The framing of Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

WHILE BRADLEY MANNING’S credentials as a modern-day Daniel Ellsberg continue to be debated, here’s an interesting question to throw into the mix.

How did major news organisations portray him? As a hero? A villain? Or a victim?

Looks like the Guardian, Der Spiegel and New York Times by and large preferred to sit on the fence on this. In that, their coverage attempted to present Manning predominantly — do note that qualification — as a whistleblower, neither praising nor condemning his action.

Full disclosure before we go any further: this is an ever-so-subtle plug for a recent study my colleagues Einar Thorsen, Stuart Allan and I undertook at Bournemouth University.

Of the 405 articles from the Guardian, Der Spiegel and NYT websites we analysed, 52% used whistleblower as the primary ‘frame’ — the main way of describing — Manning.

Beyond WikiLeaks

He was also presented as a ‘victim’ (in 35% of the stories), ‘villain’ (2%), and ‘hero’ (5%), and ‘entertainment’ (6%; in stories on stage performances spurred by his story).

More stats on the sources the media used for the Manning stories, secondary frames, etc in our chapter, ‘WikiLeaks and Whistle-blowing: The Framing of Bradley Manning’, in Beyond WikiLeaks: Implications for the Future of Communications, Journalism and Society (pardon the long title folks, that’s the way of academia), edited by Benedetta Brevini, Arne Hintz and Patrick McCurdy.

Given the international wave of sympathy for Manning and the view in many quarters that whistleblowers are selfless and heroic, we had expected a more pronounced ‘hero’ representation. Similarly, there could have been a more powerful ‘villain’ frame, in light of the staunch political rhetoric against him. But.

Then, time is often the best determinant of the legitimacy of a whistleblower — as Daniel Ellsberg will happily attest.

Bradley Manning illustration: courtesy

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