Some of the staunchest defenders of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the man who stands accused of leaking secret documents to WikiLeaks, are among the media. Glenn Greenwald of Salon and Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake have taken up his cause; in particular, criticizing the conditions under which he is being detained. But this journalistic advocacy seems to have caused some tension: At a Department of Defense briefing on Wednesday, DOD spokesman Geoff Morrell attacked reporters for misrepresenting facts.
Declining to answer whether it was true that “prosecutors have not been able to tie Private [Bradley] Manning to Julian Assange” in building their case, Morrell chided reporters.
“I would avail myself of this opportunity to admonish or warn you all to be extraordinarily careful about how you report on this story,” he said.
“Any pronouncements about a connection or lack of connection, those that have been found or are yet to be found, are just premature at this point,” he concluded, calling out one reporter in particular.
“But that’s my admonition to you all,” he said, “including Mr. [Jim “Mik”] Miklaszewski in the front row.” Miklaszewski is a reporter for NBC who wrote a story on Monday reporting that the DOD had not been able to link Manning and Assange.
Morrell then moved to attacking reporters and bloggers for reporting false information.
“Assertions by liberal bloggers, or network reporters or others that he is being mistreated, or somehow treated differently than others, in isolation, are just not accurate,” Morrell said.
He contested the oft-reported fact that Manning is being held in solitary confinement, calling that a “a misnomer, among many in the reporting of this case.” Among those “misnomers,” he included the suggestion that Manning had been put on suicide watch as a means to punish him.
Miklaszewski, for one, did not take the criticism lying down. He pushed Morrell on this last issue, challenging his interpretation.
“Well, since you mentioned me by name and, through implication, tied me to incorrect reporting, which would be incorrect,” he said. “I do have a couple of questions.”
“Fire away,” Morrell replied.
“Was the brig commander at Quantico in error in putting Private Manning on suicide watch for two days last week?” Miklaszewski asked. “Did he violate protocol?”
Miklaszewski reported Monday that military “officials told NBC News, however, that a U.S. Marine commander did violate procedure when he placed Manning on ‘suicide watch’ last week.” But Morrell denied that, saying, “as I understand it, he was well within his rights to do so as the commander of the brig.”
Morrell concluded the discussion about Manning by repeating his earlier warning to reporters to be careful when reporting on the case.
“I urge you all to be very careful, because it is still very much in progress. And it would be premature to draw any definitive conclusions … We’re not and you are not — no one is in a position yet to draw those conclusions.”