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Does the American media care that a whistleblower was hauled off to jail for refusing to testify to a secret grand jury? Not really. After all, there’s ‘Russian collusion’ to chase.
Manning was placed in custody on Friday for contempt of court after refusing to testify in front a grand jury in a closed hearing regarding her disclosure of US war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I will not participate in a secret process that I morally object to, particularly one that has historically been used to entrap and persecute activists for political speech,” Manning said in a statement.
Her silence saw her thrown back in jail, where she will remain until she either changes her mind and testifies, or until “the end of the life of the grand jury,” Judge Claude M. Hilton ruled.
Manning is constitutionally protected against double jeopardy – being charged for the same crime twice – and has been granted immunity for her testimony. However, this immunity removes her constitutional right to remain silent. Furthermore, jurors in a grand jury are not screened for personal biases, no defense attorneys are present, and indictments can be issued without evidence.
In a story raising questions of press freedom, government secrecy, and whistleblowers’ rights, one would expect the media to at least have an interest. Not in this case. Manning’s imprisonment was briefly mentioned by most media outlets as a passing news story, and none questioned the problems the grand jury system could cause for other activists and whistleblowers.
Some independent and alternative journalists did, however, question the lack of coverage.
“If Chelsea Manning changed her name to ‘Pussy Riot’ and her location to ‘Russia,’ we might hear some outrage from official Washington and the Beltway press corps that claims to care so much about press freedom,” independent journalist Max Blumenthal raged on Twitter.
“If a pundit complains that Trump sending mean tweets about cable news anchors is an existential threat to press freedom, but then says nothing about Chelsea Manning being re-incarcerated (she’s one of the most important journalistic sources in US history) you know they are frauds,” pundit Michael Tracey chimed in.
Blumenthal’s ‘Pussy Riot’ comparison is apt. When three members of the feminist punk group were arrested and charged with ‘hooliganism’ in 2012 after breaking into a church with a ‘performance’, the American media proclaimed Pussy Riot “the future of civil disobedience.” The New Yorker called their trial “an unapologetic demonstration of force by the state” and saluted their “spiritual and moral strength,” while the Washington Post said the case “put the Kremlin in a dangerous position.” The more liberal Huffington Post knighted the punk rock agitators as “poster children for free speech on a global scale.” Even outlets that avoided comment dedicated paragraph after paragraph to critics of the Russian government.
But when the civil disobedience is happening at home, then it’s crickets from the US media. The Washington Post kept its reporting concise and dry, as did the New York Times, CNN, and the cable news crew. HuffPost and the New Yorker didn’t even look at the story.
Of course, the media has other priorities. One day before Manning’s closed-door hearing, news crews were camped outside the same US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, breathlessly awaiting the sentence handed down to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Although Manafort was charged by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, none of his crimes involved ‘Russian collusion.’ Instead, Manafort was convicted for tax and bank fraud offenses dating back over a decade and related to Ukraine, and sentenced to nearly four years in prison.
Despite failing to turn up any evidence of collusion thus far, the Mueller investigation has captured the attention of the American media like nothing else. CNN got a front row seat to the pre-dawn FBI raid that bagged former Trump associate and Republican operative Roger Stone, and a whole host of former intelligence officials have made viable careers of spouting Russia-related conspiracies on cable news networks.
In the day since Manafort’s sentencing and Manning’s refusal to testify, CNN ran seven stories on the former campaign chairman, including two opinion pieces accusing Manafort of lying and the Judge of undue leniency. The network ran only one piece on Manning’s return to jail. The Washington Post ran five articles on Manafort, offering similar opinions, and one on Manning.
With a narrative to sell, bothersome questions of press freedom, whistleblowers’ rights, and an overbearing justice system just don’t grab attention like Russia does.