What's Wrong With Tonight's 'Frontline' on 'The Private Life of Bradley Manning'

03/29/2011 09:25 am ET | Updated Mar 26, 2015

This morning, PBS Frontline scooped itself, posting online its promised 10-minute segment for tonight's show on Bradley Manning's early years, or as it's billed (wink, wink) "The Private Life of Bradley Manning." Also posted are a timeline, never before seen photos, part of an interview with his father, and a 911 call from a heated dispute with his father and stepmother in 2006 -- the only fresh revelation in the entire segment.

The segment closes with a title card that simply reports that Manning is currently being held in the brig at Quantico -- without describing the conditions he is held under, or mentioning that this has been roundly denounced by human rights organizations, top newspaper editorials and even Hillary Clinton's top spokesman at the State Department (who lost his job after protesting). In fact, the top story related to Manning yesterday was that spokesman, P.J. Crowley, repeating his protest -- and Shep Smith at Fox News agreeing with him.

Frontline says it will continue its report in May in a one-hour program which will, again, focus on Manning's personal life and how this "led" to his alleged leak; and his new outbursts, this time in the Army (all reported elsewhere)--and how the Army still gave him access to top-secret documents.

While tonight's segment focuses on his personal problems, and "aimless" life before joining the Army, it makes no mention whatsoever of his political or philosophical views (he was against the Iraq war, attended a gay rights rally while in the service, and wore a "humanist" dog tag in the Army).

What has already drawn the most attention is that one "scoop" -- that Manning, after moving back home with his father (with whom he'd always had a difficult relationship) and stepmother in Oklahoma, got into a domestic quarrel with them one day in 2006 and apparently took out a knife. The 911 recording finds the woman reporting that Bradley had a knife and that his father was down, although it turned out he had fallen and Bradley is soon heard inquiring if he is okay.

Police did arrive, no charges were filed, and Bradley left home the next day. Later, urged on by his father (according to the elder Manning) he signed up with the Army. The segment closes promising more of the same in the coming report, focusing on problems in his "personal life" sparking his alleged leaking, or as they put it, "How the private life of Bradley Manning would lead to a very public international scandal." Again, this has already been widely reported (by myself and others), including being demoted from specialist to private first class after allegedly punching a fellow soldier.

The overall tone of tonight's report is sure to spark debate. Consider that MilitaryTimes opens its report today with this: "Could the global turmoil sparked by Wikileaks have started with a son's anger for his father?" NPR's report is headlined: "Home Life Included a 911 Call."

For a fuller, more balanced, account of this same period in Manning's life, see my article here, drawn from my new book about Manning.

The "Bradley Manning" book is available as an e-book here and print here. Greg Mitchell has written a daily WikiLeaks live-blog at The Nation since last November. His previous book was "The Age of WikiLeaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond)." To reach him by email:

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