'Frontline' WikiLeaks Program: No Meat, Just a Goldfish

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The Nation

'Frontline' WikiLeaks Program: No Meat, Just a Goldfish

The mountain labored, and in the end, it gave birth to a mouse.  Or rather, a goldfish.  One of the only bits of new information in the much-ballyhooded PBS Frontline program on WikiLeaks, Assange and Bradley Manning which aired tonight  was:  The man who fingered Manning, Adrian Lamo, secluded in California, has a large goldfish in his apartment.

The other scoop:  It was Manning’s aunt who made the final update to his Facebook page, announcing his arrest.  Come to think of it, maybe that one came out before.  But we’ve still got that goldfish.

The rest of the program, from beginning to end, was nothing but re-hash, much of it from news reports going back to last June or a little later.     We also heard from plenty of Assange critics making their usual and much-published charges.  We absorbed multiple appearances by David Leigh, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Nick Davies, Bill Keller.  Paging Glenn Greenwald!  We did get a few seconds of Dan Ellsberg—at a rally.

It took Manning’s friend, David House, about 55 minutes in to remind viewers, and correspondent Martin Smith, that the soldier has not been convicted of anything.  But you'd never know it from the program (which you can watch online here, and peruse related material).

Actually, the biggest scoop of the night came from the WikiLeaks site, which posted the complete 55-minute interview that Smith conducted with Assange.  It opens with Assange rightly scolding Smith for a quarter hour about his segment earlier this year on Manning's teenage years (I made most of the same points myself in a piece the night it aired and in my Bradley Manning book).

From teasers and excerpts released by Frontline in recent days, it seemed possible that they had some new evidence connecting Assange more directly to  Manning in his leaking, thus putting him in further legal jeopardy.    Any fears about that proved needless.  All you had was Eric Schmitt of The New York Times saying that he believes, with no evidence, that maybe there was an intermediary between Manning and Assange, but then again, he adds, Assange was “too savvy” to risk anything more than that (if that).

The program also painted a picture of Assange – again, extremely familiar – of not caring about Manning because he released all those documents last year that put the soldier in deeper legal trouble.  Of course, the problem with that argument is that Manning was already under arrest, his computers seized as evidence, the chat logs (if legit) made public.  

We also got the usual charge that Assange had not fully redacted some of the Afghanistan war logs,  without mentioning that there are no documented cases of anyone being harmed because of that – or from the release of any of the other millions of docs.

And there was no mention until the very end of any good that came from Manning’s alleged actions and Assange’s publishing ventures, and even then,  confined to Tunisia and maybe Egypt.   Needless to say, there was nothing raised about the concepts of the public good, government transparecy, or watchdog journalism and media responsibility.

The program closed with a fake Manning typing on a computer screen about wanting to get the truth out.   But we never got a glimpse of the abuses he witnessed in Iraq and/or political views that helped spark his leaking--only his fights with his boyfriend and the stress produced by  Don't Ask Don't Tell.   For what they left out, go here.

Still, we've got that goldfish.

Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell writes the Media Fix blog for The Nation. Mitchell is the former editor of Editor & Publisher magazine and author of nine nonfiction books. His current book, published in February 2011, is The Age of Wikileaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate. Previous books are Why Obama Won, published in January 2009, and So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq, which came out in March 2008. His new book and e-book is Atomic Cover-Up: Two U.S. Soldiers, Hiroshima & Nagasaki, and The Greatest Movie Never Made.  His Twitter feed is @MediaFixBlog.

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