The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, February 22, 2004  

War Crimes, the Toledo Blade, and the “Major Media”

Granted, it’s a tired metaphor and an irritating hypothetical, but let’s ask anyway: If a major news story is published in a small- or mid-sized newspaper but the “major media” fails to pick it up, was the report ever published at all?

Despite the question’s hackneyed tone, it’s a fair inquiry and one recently explored by Scott Sherman in The Nation (“The Other My Lai,” March 1).

Sherman’s article addresses a stunning four-part series about possible war crimes in Vietnam written by reporters Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, published last October in the Toledo Blade that, for all the attention the articles warrant nationwide, might as well have ended on the newsroom floor. (Links to the series can be found here.)

Sherman writes:

Despite its explosive findings, the Blade series . . . was not a front-page story in leading American newspapers, most of which printed truncated summaries published by the Associated Press and Scripps Howard. (Only the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Arizona Daily Star[,] and a handful of others deemed the wire stories worthy of page 1.) National television greeted the series with silence. [Seymour] Hersh, writing in the November 10 New Yorker, lamented that this “extraordinary investigation...remains all but invisible.” Prodded by Hersh, ABC jumped on the story with two fine segments by Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel, but for the most part the silence continued. The list of major news organizations that have yet to acknowledge the Blade series includes NBC, CBS, CNN, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report[,] and The Wall Street Journal.

Readers of the New York Times waited eight weeks to hear about the Blade investigation, at which point they encountered, on page A24, a meandering article by John Kifner -- a piece that confirmed the essential facts of the Blade investigation but failed to convey the depth and emotional power of the series itself. […]

No mention of the Blade series appeared on the Times editorial page, a fact that was true for almost every other American newspaper as well. For passion, clarity and good sense, one had to turn to the editorial page of the Bangor [Maine] Daily News . . . Declared an Austin [Texas] American-Statesman editorial, “The army now must come clean about what happened and release all available reports, files and information.” It says much about the timidity of our press that newspapers in Bangor and Austin -- and not the New York Times, Washington Post[,] or Los Angeles Times -- had to take the lead in demanding further investigation into the behavior of soldiers who, by their own admission, committed horrific atrocities in Vietnam.

It’s just another reason, as if you needed one, to vary one’s news sources to the greatest extent possible, something blogs are helping thousands of readers every day. (See, ahem, below.)

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