Sunday, February 1, 2004

Better Late Than Never

The NY Times has acknowledged that it has, on occasion, ignored or played down important stories that didn’t originate from the Times newsroom. Their biggest example is the story of Tiger Force, the unit in Vietnam that is alleged to have commited a series of war crimes in 1967. The story was researched and published by The Toledo Blade in November (and linked at the time here). The Times ignored the story when it was first published:

When the Blade series broke, The Associated Press sent out a story summarizing its findings. Many newspapers picked up the A.P. report; some, including the Times-owned International Herald Tribune, put it on the front page. In the Times newsroom, Roger Cohen, who was foreign editor at the time, thought it an important story, but, he recalls, he was “focused on Iraq” and “did not give it the attention it deserved.” National editor Jim Roberts tried to get something rolling that the paper could call its own, but reporters who knew their way around the Pentagon were otherwise engaged. Editors felt that running 10 inches of A.P. copy would not represent the story fairly.

In The New Yorker of Nov. 10, Seymour Hersh, who as a young reporter broke the story about the massacre at My Lai, praised the Blade series, noting along the way that the four major networks and most major newspapers had all but ignored it. Hersh’s article provoked The Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, to order up a lengthy piece on The Blade’s discoveries. John Kifner’s “Report on Brutal Vietnam Campaign Stirs Memories,” which sought to place the Blade series in historical perspective, finally ran on Dec. 28 – a report on a two-month-old story about events that took place 37 years ago. The Blade’s publisher and editor in chief, John Robinson Block, felt that The Times’s late weigh-in, which included a sizable helping of the skepticism that re-examination will almost inevitably provoke, was an insult to his paper and its reporters.

I’m pretty sure that Mr. Block is grateful that The Times has at last acknowledged the slight. Maybe the Pulitzer committee will make it up to him.