Journalists Should Defend Whistle-Blowers


Rachel Stella, Copy Editor

Photo courtesy of Department of the Army: Accused WikiLeaks whistle-blower Bradley Manning will have spent 1,000 days in prison come Feb. 23. Manning faces a possible lifetime sentence for allegedly leaking military information to the news outlet WikiLeaks in 2010.

Anyone who’s been paying attention to the news for the last couple years has surely heard the name of Bradley Manning, the American soldier accused of leaking classified information to the media outlet WikiLeaks.

Come Feb. 23, Manning will have been imprisoned for a thousand days. There are some who want his sentence to be for life. Right now, he is 25 years old.

The lifetime prison sentence could be a reality for Manning, thanks to the most serious charge against him — that of “aiding the enemy.” That’s right: Leaking certain sensitive government information to the media can now be equated with “aiding the enemy.”

Actually, that’s pretty wrong. But that’s essentially what the prosecutor in Manning’s case implied, according to a Jan. 9 report in the New York Times:

“Colonel Lind, the judge, asked a prosecutor a hypothetical question: If Private Manning had given the documents to The New York Times rather than to WikiLeaks, would he face the same charges? ‘Yes, ma’am,’ said the prosecutor, Capt. Angel Overgaard.”

Glenn Greenwald of the British newspaper The Guardian wrote this analysis the next day:

“(T)he theory being used to prosecute Manning would convert almost every government source for newspapers into a traitor. Given that, it’s extraordinary how relatively little interest, let alone opposition, large media outlets have expressed about this prosecution.”

It’s true that mainstream American media outlets haven’t been as vocal as they could have been (or should have been) about the Bradley Manning story. If this latest development of calling leaks “aiding the enemy” doesn’t wake us all up, I’m not sure what will.

Thankfully, since then, more media outlets have stepped up to comment. In addition to Greenwald’s comments, the Los Angeles Times wrote in a Jan. 12 editorial that the “aiding the enemy” charge (and accompanying lifetime sentence) was “excessive” and should be dropped.

Nathan Fuller, editor of the Bradley Manning Support Network, has written about the effects this case could have on journalism in the United States.

“This would be unprecedented: never before has a soldier been sent to jail for ‘aiding the enemy’ as a result of giving information to a news outlet,” Fuller wrote on Jan. 18. “This would turn all government whistle-blowing into treason: a grave threat to both potential sources and American journalism.”

Fuller believes journalists should rally to Manning’s defense, as Manning represents all sources who leak information to media outlets.

“(T)he government’s argument, if accepted, directly threatens the future of (journalists’) work,” Fuller wrote to The Flyer. “How much longer until government sources all dry up, because they fear being treated the way Bradley Manning has been treated? (Journalists) should join the Los Angeles Times in denouncing this ‘aiding the enemy’ charge. Establishment journalists can make a difference if they aren’t afraid of protecting their alleged objectivity — why worry about what’s objective when the government directly threatens your line of work?”

While Manning’s case is one of the more dramatic and well-known of its kind, it is not an isolated incident. On Jan. 25, according to a Los Angeles Times report, former CIA officer John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison for sharing with journalists information on the agency’s use of torture on terrorism suspects. And, according to a Jan. 26 Washington Post report, the FBI is investigating several government officials, looking for evidence of connections with journalists related to “disclosures of classified information about a cyberoperation that targeted Iran’s nuclear program.”

This is serious business for all American journalists and the public we serve. News outlets of every stripe ought to be wielding the power they still have — of pen, voice and image — in defense of Manning and others like him.

Bradley Manning is only a year older than I am. There are some who want his sentence to be for life. I am a journalist, and I say no.

Rachel Stella
is a journalism major serving as a copy editor and reporter for The Flyer since 2011. She formerly was co-editor-in-chief of the Joliet Junior College Blazer and a copy editing intern with suburban Chicago's Daily Herald. She's devoted to AP style and journalism ethics.

One comment on “Journalists Should Defend Whistle-Blowers

  1. Thank you for your support of Bradley Manning and journalistic freedom. You might like seeing the Real News story about the Sam Adams integrity in intelligence award. The link is

    And I also want to share an article by Ray McGovern, and intelligence analyst who gave the daily intelligence briefing to Reagan and Bush I for many years. His article is at:

    Peace and hugs and civill liberties for all including free expression via chalking.

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