Media Buzz

Obama cracked down on the press over leaks, yet is freeing Chelsea Manning

'MediaBuzz' host Howard Kurtz weighs in on President Obama's final press conference and commuting Chelsea Manning's sentence

 

Barack Obama is the president who aggressively went after the press for publishing leaks.

Obama is the president whose administration thought it was okay to surreptitiously obtain reporters’ emails and phone records while pursuing leaks.

Obama is the president whose administration conducted more leak investigations than all of his predecessors combined.

Obama is the president who has consistently decried the exposure of national security secrets.

So I’m having great difficulty understanding why the president, in one of his last official acts, thought it was okay to free a person who leaked 700,000 classified documents.

Chelsea Manning, a low-level Army intelligence analyst who revealed American military and diplomatic secrets around the world, had served seven years of a 35-year sentence. Obama’s commutation, delivered against the urging of defense advisers, will free her in May.

At his final presser yesterday, Obama offered a fairly weak defense. He said Manning had already served a “tough” sentence and that 35 years was “disproportionate.” He said this did not send the wrong signal to future leakers and did not contradict his stance on military secrecy or his administration’s criticism of Wikileaks. But he couldn’t quite explain why that was.

I don’t quite get how this champion leaker became a hero on the left, though her transgender status—she was Bradley Manning when she gave all those documents to Wikileaks, putting Julian Assange’s group on the map—may have something to do with it.

And perhaps the move involved a bit of compassion after two reported suicide attempts. I can even see where 35 years would seem excessive. But handing Manning a get-of-out-jail card sends a horrible signal.

Anyone else contemplating espionage may figure that a commutation could be in their future. So much for the idea of a deterrent.

On what planet should Manning be deemed a whistle-blower, as her lawyers are claiming? Yes, as Josh Earnest pointed out, Bradley Manning faced the music while Ed Snowden, our era’s other big leaker, fled to Russia. But since when is undergoing prosecution a talking point for having one’s sentence cut short?

How did U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan feel about Manning dumping out hundreds of thousands of military incident logs, even if some did show abuses by the Iraqis?

As the New York Times noted, “The disclosures set off a frantic scramble as Obama administration officials sought to minimize any potential harm, including getting to safety some foreigners in dangerous countries who were identified as having helped American troops or diplomats. Prosecutors, however, presented no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks.” Well, then.

It was Eric Holder’s Justice Department that saw fit to secretly obtain personal records from the Associated Press and Fox’s James Rosen, without their knowledge, even labeling Rosen a co-conspirator.

So a journalist doing his job by pursuing a State Department story is named in a criminal complaint, and a leaker of military secrets is set free?

It's the kind of move that presidents feel emboldened to make when they’re halfway out the door, reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon of wealthy fugitive Marc Rich.

Obama was about to leave office on a high note, with a 60 percent approval rating, a gracious transition with Donald Trump and sympathetic media coverage. The Manning move, unfortunately, mars that story line.

Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.