At the U.K. Guardian, Yochai Benkler writes that the trial of Bradley Manning is about much more than Manning’s freedom. And it’s about much more than Wikileaks.
[T]his case is about national security journalism, not WikiLeaks. At Monday’s argument in preparation for Thursday’s ruling, the judge asked the prosecution to confirm: does it make any difference if it’s WikiLeaks or any other news organization: New York Times, Washington Post, or Wall Street Journal? The prosecution answered: “No, it would not. It would not potentially make a difference.”
There are a lot of Americans who immediately write off Manning as a criminal because he leaked “secret” information (many of those people have never bothered to watch “Collateral Murder,” a small but vivid and highly disturbing part of Manning’s leak.
How typical is this of the “fight for freedom” that has been waged in our names? We wouldn’t know, because the information that has come from Iraq over the years is carefully filtered by the American military American press. In woeful ignorance, many Americans fail to see that Manning’s trial is about the right of Americans’s to be informed about what goes on in their name, informed enough to engage in meaningful discussion and informed enough to vote intelligently.
Leak-based journalism is not the be-all-and-end-all of journalism. But ever since the Pentagon Papers, it has been a fraught but critical part of our constitutional checks in national defense. Nothing makes this clearer than the emerging bipartisan coalition of legislators seeking a basic reassessment of NSA surveillance and Fisa oversight following Edward Snowden’s leaks. National defense is special in both the need for, and dangers of, secrecy. As Justice Stewart wrote in the Pentagon Papers case, the press is particularly important in national defense because it is there that the executive is most powerful, and the other branches weakest and most deferential:
In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry – in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government. For this reason, it is perhaps here that a press that is alert, aware, and free most vitally serves the basic purpose of the first amendment. For without an informed and free press, there cannot be an enlightened people.