U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning is facing a court martial for making classified information public by giving it to the website WikiLeaks. NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams (6/3/13), reporting the first day of Manning’s trial, called him “the man who may have put U.S. military secrets in the hands of Osama bin Laden”–referring to the U.S. government’s legal theory that by making secrets public, Manning allowed Al-Qaeda to have access to them, and was therefore “aiding the enemy” (FAIR Blog, 6/4/13).
But giving classified information to the public is something that news outlets–including NBC News–routinely do, and each time they do it they too could be accused of “aiding the enemy.” For example, NBC‘s Michael Isikoff reported on February 4 that a “confidential memo” produced by the Justice Department held that “the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be ‘senior operational leaders’ of Al-Qaeda or ‘an associated force’–even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.”
Now, U.S. citizens obviously have a compelling interest in knowing when their government believes it can kill them without a trial–but such information is clearly of interest to Al-Qaeda as well. There’s no reason that the same legal theory that accuses Manning of “aiding the enemy” couldn’t be applied to NBC News for “supporting terrorism” by putting classified information on TV where Al-Qaeda could see it. And, given the Obama administration’s declaration that Fox News‘ James Rosen is a “co-conspirator” for publishing classified information, no particular reason to be confident that they wouldn’t do so.