Yesterday, I became another in a distinguished line of critics openly Twitter-flamed by the illustrious Salon.com blogger, Glenn Greenwald. He took time out from the glorious weather in his home town of Rio de janeiro to hector me publicly for posting this tweet on Twitter.
It was addressed to one of my Twitter followers, who has been quite openly concerned about Wikileaks-related issues. In it, I voiced an opinion which implied that the allegations of “inhumane treatment” of Bradley Manning were mostly emanating from what has been reported (or alleged) by Greenwald's blog, or Jane Hamsher's Firedoglake.com (FDL). From these root sources, a wide array of allegations, suspicions, protests and conspiracy theories have spread out around the globe via the Internet, the mainstream media, and an enormous army of sympathetic voices who see Wikileaks and Manning as their generation's cultural mash-up of Vietnam, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the Rosenbergs, and Rubin Hurricane Carter, all rolled into one big super-sized, link-baited mega-scandal.
Greenwald is always on the lookout for Internet mentions of himself, and is wicked-fast in his responses to them. If he doesn't immediately post a comment to a critic's blog, or write some caustic diatribe on Salon, he has gone more directly after people like me on Twitter, often with a bullying tone designed to intimidate or cow, or perhaps only to impress his Twitter followers with another example of his special brand of righteous indignation about something or other. Of course, Twitter is just a fun respite from his typical day, which he more often spends eviscerating any Progressive he sees as consorting with the fascist Obama administration, or saving journalism and the free world by lambasting The Nation over a flawed TSA story, or wired.com for their Wikileaks coverage, both of which failed to measure up to his standards of something or other. While my little micro-blog (Twitter) is not even a gnat on the ass of those acclaimed publications, yesterday was my turn to be swatted at by the Rabble-Rouser from Rio.
And so, the story: I had awakened to find that Glenn responded to the tweet to my friend, and what followed was as disturbing as it was revealing. We had an exchange that many observers found almost comical (if not a little embarrassing for him), as he bullied, badgered, and all but called me names, trying to substantiate his charge that I was asserting “falsehoods” in my tweet. What was false, in his view, was my assertion that only he and Jane Hamsher found Bradley Manning's treatment remarkable, implicitly trying to suggest that it was they who were making most of these charges, and much of the me-too media and the global civil liberties lobby were following their lead.
When I didn't immediately drop to my knees and beg forgiveness for my brash affront to his supremacy in all matters Manning, he attempted to refute my heresy by pasting links to newspapers or organizations like Amnesty International, which had done nothing but report on, or echo his charges, or pledged to "review" them. None of the links he offered suggested anything unique about the story as it was being told and retold by Greenwald and Hamsher. Moreover, none of them said what reporting they themselves had done, what sources they had consulted, what prompted their decision to probe the case, nor even why they were interested at all. It was almost as if the Flying Spaghetti Monster himself came down to earth and enlightened these institutions about the egregious foulness afoot in the dark recesses of a U.S. military brig. But Glenn still felt very smug and satisfied that he had called me out on my vicious falsehoods which no one but him could see.
You can see the entire exchange here,as it was favorited to my backup account:
http://twitter.com/#!/Shoqq/favorites Update #1: A more complete version is here: http://chirpstory.com/li/593
True to past form, Glenn rushes off to grab his formidable word whacker in order to lash out at me and Miami Herald columnist, Joy-Ann Reid, in another one of his legendary hissyfits. His supporters have come to adore these rants for their pontifical, libertarian righteousness about all the things he despises, particularly Barack Obama, the US Government, and anyone critical of anything Glenn ever says—or how he says it.
I suspect he included me among his various matters screed not only because he knew he'd best blow some smoke over his silly Twitter spectacle, but also so that he could avail himself of yet one more opportunity to label another critic as an evil “Obama apologist,” using little more than a single tweet without much context. Realizing that his attempt to Twitter-flame me had backfired a bit, and that my simple request for any hard evidence made him look unprepared, he was going to make the most of what the event had offered. I dared to challenge him to provide some evidence that these other accounts had originated from anything other than the world-wide attention generated from the claims of “inhumane treatment” coming from both he and FDL, and now I was going to feel his wrath.
