Monday, March 11, 2013

What if Bradley Manning had precipitated "Pentagon Papers II"? To an "ordinary" blogger?

Bill Keller has a very interesting perspective in the Monday New York Times, p. A19, “Private Manning’s Confidant”, here. Mr. Keller performs a thought experiment (sort of following an intellectual model like that of Andrew Sullivan’s writings) and speculates what would have happened had Pvt. Manniong gone to the New York Times directly (apparently creating a “Pentagon Papers II” situation) rather than the “outside man” (with respect to KP. That is), Julian Assange. 

One idea is that Wikileaks might have stayed off the radar screen, and maybe Assange wouldn’t even be holed up at the Ecuador Embassy in London.   Keller says that the NYT would have been careful and judicious with the material, but that it definitely had a First Amendment right to publish it.  Manning would have still been prosecuted however, as he had no “right” to divulge it, although the NYT is not seen as an “enemy” the way some people see Wikileaks (although most same people see Assange as on our side after all – just not a military court martial).
There remains a good question, maybe a good idea for a screenplay elevator (or Metro escalator) pitch. What happens if an “ordinary amateur blogger” is the contact point?  Without a comprehensive shield law and clarity as to whether it goes below the established press, it’s a little unclear.  There’s a good chance that the courts would say that the First Amendment protects the amateur, too, but it’s not a certainty.  (He’d need plenty of pro bono help for the millions the defense would cost.  Swartz found out that even smaller millionaires are no match for the DOJ when it has an agenda. Billionaires might be OK.)   A more practical question is the blogger’s sense of safety and well-being.  As a practical matter, if an ordinary person, active in video, self-publishing and social media stumbles on a “threat”, he or she probably would want to go to authorities in most (but not necessarily all) cases.   There is some logic in force to “See something, say something”.  Our  (post 9/11) society does have real enemies, and the existence of enemies does help shape moral thinking of expected behaviors and even potentialities.  (The nature of the most serious enemies might be changing back to more of a Coid War pattern, but that’s another discussion.)   I contacted authorities several times in the years following 9/11, and spent some time on the phone with the FBI over one email that I got.  I didn’t get a train ticket to Philadelphia but thought I was going to for a while.  

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