To her credit, New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan has another great piece today criticizing the "paper of public record" for not being at the Bradley Manning torture hearing. She wrote a similar piece last week that was equally poignant.But the excuses she offers are neither credible nor salutary.
To her credit, Sullivan contacted New York Times senior editors to find out why the paper was not covering the torture hearing of suspected WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning. David Leonhardt, the Washington bureau chief offered the following two excuses, which I will explain defy credulity:
1) The Times had already covered the most important aspects of the testimony, his treatment in solitary confinement.
This is preposterous because the Times
only did two articles--19 months ago--on the subject. On March 3-4, 2011, Charlie Savage did two articles of about 300 words each. The first
tells us that Manning spent 7 hours in his cell naked on one day, but the military would not explain why. The second
tells us that "Manning will also be required to stand outside his ell naked during a morning inspection." This week's testimony renders both of these articles inaccurate. The torture hearings have revealed critical details, such as the facts that four mental health doctors rendered Manning at no risk of suicide
during the months he slept naked at night
, which his chief captor, CWO2 Denis Barnes, had been informed was in violation of Secretary of the Navy instructions
. These important details have been painstakingly documented and analyzed by bloggers like Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake, for example here
. (Unfortunately, Sullivan only gives a shout out to another MSM reporter from The Guardian
, who was also present at the hearings for only four days.)
2) [A]s with any other legal case, we won't cover every single proceeding. In this case, doing so would have involved multiple days of a reporter's time, for a relatively straightforward story.
This is also nonsense. The Times
has been able to put reporters on daily coverage of news stories of far less public significance, such as the trial of O.J. Simpson and the trial of William Kennedy Smith. As Kevin Gosztola pointed out on Twitter today, if the Times
wanted, it could have found a staff reporter to regularly cover the Bradley Manning case. Yes, 12 days is a long time, and Ft. Meade is difficult to access. However, this is one of the most important trials of the decade
and picayune military regulations that severely limit coverage (e.g., no public transcripts) are all the more reason why reporters should be there in person to witness this historical proceeding.
Leonhardt hints at a third possible excuse, that "Readers can definitely expect more coverage of Mr. Manning in the weeks to come," which Sullivan elaborates could mean "his bureau is working on something better . . . something significant in the works." This is laughable. Even if the Times were to do ex post facto retroactive coverage of the most interesting part of the pre-trial proceedings--which could narrow what charges actually go to trial--it is no substitute for difficult old-fashioned, timely, on-the-ground reporting. Even when the Times finally sent a reporter of Friday, the resulting article was wanting because the reporter didn't have context from the previous eight days.