I am just a lowly technology consultant. I'm not a journalist, and certainly not a professional writer, and neither do I play those roles on Twitter. I am just a commoner with an anonymous cat avatar, and arguably, a minor talent for mocking Republicans. I have no other stature, standing, or even one of those icky dogs in this hunt. Whether Manning is or is not being humanely treated is not within my expertise or my pay grade to know. That is for professional journalists and/or investigators to probe and decide.
My issue and complaint are over how these two bloggers—let's call them Team Manning—have made these charges week after week, and the mainstream media have done little more than take stenography from them about Manning's treatment. Go and Google “Manning and Greenwald” and you'll get 216,000 hits. Then peruse a few dozen of the stories which have appeared in the media and try to find any facts not directly attributed to Team Manning. Let me know what you find. I ask rhetorically because I've tried. It won't be much. What you will find is endless retelling of Team Manning's regular reports, harangues and condemnations, often framed as exposes, which are always aimed directly at a global news audience that they kmnow to be primed and ready to devour anything Manning and/or Wikileaks.
Among other things I am not, is a journalism professor or a media critic, but to my untrained eye, some of the Team Manning stories have seemed like such ginned-up polemics, that I can imagine serious journalists blanching at the reaching, supposition, speculations or just self-righteous moral posturing around which many of their stories revolve. Even when the facts appear to be sound, the conclusions spun from them seem painted with such an uncritical or hyperbolic brush that they come off as mere ideological joy rides on the way to a red herring eating contest. As journalism, they feel more like train wrecks.
Is Team Manning right? Is Bradley Manning, who is being held for possible espionage against these United States, being treated so badly that it rises to the level of inhumane imprisonment—or even torture? I really have no idea. But if they are, I sure don't know it from Team Manning's hyperbolic and often inflammatory reporting, nor from the worldwide echo chamber reverberating from it each day in the mainstream media. If there is any agenda behind my writing this post, beyond merely venting my spleen about what has been an excessive amount of really shoddy Wikileaks coverage from most sources in general, it is that I'd like to start a larger discussion about the many ways our media is failing us. It's a failure that happens far too often, with far too many impacts, and in too many ways that are not being adequately offset by bloggers, citizen journalists, or other alternative media. And if we don't find a way to improve this sad state of affairs, we might as well just surrender now, and let the much more media-savvy Fox Party take over. They probably will anyway.
Having voiced my pretensions toward loftier purpose, let me descend back to earth as a simple Corpizen™ who just wants some responsible reporting from our media. With respect to Manning, that means getting more than the daily agenda-laden diatribes of two bloggers who are consistently contemptuous of the Obama administration, and work tirelessly to condemn any and all examples of its executive overreach, or any other abuses of power that they can find, allege, speculate, and most of all, furiously fulminate about.
What they do each day is not, to my mind, anything like journalism, nor even good blogging. It's pure political agenda hawking that masquerades as journalism, and it's not a whole lot different from what Fox News does all day long. They find sensational and titillating charges, rumors, or innuendo that supports or confirms their political point of view, and use their broad visibility to make as much self-promoting noise as possible.
That it drives huge traffic to their very successful websites, and promotes their careers as talking heads on the cable news shows, or pumps the coffers of their various political action committees is just an inconvenient truth we're never supposed to notice. This kind of single-focus blogging, day after day, month after month, we are to believe, is purely about truth, justice and the American way. Got that?
Alternatively, let's keep it real. With the tenacity with which Team Manning have pursued the Wikileaks/Manning saga, you might think that the Team itself would become a story for someone with a more journalist chops than I have. Wikileaks is a global story, and Team Manning found a way to climb aboard that gravy train with relative ease. All it took was taking up the case of Bradley Manning's supposed torture at the hands of the evil American empire.
Greenwald and Hamsher, and their readers, supporters, and assorted acolytes, collectively comprising the dedicated Team Manning syndicate, have aggressively dogged this story, using not much more—as far as I have been able to find— than the impassioned and subjective accounts of Manning's personal friend, David House, and Manning's attorney, David Coombs. Yet, day by day, both Greenwald and FDL put up deeply emotional and compelling posts asserting this or that abuse, with little more than House's or Coombs's interpretations of what some commander or jail psychologist said about this Manning condition, or that jailer's response to it. Often, I have been frustrated by the lack of documentation for some of these assertions.
