The New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan Wednesday joined a chorus of voices criticizing her paper for failing to send reporters to Pfc. Bradley Manning’s pretrial hearings.
While the Times’ Washington Bureau chief David Leonhardt defended the decision to simply republish an AP wire on the proceedings, Sullivan took the Grey Lady to task. “The testimony is dramatic and the overarching issues are important,” she wrote.
Leonhardt told the public editor via email:
As 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. The A.P. article recounting the main points of Mr. Manning’s testimony about his conditions of confinement that ran on page A3 of The Times conveyed fundamentally the same material as a staff story would have.
However, as Times reader David Morf noted in a reprinted letter, using AP wire copy “let the story bury itself.” Following Sullivan’s piece, a number of commentators have taken issue with Leonhardt’s reference to “any other legal case,” since for many Manning’s treatment by the U.S. military and his role as a whistle-blower make his case exceptional.
Until last week, when Manning himself testified about his harsh detainment in Quantico and Kuwait, very few media institutions sent reporters to follow the Fort Meade proceedings. Indeed, Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola, one of only a few writers to have followed Manning’s case closely and consistently throughout, decried the dearth of reporters in the courtroom. “Fifteen thousand journalists went to Charlotte, North Carolina, to cover the Democratic National Convention. How many journalists are in and around DC?… In the whole of the United States, there should be more than two to five journalists showing up regularly to cover the proceedings,” he wrote. Gosztola was pleased when more journalists turn up at Fort Meade last week, but The Times, as their public editor noted, “missed the boat.”