The Problematic Case of PFC Bradley Manning

We have to ask ourselves, constantly and with serious attention to specifics, whether as we build our democratic universe of human relationships, we might be getting things wrong. Private First Class Bradley Manning took action that demanded that we do that. Some say his leaking of classified documents was treason (the courts do not say that); some say it was heroism (the courts do not say that either).

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Fact-based Reporting as Heroic Defense of Freedom

What is democracy? That is the first question that is always asked by pro-regime elements, whether in 18th-century Britain or France or 21st-century Egypt or Bahrain, because their aim is to muddy the waters and oppose the spread of democratic freedom. Free and open access to factual information is the cornerstone right of all citizens of a free society. Journalists are the “Fourth Estate” —in the words attributed to Edmund Burke, by Thomas Carlyle— the watchdogs of the people’s access to truth.

The three estates were the “Lords Spiritual” (bishops of the Church of England), the “Lords Temporal” (the House of Lords) and the Commons. The members of the “Fourth Estate” sat in the reporter’s gallery of the parliament and were, by their influence as writers, researchers, editors and publishers, the most significant of the four groups in terms of their ability to move public opinion and channel the influence of popular sentiment into the decision-making of the government.

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Public Broadcasting Makes us Free

Public broadcasting in the United States is not like state-run television in other countries, where the ruling party often influences the editorial stance and the quality of reporting. In the United States, there is an absolute wall of separation between politicians for elective office and the editorial process that shapes what is produced by public broadcasting.

We are all familiar with the conservative complaint about “liberal media bias”, which stems from a survey of voting habits that found many newspaper reporters were more liberal than the average American voter. There was never any evidence shown, however, that this influenced their reporting. Reporters, as a profession, are duty bound to report fact; it is editorialists, the kind of commentators that rule cable news networks and talk radio, that tend to infuse their “informational programming” with political bias.

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