Last Thursday during a Democrat fundraiser in San Francisco, President Barack Obama was overheard stating that Private Bradley Manning — WikiLeaks’ alleged source for multiple United States Military videos — “broke the law.” Every form of media agency that could grab the news ran with it, speculating about the consequences of the President’s statement and how it might affect Manning’s trial.
So what? It’s just one statement. Except that it’s the president of the United States who made it in a public setting. Anyone who didn’t know what to think about Manning certainly has an idea now.
The president of the United States is a symbol for the country and what he does has lasting impact for years. By now, President Obama should be accustomed to the media’s watchdog attitude when it comes to everything he says, does or even looks at. Obama should have known that what he says in front of the media is always up for grabs.
He is a public figure, and as such has a certain set of responsibilities. The president of the United States is supposed to represent all of the citizens in the United States. By stating his personal opinion in a public setting, Obama has tampered with the fairness of the trial that Bradley Manning is supposed to receive.
But what about the media? By spreading the news, speculating and raising questions and informing every single person in America who turns on the radio, TV or newspaper that the president said Manning “broke the law,” aren’t they just as guilty? And now by writing this article I, too, am spreading this knowledge.
There is a difference though. No matter how noble we suppose the press and the media to be, we have to remember that they are companies that exist to make a profit. So they sell what America will watch: controversies, crime, violence and scandal. For each happy ending there are three murders and a celebrity break-up. Investigative reporting — no matter how noble — brings home big money when the scandals are uncovered.
I am not saying this to diminish the good that the media does, or to invalidate everything it tells us. I say this so it is understood that in order for a news station or newspaper to continue to exist, they have to make money. The profit-seeking nature of the media can complicate someone’s right to a fair trial, and the media’s reaction to Obama’s statement is a perfect example of this.
The separation of powers is what keeps our government in check. Along with democracy and our Bill of Rights, they’re arguably the three most important concepts for the citizen to understand. Accordingly, Obama should know what is and is not his role.
Ultimately, Obama should have known better. Making a statement like that will make it very difficult for Manning to secure a proper military trial because every judge will know the commander-in-chief’s opinion. One of the powers vested in the president of the United States by the Constitution is the ability to pardon, but it does not also grant the inverse, the ability to assign guilt.