WaPo denies allegation it sat on WikiLeaks video

Whoever had been posting to the WikiLeaks Twitter account over the last 12 hours has had some very unkind words for Wired’s reporting on Bradley Manning, the young Army soldier who reportedly has been arrested for his role in leaking a 2007 video depicting the shooting of two Reuters employees by US helicopter guns.

But the WikiLeaks Twitter account (and by the way, mark me down as saying it’s a safe bet that Julian Assange is its primary scribe) also let loose this officious-looking tweet earlier today:

Statement: Washington Post had Collateral murder video for over a year but DID NOT RELEASE IT it to the public.

Curious. I asked Kris Coratti, the Washington Post’s communications director, what was up. She emailed me this flat denial:

The Washington Post did not have the video, nor did we sit on anything.

There is a wrinkle to this tale. David Finkel, a Washington Post reporter, did elaborately describe the events of the day partially captured by the video in “Good Soldiers,” his book published in September 2009, based on his time embedded with an infantry battalion on the ground near the shootings. (WikiLeaks published its version of the video in April 2010.)

Finkel’s book describes the existence of an audio and video record of the day. The book directly quotes the pilots’ cockpit dialogue, and accurately describes their view from above in exquisite and at times nearly moment by moment detail. But in a brief interview with CJR, Finkel declined to say whether he saw the video before WikiLeaks’s release, or whether he ever possessed a copy.

“I’ve never said anything about how I sourced that section, except to say I sourced it from unclassified information and my presence in the area that day,” Finkel said, saying he refused to discuss his sourcing any further. As for the allegation of the Post sitting on a copy of the video, he deferred to the Post’s spokesperson: “They are certainly capable of speaking for themselves.”

With that in mind, I tried Coratti again, asking her what she meant by “The Washington Post did not have the video.” Who, precisely, makes up “The Washington Post”? Coratti said that it was anyone—a writer, an editor—officially working for the paper. I asked whether or not that definition would cover an individual, like Finkel, working on an outside project. Perhaps not.

“He was on leave,” was Coratti’s response. “For any questions on him, you’d have to ask him.”

I’ve reached out to Assange to see if he’s willing to share any more information about his statement. I’ll update you if he does.

UPDATE, 11AM, June 8: Finkel gave me a call this morning, ready to add a bit more context.

“The idea that The Washington Post possessed something, or sat on something, is just absurd,” said Finkel.

“I was primarily there as a book author. I was on book leave from The Washington Post,” Finkel told me. “I’m not trying to be oblique here, but that was my role there.”

“Many times when I was over there, I got information on the condition that it was only for the book,” said Finkel, without making specific reference to the video. “And I honor my agreements.”

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Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.