Just yesterday, for example, we heard that the Military "admits" Manning was punished, and yet, the statement they claim military officials made is not even copied, nor linked for their readers to evaluate for themselves. You're on your own to evaluate the assertion. Similarly, in other stories, sensational headlines seem to mostly derive from something Coombs said someone else had said. But it always sounds really dramatic, until you parse the story for any really meaningful evidence that substantiates their claims—or reveals just why what is claimed is really all that unique or serious, beyond their grim-faced insistence that it is.
Other times, Team Manning can just take dramatic liberties with facts. Consider this story, where an FDL blogger directly quotes the U.S. Uniform Code Of Military Justice (UCMJ) to support his contention that Manning is being held or treated contrary to its own Article 13, while trying to (unsuccessfully) debunk a very detailed Gawker story that challenged many of the more sensational charges made by Team Manning. The FDL blogger writes:
In fact, there is statutory authority directly on point to this effect, Article 13, UCMJ, prohibits: (1) intentional imposition of punishment on an accused before his or her guilt is established at trial; and (2) arrest or pre-trial confinement conditions that are more rigorous than necessary to ensure the accused’s presence at trial. (See: United States v. Crawford, 62 M.J. 411).”
To my reading of the context, the blogger wants to imply that any form of disciplinary or precautionary measures during his incarceration would violate Article 13. But let's now look at the verbatim text from the actual UCMJ statute:
No person, while being held for trial, may be subjected to punishment or penalty other than arrest or confinement upon the charges pending against him, nor shall the arrest or confinement imposed upon him be any more rigorous than the circumstances required to insure his presence, but he may be subjected to minor punishment during that period for infractions of discipline.(bold emphasis mine)
For reasons not clear to me, the blogger redacts the "other than confinement" part in his summary of the statute. Why does he make this seemingly simple adjustment, I wondered? Why not let the reader see the full and unredacted statute and let them decide for themselves what it meant, especially when it's the very statute upon which many of your arguments and protestations are based upon? Perhaps, I speculate, it is clear that the purpose of the statute is to prevent the brutal beatings and solitary confinements (of the "hole" variety), which are much closer to torture than mere segregation from other inmates, which is often necessary to ensure an inmate's safety. And by redacting the confinement part, the casual reader is less likely to focus on the specific intent of the statute, and is more likely to just dwell on how unjust it is to have any form of punishment inflicted on a pre-trial detainee, almost as if he were not actually in prison yet, and thus subject to any of the safety or disciplinary rules which applied therein. (The Military has consistently maintained that Manning's pre-trial treatment is no different than any other espionage suspect they have held in Quantico, or other brigs.)
Now, I have had 3 friends read that blog post independently, and 2 saw my point, and 1 did not. And that's part of my point. When you selectively massage the full and unexpurgated facts, you can change the very essence of what something means or implies. It's poor journalism and/or scholarship, and it can lead to confusion, misinformation, or suspicions of explicit or implicit manipulation.
I have come cross other representations, distortions, or omissions on some of the other charges that Team Manning have made, and I rarely see the Team post anything that might be used to dispute, mitigate, or suggest alternative framing of their sensational allegations. Here are just a other examples:
That Manning is not a suicide risk: All they provide as evidence of this is David Coombs's statement that 3 brig experts have said he wasn't. Perhaps I missed it, but I have yet to see the actual statements of these experts in several accountings. And we know from earlier stories that other experts said he was.
Could professionals differ in their opinions? Of course. Hamsher has also maintained that despite these “countless testimonials from psychiatrists” (from the same three? Or someone else? She doesn't tell us), Manning was recently placed on a “Suicide Watch”, improperly (once). Though a single instance of such a watch hardly seems like cruel and unusual punishment anyway, even the Washington Post, perhaps more experienced at practicing journalism than Ms Hamsher, has noted yet another of those messy details conveniently omitted from her FDL account:
A Quantico spokesman, First Lt. Scott Villiard, said that he did not know why Averhart recommended the suicide watch, but that the determination was "based on input from more than one person." That included medical professionals, mental health professionals and the Marine guards who watch detainees, he said.
Averhart "has a responsibility to make sure that these detainees are safe, secure and make it to trial," Villiard said.
