August 07, 2005

Hiroshima and Hackery

Most of what's being written here on the anniversary of Hiroshima has focused on whether or not the United States should have dropped the bomb. I can't add much to that debate. But in light of Jack Shafer's argument that the press is far more trustworthy now than it was, say, 50 years ago, I do want to recommend this short piece by Amy and David Goodman over at Mother Jones. As they report, not only did the military censor one of the only firsthand accounts ever written of the devastation in Hiroshima—a story that has only just now seen the light of day—but the War Department also got the New York Times to help with the cover-up:
[T]he U.S. military unleashed a secret propaganda weapon: they deployed their very own Timesman. It turns out that William L. Laurence, the science reporter for the New York Times, was also on the payroll of the War Department. For four months, while still reporting for the Times, Laurence had been writing press releases for the military explaining the atomic weapons program; he also wrote statements for President Truman and Secretary of War Henry Stimson. He was rewarded by being given a seat on the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, an experience that he described in the Times with religious awe.

Three days after publication of Burchett's shocking dispatch [on the effects of Hiroshima], Laurence had a front page story in the Times disputing the notion that radiation sickness was killing people. His news story included this remarkable commentary: "The Japanese are still continuing their propaganda aimed at creating the impression that we won the war unfairly, and thus attempting to create sympathy for themselves and milder terms... Thus, at the beginning, the Japanese described 'symptoms' that did not ring true."
For his atomic bomb reporting, Laurence won a Pulitzer. Shafer's piece, by the way, seems a bit too narrowly focused: It's true that the major newspapers have become more trustworthy and reliable over the past 50-100 years, sure—and some media outlets, like the Toledo Blade and the national security desk at Knight Ridder, have recently done quality work on par with anything from the past. But that doesn't matter. Most people get their news from television, and by any standard the pseudo-journalism seen on TV is appalling. Better than the old days? Maybe. Nevertheless, appalling.
-- Brad Plumer 2:33 AM || ||