Fearlessly Speaking Truth to Power

Fearlessly Speaking Truth to Power

The examples of Manning and Kaepernick show some of America’s most powerful institutions treating the truth as an inconvenience or, worse, an enemy to defeat.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week we cross-post an excerpt from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s column at the WashingtonPost.com. Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s cameo at the Emmy Awards was an unseemly reminder that, in the United States, those in positions of power all too rarely face serious consequences for misleading the public. Spicer was handed a nationally televised platform on one of Hollywood’s biggest nights to make light of the lies he told during his brief tenure in the White House. Meanwhile, we continue to see examples of how certain kinds of truth-telling in this country are often punished, especially when they challenge the powers that be.

This month, Harvard set off a controversy when the university’s prestigious Institute of Politics (IOP) invited—and then disinvited—whistle-blower Chelsea Manning to serve as a visiting fellow. In 2010, Manning, then a private in the Army, leaked a trove of secret documents that exposed wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The important revelations in the Manning documents…are too numerous to name,” writes Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm, “but they include the fact that the United States had killed far more people in Iraq than the government had admitted publicly, that United States soldiers turned a blind eye to torture by Iraqi soldiers and that the United States covered up the killing of civilians by American soldiers.”

Manning served nearly seven years in prison for violating the Espionage Act, enduring long periods of solitary confinement that the UN special rapporteur on torture called “cruel, inhuman and degrading.” She was released in May after President Barack Obama commuted her sentence. Since then, Manning has become a prominent activist for transgender rights, and the IOP specifically touted the perspective she would bring on “issues of LGBTQ identity in the military” in a statement announcing her selection as a fellow. Two days later, however, it rescinded Manning’s invitation, succumbing to blowback from the bipartisan national- security establishment.

Read the full text of Katrina’s column here.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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