Does the Team Manning reporting even suggest that there might be a valid concern that a young prisoner, possibly facing a big chunk of his life behind bars, might actually be a suicide risk? Or that perhaps Military brig commanders, who deal with such questions every day, might have a legitimate concern to worry about? Nah.
And is there any cause to worry? You betcha. Just last February, in still another fact that Team Manning doesn't bother to look for, another prisoner in that very same Quantico Brig that is holding Bradley Manning committed suicide. And military jails, like prisons of all kinds, are known to have suicides, often carried out with great creativity by inmates using everything from shredded linens as nooses, to ingesting shoelaces, to smashing their own heads into commodes. The tragic fact is, prisoners off themselves all the time. You would think that conscientious journalists—or just people interested in seeking the truth—would point out such mitigating factoids to their readers, and maybe even speculate that perhaps a brig commander actually cares that a celebrity prisoner like Bradley Manning will live to even see a trial. You might think that, but Team Manning doesn't. To them, it's entirely inconvenient to their Obama Military Tortures Bradley Manning narrative.
That Manning conditions are harsh and unusual: this can only be claimed with the caveat that these are pre-trial conditions. As the Gawker article pointed out, this nation has a long and storied career when it comes to incarcerating people, especially in solitary confinement. But more importantly, their story gets very much to the weaknesses of some Team Manning claims, and with a precision one wouldn't normally expect from a glorified gossip site that uses snarky, but none-the-less accurate pokes like this one:
Manning sleeps on a mattress with a built-in pillow and an uncomfortable blanket, a state of affairs that Greenwald described as a "vindictive denial of a pillow or sheets."
Now, you might ask, “what does a gossip site like Gawker know about how prisoners should be treated?” And you'd be right. So just take a look at this:
United Nation's Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners
After browsing the standards for yourself, go back and read some of the more sensational Team Manning accounts that you've read or heard about concerning Manning's treatment, pillows, exercise, and all the other unpleasant things that are supposedly harming his mind as they've been so frequently alleged by Team Manning.
I was hard pressed to find anything that clearly violates the requirements or spirit of the standards set therein, with the possible exception of prisoners being allowed to work—if they want to. But the UN clearly states these are only guidelines, and there are often good reasons why some things can't be done, or always done, as written. Until I know that Manning has even asked to work, and heard the brig's reasons why he's not working, I hardly think this is a very pressing concern. It's certainly not any evidence of "inhumane treatment." Claiming that it is only serves to help desensitize us to the true brutalities of genuinely inhumane incarceration.
But that hasn't slowed up Team Manning even a little bit. Without any really compelling evidence, they continually try to make as much as they can of Manning's physical situation, decrying such things as the "petty, vindictive denial of a pillow or sheets."
Greenwald would consider it monstrous and Redstate-y of me to point out that Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton had no pillows or swank accommodations in jail either. Never mind that Redstate.com's Eric Erickson has publicly rebuked me for making his early CNN days a "living hell," I just must be a sympathetic tool of those authoritarian-lovin' wingnuts if I even suggest that, historically, unappealing prison hardships are as common as the well intentioned activists who condemn them. The best of those activists would seek to do so for all prisoners, and not just one celebrity defendant who is explicitly connect to a global cause célèbre, and whom Team Manning has vigorously helped propel to a minor level of martyrdom.
You don't have to be a conservative wingnut, or watch more than 100 episodes of MSNBC's Lock-up to know that life in prison just fucking sucks. And that's why I pay my taxes, and don't punch out many Republicans that I meet on movie lines. And all this high moral posturing that "he hasn't been convicted of anything," completely ignores the fact that a) Manning is a high-profile detainee who should expect to be guarded with a maximum eye toward his personal safety, and b) the U.S. military has never been obligated to follow many civilian rules about matters of law, justice, and confinement. (Just one more reason I loathe our warrior culture in the U.S.)
That Jane Hamsher and House were harassed and prevented from visiting Manning: this yarn, widely reported all over the world (says FDL), is really rather entertaining. Jane Hamsher and David House show up at Quantico to visit Manning and to deliver a “petition” demanding that he be treated better. A summary accounting was was posted on FDL which neatly encapsulated a so very dramatic play by play that was being live- tweeted and blogged on FDL. I was told this spontaneous event was completely unplanned, though Jane and House were both tweeting it aggressively, as were her many FDL fans, and even, I was told, an FDL publicist who was on hand for the fun (which I can't confirm, but I haven't tried, either).
