Journalism and Jane Hamsher


Before we get into the events of the day, let me say this about the Bradley Manning case.

I’m conflicted about whether the information Manning stole and forwarded to Wikileaks was information that “the American people deserve to know.” Some of it may be. Most of it – especially the diplomatic cables – is information that, once disclosed, hampers the ability of the U.S. government to achieve its aims through diplomatic, rather than military means. Generally speaking, my feeling is that Manning should not have disclosed the information, but I do understand that reasonable minds can differ. I definitely believe Wikileaks has every right to publish the information it gets, even if its founder is an asshole and a possible rapist.

At any rate, whether or not Manning was right to release the information he did, he was quite definitely violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice when he did so, and nobody should be surprised that he was arrested. That doesn’t mean what he did was morally wrong, nor that people can’t argue he should be freed as a whistleblower. But when you engage in civil disobedience, you can’t be shocked when you’re arrested; that’s the nature of violating the law for an aim you view as noble.

But while I have no problem with Manning’s arrest, and generally lean toward the belief that he should be convicted for his actions, I’m absolutely of the belief that he should be treated with dignity and respect while imprisoned, and that he should not be placed in solitary confinement for no obvious reason – other than to push him to disclose potentially damaging information about Wikileaks. That is running right along the line that separates jail from torture, and as I’ve said before, that’s not a line we should even be approaching.

And so we come to today, when Jane Hamsher decided to tag along with David House, who visits Manning during his one allowed visiting period per week. Jane was there to deliver a petition and, being Jane, probably showboat a bit. But I’m willing to give her a pass on it, as Manning’s treatment in military custody is something that deserves attention.

Well, Hamsher and House were detained at Quantico, and their initial tweets indicated that they’d been singled out, delayed specifically to keep House from visiting during allowed visiting time, and that this came from “top brass.” Their car had been searched, a tow truck driver had been called to tow the car for no apparent reason other than that they didn’t have proof of insurance on them, and that generally, the Marines at Quantico were being jerks.

And perhaps that was the case. Indeed, I view it as a strong possibility. The military hasn’t treated Manning particularly well so far; why would they treat his allies in the blogosphere any better? My reaction to the affair (other than a sinking feeling that Hamsher would probably lean toward using this for self-promotion and attacks on Obama rather than attacks on the way Manning’s being treated) was to call out the Marine Corps for their actions.

But Hamsher left something out of the details of her initial story, something that gives the Marines an equally likely argument: that they were merely defending the sanctity of the base from someone who was breaking the law:

David House and blogger Jane Hamsher say in a statement they had not had problems previously driving onto the Quantico base. But they say they were detained and unable to visit Army Pfc. Bradley Manning on Sunday.

Quantico spokesman Col. Thomas V. Johnson says the car was towed after the pair could not provide proof of insurance and guards found the vehicle’s license plates had expired. He says both weren’t detained.

And…that’s unfortunate. Because Hamsher and House’s plates were expired, and they didn’t have proof of insurance, and…well, that would be a perfectly valid reason for the military to keep you off their base. I mean, it’s a military installation – they have security there for a good reason.

And this is a problem. Not just because this gets us to a he-said-she-said situation, but because Hamsher didn’t feel it important to pass along a very important fact – that their plates were expired.

Now, it may be that, as Hamsher and her supporters have said, the military detained Hamsher and House first. That they only noticed the plates were expired after the two had been cooling their heels for a while. That this was all incidental to the real reason that they were being detained. I find that as likely as not, and had Hamsher reported the incident fully, I’d find it more likely than not.

But she didn’t. She left a major, important detail out. And as anyone who’s practiced journalism knows, the job is all about those major, important details. Because once you fail to mention something important, it leads the reader to question just what else has been left out of the story. What other facts failed to make it to the copy. What part of the story is true, and what’s pure spin.

Don’t misunderstand me – I don’t know as I believe the military either. But I certainly have to view Hamsher’s statements with a jaundiced eye, too. And that leaves me not knowing who to believe, but knowing that ultimately, what could have been a big black eye for those mistreating Manning will end up being a muddled soup of questions and recriminations that won’t get resolved, and will ultimately detract from what is in fact the important story.

This is what frustrates me about Hamsher generally. Her writing and pronouncements are long on her, and short on facts. She ignores things that are inconvenient for her. And she does real damage by proceeding thus. And even on an issue where I generally support her aims, even during an incident that should highlight the negative being done to Manning, Hamsher has managed to make the situation about her, and what she claims to be the truth. And I find that very sad indeed.