The Press: Miscue on the Massacre

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Hersh and D.N.S. did not have the story entirely to themselves. The daily Alabama Journal in Montgomery (circ. 26,000), which had received a tip on Nov. 4, broke into print in its 2 p.m. edition of Nov. 12. And the New York Times, which got wind of the story around Nov 7, had its own report for Nov. 13. Both lacked the detail of Hersh's piece. Hersh had quotes from Calley ("I know this sounds funny, but I like the Army . . . and I don't want to do anything to hurt it") and from another soldier who had taken part in the attack ("There are always some civilian casualties in a combat operation").

Curiously, some newspapers barely noted the alleged massacre or ignored it completely. Editorial page comment was even slower to develop. The best reporting continued from Hersh. He interviewed three eyewitnesses for a second D.N.S. story on Nov. 20, and he turned up Paul Meadlo for another numbing account last week. D.N.S. passed Meadlo on to CBS for a television interview with Mike Wallace, for which D.N.S. received $10,000 and Meadlo got traveling expenses. For yet another story this week, again sold by D.N.S., Hersh has talked to a returned soldier who describes the killing of a Vietnamese woman by members of Lieutenant Calley's platoon two days before My Lai.

One daily, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, got lucky. A returned G.I., Ronald L. Haeberle, had been attached to C Company as a combat photographer when it moved into My Lai. When the assignment was over, he turned in the black-and-white film supplied him by the Army but kept some color film he had bought himself. Back in Cleveland after discharge, Haeberle resisted showing them to newspapers until last month. Then he called an old school friend, who was a Plain Dealer reporter. The paper snapped up the photographs, ran them in black and white, and then helped Haeberle sell color rights to LIFE, the German magazine Stern, and the London Sunday Times.

The British press showed more initial interest in the massacre story than the U.S. press. So did British politicians. But while some of them used it to attack the U.S. and its involvement in Viet Nam, one left-wing Labor member allowed that it was "to its great credit" that the story was revealed "in the American press in the first place." He was perhaps too kind.

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