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Simpich writes: "The Army's outrageous failure to inform the working media that a 540-seat theater was open and available to them must never happen again. This trial would have received three times as much coverage if all 350 journalists had received their credentials."

Sketch of Bradley Manning inside the courtroom. (art: Kay Rudin/RSN)
Sketch of Bradley Manning inside the courtroom. (art: Kay Rudin/RSN)

75% of Journalists Turned Away From Manning Trial

By Bill Simpich, Reader Supported News

06 June 13


oday, day three of the Manning trial, the public and the media were able to access the courtroom as the long reality of an 8- to 12-week trial sets in. On Monday, however, the courtroom and the media center were the sites of a virtual state of siege. If the Army press corps had properly granted credentials to the media, this case would have received at least three times as much coverage.

During the week prior to the Manning trial, more than 350 journalists applied for media credentials. The Military District of Washington sent out a notice stating that most of them were denied credentials because there was only room for 70 journalists in the media operations room and 10 journalists in the courtroom. The other journalists were told that they could attend the court-martial as members of the general public, but were warned that seating was on a "first-come, first-served basis." The journalists were not told that the theater alone seated 540 people, with a overflow trailer adjacent to the courtroom seating another fifty. Very few journalists were willing to bear the time and expense of flying out to Maryland without the assurance that they would be able to see the opening statements of counsel.

The first day of a trial is always critically important because the opening statements made by counsel provide a short and concise narrative that everyone can easily understand. In a criminal case, the media leave after opening statements, and do not return until the day that the defendant takes the stand or a high-profile witness testifies.

Reader Supported News courtroom artist Kay Rudin made it into the courtroom for the opening statement as a member of the public. Such artists have a hard time doing any effective work unless they are directly in the courtroom. Like everybody else, Ms. Rudin had to endure an obstacle course: Getting up at 4:30 am, arriving at the base in a rainstorm, a greeting from security that all cars in the visitor center were about to be towed, an exacting car search at the main gate, standing in line in the downpour, and sitting in the courtroom overflow trailer in front of a TV monitor that refused to work during the initial half hour of proceedings. Ms. Rudin was the last person to gain entry before opening statement.

During that initial half hour of proceedings, Judge Denise Lind addressed RSN's motion to intervene, specifically addressing the request made by journalists Scott Galindez and Kay Rudin. (Transcript, p. 6, Exhibit 558) (Full disclosure: I am an attorney as well as a journalist for RSN – I was in the overflow trailer, and had informed the court that I would be in the overflow area and available if needed.) During the hearing on RSN's motion, the video/audio feed was not working in the overflow trailer.

The prosecution told the court that the RSN journalists "were not listed in the Vocus system, which is one of the requirements of being a registered, independent commercial press service organization. That was in the press advisory." (Transcript, pp. 10-11, 23, Exhibit 561) The press advisory says absolutely nothing about Vocus or anything of the sort, saying simply that what was needed was media ID and a letter on official letterhead, and that "examples of posts that demonstrate recent coverage of the military judicial system must be supplied." RSN submitted past critical articles of the military justice system written by Galindez and myself – and if we hadn't, Vocus could have smoked them out. It's outrageous that we were ordered to provide articles about coverage of the military justice system – particularly when the traditional print and broadcast media were exempted from this requirement imposed upon online media.

When Galindez and I reopened our request for credentials on Tuesday morning, we were told by Mary Doyle of the Army press corps that we were rejected because no references to RSN were picked up by Vocus. When I asked Ms. Doyle what Vocus was, she said, "Go to their web site." The web site is geared for marketing, saying that "we monitor millions of conversations and deliver all relevant conversations to your Vocus dashboard."

Vocus offers a variety of services. Vocus monitors over 130,000 media outlets, including online news sources, print publications, blogs, and broadcast media. Their PR suite software provides a media database of more than 400,000 journalists and bloggers as well as news, blog, and social media monitoring. One happy customer from Easter Seals wrote, "We use it for research, to create media lists and learn about reporters, and to track our engagement with them. It's communications command control for talking with reporters." She was also pleased that Vocus can tell its customers whether the media outlets are "positive and neutral." Did Vocus also smoke out other critical articles written by reporters in the past? The ability is there.

Vocus also offers a variety of titles. It is known variously as Vocus PRW Holdings LLC, PRWeb, and Vocus, Inc. Vocus competes with other groups such as Metro Monitor, which provides clients with access to proprietary news monitoring databases and innovative TV news clipping and media intelligence services. When I called Metro Monitor, I asked Leah LNU ("last name unknown" because she wouldn't provide it) if Vocus was a service to the public relations community similar to Westlaw or LEXIS (based on what Mary Doyle at the Army media corps had told me). Leah LNU replied that she thought that was a "pretty appropriate comparison." Westlaw and LEXIS are the key online research tools used by lawyers to research the current state of the law. It stands to reason that Vocus is the key online research tool used by public relations to research the current state of the media.

Although a daily trial transcript is now available – thanks to the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and donations are still needed – at, it's not nearly enough. Here's what needs to happen before a high-profile witness testifies in this case:

First, the video and audio feed of the trial needs to be shared in real-time with the media and public, not just the Army and the defense team and the judge. The government has the ability to retain a copy of the video and audio feed as it is created – there is no reason that this cannot be shared. No one is arguing that the video and audio is disrupting the trial in any way – because it's seamless and invisible, being done in a high-quality facility.

In the media center, there is no reason to deny working reporters the ability to download their stories to their editors while the trial is in progress. Minutes matter to the working reporter in scooping their colleagues. There is no conceivable security danger in this setting.

In the theater and other overflow areas, there is no reason to ban laptops. The whole point of no laptops in the courtroom is avoid interruptions and to be able to hear the witness. It is purely an act of social control to take away someone's laptop in a quiet spot far, far away from the courtroom. As the judge wrote in her law review article on public access on military trials, both the media and the public share similar First Amendment rights of access to information.

Here's the biggest thing of all. The Army's outrageous failure to inform the working media that a 540-seat theater was open and available to them must never happen again. This trial would have received three times as much coverage if all 350 journalists had received their credentials. We're not in a little county courthouse. We're at Fort Meade, Maryland, home of the US Army, the National Security Agency, and numerous lecture halls that are sitting vacant and readily available. The Army is fully capable of handling the logistics for accommodating hundreds of reporters, not just 70. Both the media and the public should have access to their laptops at these remote locations. The resources are at the government's fingertips – and are being snatched away simply for political gain.


RSN Special Coverage: Trial of Bradley Manning

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