All these accounts make it seem that two big dogs on Team Manning were being harassed and detained without provocation or cause whatever. We were told there was a little mix-up over a silly insurance card which Hamsher only had an electronic copy of. Only later, thanks to real reporters at the Washington Post, that the more serious offense was expired license plates. This even gets echoed at the bottom of the play by play by an FDL commenter:
Just can’t believe this would happen in America . . . hey, your tweets seemed to leave out the fact that your car had expired tags? Sure it was just a mistake and not a deliberate omission.
As you might expect, this was played all over the world as a dramatic event that had some meaning, but from what I've seen so far, the expired plates are downsized to some "minor traffic violation." As the story rolls, those big bad U.S. Military bastards were preventing them for seeing Manning—the torture victim.
Never mind that House and Hamsher had both visited him before, and that no one seems to have said they couldn't come back and try again with plates that were not expired. But of course, that wouldn't sound nearly dramatic. Better to play victim and make the narrative all about the unjust harassment of Manning's valiant protectors. Could Jane have seen this coming? I mean, is showing up at one of America's most secure military bases with a great big box, but without a regular insurance card, or valid license plates, something she might have anticipated as a potential problem? It's not like the base is just another base:
Quantico is one of the largest U.S. Marine Corps bases in the world. Home to Marine Corps Combat Development Command and HMX-1 (the presidential helicopter squadron), DEA Training Academy, FBI Academy and FBI Laboratory. The base is known as the "Crossroads of the Marine Corps. Source
More importantly, it's not like Hamsher and House, having traveled all this way, did not have prior access to the information that any military person, or their families, nor anyone else that has ever visited any U.S. Base knows all too well: have your shit together.
So there we are…
Above, I've tried to list just a few of the things that have been reported by Team Manning which are just never quite as urgent or outrageous as they first seemed, once some thoughtful questions are asked, or mitigating facts are considered. Those are things good journalists are supposed to do for us before we think we need them. If a crowd-sourced wiki were to be set-up on this subject, a few thousand people could probably pick apart most of what Team Manning has reported in the past 6 months.
And that might be useful, because the mainstream media is clearly not interested in debunking or de-sensationalizing topics like these. Knowing that Wikileaks is very big news, and very big traffic, they have no motive to vet such things. For them, Team Manning is just a factory for more free content, and a source of more links they can sprinkle around the Internet. And for the many well meaning liberals and civil libertarians all over the world who are following these stories? They seem to have very little inclination to question much of it. Sympathetic to many of the emerging Wikileaks memes and issues, they eagerly accept what Team Manning produces as intuitive or obvious.
And what makes that so maddening to me is that I share many of the concerns of those same civil libertarians. I am deeply troubled about where our nation is heading, and many of the issues that Team Manning often touches on are very important to our free society—as long as it lasts. All the more reason why the reporting should be thorough, balanced, and as hyperbole-free as possible. These stories and their underlying facts should be as well vetted as they can be, and it really shouldn't be up to amateur fact checkers like me to police the reporting. We generally need a better process for doing that, and people like Scott Rosenberg and his Mediabugs project are working on it.
But in the meantime, Team Manning would do us all a much better service if they would stop making themselves or their beliefs and agendas the story quite so often, and just try and guide all of us to the salient facts as they find them, without always trying to pump-up each little emerging development as if it were the next big stop-the-presses moment. The rest of us, for our part, should be tweeting and bitching the crap out of the mainstream media until they responsibly follow up on what bubbles up from that process.
Though they have pissed me off many times, I have absolutely nothing personal against either Glenn Greenwald or Jane Hamsher. I think Glenn can be spot on target sometimes about other issues (most recently, his discussion of Clarence Thomas's ethical fails). I value his place in the many conversations we are all having about the future of America. That said, I also think he can be a comic-book-level pugnacious narcissist and bully who has a very unprofessional habit of labeling any critic of anything he says as an Obama-loving sycophant.
