The Wikileaks scandal has dominated headlines for the better part of two years, with revelations about the leak of classified military documents, diplomatic cables and more. Now PBS’s award-winning investigative news show, Frontline, is taking a crack at Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and the rest.
WikiSecrets aired for the first time on Tuesday and is available online. The documentary traces the life stories of Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, and Bradley Manning, the Army Private and intelligence analyst believed to be the source of the leaked documents and video that made Wikileaks a household name. The Frontline crew always do a superb job nailing down the main facts (and making it damn interesting TV, to boot).
The producers and reporters go deep into the social milieu of hackers and social activists in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that served as Manning’s political awakening, and Manning’s online dealings with hacker Adrian Lamo. It’s a pleasure to see journalists who actually were in the thick of the Manning story – notably: Kim Zetter and Kevin Poulsen of Wired.com – interviewed. Frontline also delved into deeper issues, such as the security failures that allowed a low ranking intelligence analyst to get access to gigabytes of classified information. In other ways, however, the Frontline take on Wikileaks is just a rehash of earlier media portrayals of the incident, with Assange as the quirky iconoclast and Manning as a loner, alienated from the U.S. military by his homosexuality, buffeted by break-ups and personal failures and driven to rebel.
In the end, I’m not sure if that tidy little picture really captures the complexity of the Wikileaks story, but Frontline provides about as good an overview of Wikileaks, Collateral Murder, Cablegate and the rest as I’ve seen. Check it out.