The first day of Bradley Manning's court-martial trial was, by any rational definition, big news. Manning allegedly shared thousands of documents with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks. Those revelations made enormous contributions to public knowledge about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and exposed some of the inner workings of U.S. foreign policy.
If you care at all about war and peace, press freedom, whistleblowers' rights and the public's right to know what the government is doing, the trial is of enormous consequence.
The press hasn't always seen it that way, though–giving rather skimpy coverage of earlier hearings, even when Manning himself finally testified about his motivations.
But if you're one of the millions of Americans who watch network TV news, this is what you saw about the first day of an historic trial on CBS Evening News (6/3/13):
U.S. Army Private Bradley Manning went on trial today in a military court for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the website WikiLeaks. Manning has admitted that he did it and pleaded guilty to some charges, but the military is trying him on more serious charges, which include aiding the enemy. He could face life in prison.
That wasn't anchor Scott Pelley's introduction to a report; that was the entire report. It's shorter than Pelley's interview with former Bush Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and about the same length as a report on a solar-powered plane.
And on NBC Nightly News (6/3/13), anchor Brian Williams began with this:
The court martial of the man who may have put U.S. military secrets in the hands of Osama bin Laden started today, the so-called WikiLeaks trial.
So "trial of bin Laden accomplice begins" is really how they're framing it?
The brief NBC report was basically a summary of the prosecution's case against Manning:
Prosecutors said Manning harvested hundreds of thousands of documents from secret databases and put them on the Web and into the hands of the enemy, including the names of every American serving in Iraq; 74,000 individuals in uniform. He said some of the information was later found during the raid that killed bin Laden.
And for some balance, I guess, you get this sentence:
Manning's lawyer called his client a humanist trying to expose what he saw as injustices in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, ABC News appeared to have nothing on the first day of Manning's trial, according to a search of the Nexis news database.
As usual, if you want to hear more than a summary of what government prosecutors say about Manning–if that–tune in to Democracy Now!.