For the record, and for readers who don't follow my Twitter stream, I have many criticisms of Obama, even more of Democrats, and an unbridled, Chris Hedges-level fury at the corporatists who run almost every show in this country. I simply believe the problems facing this nation require that Democrats, feeble as they may be right now, still maintain control of government so that we have even the smallest prayer of fixing any of those problems, despite the long odds. They will never be fixed by these loopy Teaparty Republicans. Period. And as long as that holds true, I will urge constructive criticism that aims to encourage Obama to move as left as he can, without turning the whole mess back over to the people who created it. I do not see the relentless administration bashing, nor the Team Manning brand of winner-take-all idealism, which there is no progressive mandate to actually achieve right now, as being even marginally helpful toward that end. And I more strongly believe that the incessant, anti-establishment, anti-government, anti-capitalist, stick-it-to-the-man style libertarian cum-nihilist wing of the Fuck Anything Or Anyone That Impedes My Personal Liberties Party, who are constantly rallying around Greenwald and Hamsher on Twitter, are hardly the people who will find solutions to our problems, and probably not support them if we ever find any.
And I do have my doubts about Hamsher's motivations, but perhaps I am just cynical over her Hollywood past, and her tendency to show up on TV whenever a chance to bash Obama or the administration pops up. And I have still not forgiven her for palling around with Grover Norquist.
Finally, I have no complaints with most of the other bloggers at Firedoglake or Salon. I try to look at each blogger's work independently. While of course, Jane has her soldiers and standard bearers at FDL, there are fine bloggers like Marcy Wheeler and Spencer Ackerman whose work on other topics has often stood apart from Hamsher's daily agenda and her steady stream of polemical angst.
I never meant this post to turn into this epic. But I don't regret writing it. Thanks for getting this far. Now I want to get back to thinking about how we might fix what's mostly wrong with America. And for me, that's not Barack Obama, Wikileaks, or the treatment of someone who violated his duty oath and is now imprisoned as an espionage suspect awaiting military due process. I am strenuously opposed to torture or human abuse in any form, and if Bradley Manning is in fact being mistreated, I would welcome responsible journalistic or legal efforts to reveal it so that it might be stopped.
I wish Bradley Manning well. He probably did think he was doing a righteous thing, revealing something that the world needed to see. But was one more of the many unfortunate massacres of innocent civilians, which happen with every war really worth this personal sacrifice? I don't think so. As with the Phoenix project, the Bay of Bigs, the Gulf of Tonkin, Pat Tillman, and other abuses of government in wartime, these things probably would have surfaced in other ways.
But then I'm not Bradley Manning. But if I were he, and I really did believe what he said he believed, then I would have fully prepared myself for the criminal consequences that I would surely face before I engaged in what any service member knows is a clear and unambiguous crime against their government.
I would do it with fear. I would do it with pride. I would do it with a conviction that I had a higher purpose in life. But I would not do it without expecting a swift and severe punishment for it.
I am hardly the first to call out Greenwald and FDL for the sensational polemics they put out in pursuit of some larger political agenda; one which they seem all too eager to drape over Manning and Wikileaks. And like many of them, I expect I will shortly face yet another of Glenn's scathing word-dumps denouncing me for my vicious lies, smears, or my fascistic obsequiousness. I am sure he will again use me as an example of "how bad things are," without ever seeing himself as part of those things.
Just to give context to that precious moment, when and if it does come, here are just a few related items you can find on the web about Glenn, Jane, Team Manning, or other things I've discussed herein:
Lt. Villiard said to me that he enjoys his job, and enjoys the opportunity to be "as transparent as humanly possible" about the work of the Dept. of Defense. He noted that the cause of transparency is harmed when journalists like Greenwald write op-eds and make misleading claims. It diminishes trust in the relationship between reader, journalist, and the subject who is interviewed.
Putting the Record Straight on the Lamo-Manning Chat Logs (Wired)
Bradley manning would like softer blankets, exercise and more television (Gawker.com)
"You are not being tortured if you are denied access to a newspaper."
"Greenwald and the people at FDL are actually reducing our ability to call foul on real corruption. After all, if everything is a scandal, nothing is a scandal."
“The fact that anyone defends Obama on the grounds that he is a good person is a 'follower' who lacks the perfect intellectual purity of the Holy Greenwald and his flock”.