redacting names. We also allowed you to deny the charge. As for content sales, you mentioned in your interview that you had explored financial incentives to improve the reception of the Collateral Murder video. There is more about this in the transcript of your interview that is published on Frontline's website.
True, the full transcript allows one to get a complete sense of the person that is Julian Assange. But, the problem for Assange is not that he didn’t get ample time to speak. The problem is that every time he was asked a question it was about a criticism, which forced him to be on the defensive. For the most part, he never was able to just explain WikiLeaks as if he were speaking to an audience that knew very little about WikiLeaks.
On Bradley Manning, Brian Manning’s father hopes this documentary humanizes Manning. One certainly hopes that this helps people better understand why Manning might have blown the whistle and released classified information. But, the key problem here is that the idea that he was compelled to reveal war crimes and social injustice does not factor into the story FRONTLINE presents.
This is addressed in the chat:
In the chat logs attributed to Bradley by the FBI, he says that he became disillusioned with the military when he was asked to help arrest professors who were publishing a "Where did the money go?" critique of the Iraqi government. Why is this not mentioned in a speculative analysis of what motivated Bradley's actions?
We considered it. There were many things that clearly motivated Manning. The incident you mention was among them. We stuck with those things that more generally summarized his struggle with what he was witnessing.
Generally summarized his struggle with what he was witnessing? Witnessing what? Are the producers suggesting that he saw what was happening in the Iraq War and could not handle it and it made him become more passionate in his advocacy for gay rights, which would mean he was showing a total disrespect for authority?
There is no discussion whatsoever about what Manning might have experienced while in Baghdad. There’s also nothing on whether the two classified networks that were compromised are now being secured so a breach does not happen again.
I asked the producers what they were hoping their audience would understand after viewing the documentary.
"We hope they get a better understanding of the people at the center of this controversy. We welcome debate and discussion," the producers responded.
For more debate and discussion, here’s my appearance on RT’s “The Alyona Show.” I discuss the “WikiSecrets” documentary and whether it fairly and objectively presents the stories of Manning, Assange & WikiLeaks.