Given what happened last time, just six weeks ago, it’s a bit of a surprise that PBS Frontline, now in its summer season, is choosing to rerun its controversial WikiSecrets episode tonight. 

After its first showing, on May 25, hackers brought down the PBS site for a spell. Both Julian Assange and Bradley Manning friend David House challenged the report–showing up unannounced in an online chat with the creators of the episode. Many other critics voiced complaints on the web. It was followed, two weeks later, by an even more disappointing CNN special on the same subject.

Since WikiSecrets will gain many new viewers tonight, here’s my review once again.


The mountain labored, and in the end, it gave birth to a mouse. Or rather, a goldfish. One of the only bits of new information in the much-ballyhooed PBS Frontline program on WikiLeaks, Assange and Bradley Manning which aired tonight was: The man who fingered Manning, Adrian Lamo, secluded in California, has a large goldfish in his apartment.

The other scoop: it was Manning’s aunt who made the final update to his Facebook page, announcing his arrest. Come to think of it, maybe that one came out before. But we’ve still got that goldfish.

The rest of the program, from beginning to end, was nothing but rehash, much of it from news reports going back to last June or a little later. We also heard from plenty of Assange critics making their usual and much-published charges. We absorbed multiple appearances by David Leigh, Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Nick Davies, Bill Keller. Paging Glenn Greenwald! We did get a few seconds of Dan Ellsberg—at a rally.

It took Manning’s friend, David House, about fifty-five minutes in to remind viewers, and correspondent Martin Smith, that the soldier has not been convicted of anything. But you’d never know it from the program (which you can watch online here, and peruse related material).

Actually, the biggest scoop of the night came from the WikiLeaks site, which posted the complete fifty-five-minute interview that Smith conducted with Assange. It opens with Assange rightly scolding Smith for a quarter-hour about his segment earlier this year on Manning’s teenage years (I made most of the same points myself in a piece the night it aired and in my Bradley Manning book).

WikiLeaks has also posted the full transcript of the non-scolding part of the interview from the PBS site, along with—at the bottom of the page—correspondence between an Assange associate and the Frontline producer Marcela Gaviria about the ground rules for the interview. Gaviria calls previous coverage and films on WikiLeaks “unsatisfactory and uneven.”

From teasers and excerpts released by Frontline in recent days, it seemed possible that they had some new evidence connecting Assange more directly to Manning in his leaking, thus putting him in further legal jeopardy. Any fears about that proved needless. All you had was Eric Schmitt of the New York Times saying that he believes, with no evidence, that maybe there was an intermediary between Manning and Assange, but then again, he adds, Assange was “too savvy” to risk anything more than that (if that).

The program also painted a picture of Assange—again, extremely familiar—of not caring about Manning because he released all those documents last year that put the soldier in deeper legal trouble. Of course, the problem with that argument is that Manning was already under arrest, his computers seized as evidence, the chat logs (if legit) made public.

We also got the usual charge that Assange had not fully redacted some of the Afghanistan war logs, without mentioning that there are no documented cases of anyone being harmed because of that—or from the release of any of the other millions of docs.

And there was no mention until the very end of any good that came from Manning’s alleged actions and Assange’s publishing ventures, and even then, confined to Tunisia and maybe Egypt. Needless to say, there was nothing raised about the concepts of the public good, government transparecy, or watchdog journalism and media responsibility.

The program closed with a fake Manning typing on a computer screen about wanting to get the truth out. But we never got a glimpse of the abuses he witnessed in Iraq and/or political views that helped spark his leaking—only his fights with his boyfriend and the stress produced by “don’t ask, don’t tell.” For what they left out, go here.

As for that goldfish—I am now reliably informed that actually it made its first appearance in an Al Jazeera segment on Lamo.

Greg Mitchell’s current books on this subject are The Age of WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning, Truth and Consequences, in book and e-book, form.