W. Joseph Campbell

Posts Tagged ‘Anniversary’

Canada’s CBC invokes Bay of Pigs suppression myth

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times, Newspapers on April 17, 2011 at 2:38 am

CBC News in Canada invoked the hardy New York Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth this weekend in a lengthy online article recapping the failed invasion of Cuba, which was launched 50 years ago today.

The suppression myth has it that the Times, at the behest of President John F. Kennedy, spiked or emasculated its detailed report about invasion preparations.

But as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my media-mythbusting book that came out last year, neither Kennedy nor anyone in his administration asked or lobbied the Times to kill or tone down the pre-invasion report, which was published on the newspaper’s front page on April 7, 1961.

Moreover, the Times coverage of the pending invasion was not confined to that article.

As I point out in Getting It Wrong: “The suppression myth … ignores that several follow-up stories and commentaries appeared in the Times during the run-up to the invasion.”

The CBC, however, invoked the hoary suppression myth as if it were genuine. It declared, in reference to the Times report of April 7, 1961:

“The Times had actually played down their story at the direct request of Kennedy, something both he and The Times’ editors later regretted. Shortly after the invasion, Kennedy reportedly told a Times editor, ‘if you had printed more about the operation, you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.'”

No call to the Times

While Kennedy did not call on Times editors before the invasion, he did say on separate occasions in the months afterward that had the newspaper printed more details about the pending invasion, it “would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

Of course, such comments were quite self-serving. I note in Getting It Wrong that they “represented an attempt to deflect blame for the debacle” at the Bay of Pigs, where the invasion force of CIA-trained exiles was rolled up within three days.

James (“Scotty”) Reston of the Times later characterized Kennedy’s comments as “a cop-out,” adding:

“It is ridiculous to think that publishing the fact that the invasion was imminent would have avoided this disaster. I am sure the operation would have gone forward” nonetheless.

I note in Getting It Wrong that the Times’ pre-invasion coverage cited no prospective date for the invasion. But the newspaper’s front-page reports in April 1961 unmistakably signaled that something was afoot, that an attempt to oust Castro by arms was forthcoming. And on April 17, 1961, at the Bay of Pigs in southern Cuba, the invasion force of some 1,400 exiles launched their ill-fated attack.

The Times wasn’t alone, either, in reporting about the pending invasion. Its competition on the pre-invasion story included the Miami Herald, the New York Herald Tribune, and Time magazine.

According to a critique published in May 1961 in The Reporter, a journalists’ trade publication, the pre-invasion story “was covered heavily if not always well” by the U.S. news media.

So what, then, accounts for the emergence and tenacity of the Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth?

I write in Getting It Wrong that the myth’s most likely derivation lies in confusion with a separate episode during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, when Kennedy did ask the Times to hold off publishing a report about the Soviets having deployed nuclear-tipped weapons in Cuba.

On that occasion, when the prospect of a nuclear exchange seemed in the balance, the Times complied, holding off publication 24 hours.

“What likely has happened is that, over the years, distinctions between the separate incidents surrounding the Times and Cuba became blurred,” I write. “That is, it was mistakenly thought that Kennedy had called the Times executives about the newspaper’s coverage in the days before the Bay of Pigs invasion when, in fact, his call came on an entirely different matter in 1962.”

WJC

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57 years on: Was it really TV’s ‘finest half hour’?

In Anniversaries, Debunking, Media myths, Murrow-McCarthy myth on March 9, 2011 at 12:07 am

Murrow

Today’s the 57th anniversary of what has been called the “finest half hour” in television history — when Edward R. Murrow took to the small screen to confront Joseph R. McCarthy and the senator’s red-baiting ways.

Murrow’s on-air analysis of McCarthy and his tactics was so powerful, so revealing, that it marked an abrupt end to the senator’s witch-hunt for communists in government.

Or so the media myth has it.

The occasion was Murrow’s 30-minute See It Now program that aired on CBS on March 9, 1954.

As I write in my mythbusting book, Getting It Wrong, the program supposedly affirmed the potential power of television and confirmed the courage of Murrow.

I also write:

“The never-ending accolades notwithstanding, the evidence is overwhelming that Murrow’s famous program on McCarthy had no such decisive effect, that Murrow in fact was very late in confronting McCarthy, that he did so only after other journalists had challenged the senator and his tactics for months, even years.”

Indeed, the legendary status accorded the Murrow program has effectively “obscured and diminished the contributions of journalists who took on McCarthy years earlier, at a time when doing so was quite risky,” I point out in Getting It Wrong.

These journalists deserve more credit than Murrow for courage in confronting the McCarthy menace when it was most virulent.

One of them was James A. Wechsler, editor of the New York Post, which in 1951 published a bare-knuckle, 17-part series about McCarthy.

The closing installment characterized McCarthy as “a drunk at a party who was funny half an hour ago but now won’t go home. McCarthy is camped in America’s front room trying to impress everybody by singing all the dirty songs and using all the four-letter words he knows. The jokes are pointless, the songs unfunny, the profanity a bore.”

The series appeared in the Post 2½ years before Murrow’s program on McCarthy.

Wechsler was called before McCarthy’s investigative subcommittee and grilled about having been a member before in the Communist Youth League.

Wechsler said his being summoned to the closed-door hearing was “a reprisal against a newspaper and its editor for their opposition to the methods of this committee’s chairman.”

He sparred effectively with McCarthy, telling the senator at one point that the New York Post “is as bitterly opposed to Joe Stalin as it is to Joe McCarthy, and we believe that a free society can combat both.”

But in the end, Wechsler complied, reluctantly, with the subcommittee’s demand for names of people he had known to be communists during his time in the Youth League.

During McCarthy’s communists-in-government campaign, which lasted from 1950 to 1954, the senator had no more relentless or scathing foe in the news media than muckraking columnist Drew Pearson.

He wrote the widely published “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column — and was quick off the dime, taking on McCarthy soon after the senator first raised his reckless claims about communists in high places in the U.S. government and military.

Pearson wrote in February 1950, in one of his first columns about McCarthy’s charges, that “the alleged communists which he claims are sheltered in the State Department just aren’t.”

Pearson noted that he had covered the State Department for years and had been “the career boys’ severest critic.

“However,” he added, “knowing something about State Department personnel, it is my opinion that Senator McCarthy is way off base.”

And he was.

Pearson’s frequent challenges angered McCarthy who in December 1950, physically assaulted the columnist after a dinner at the hush-hush Sulgrave Club on DuPont Circle in Washington, D.C.

McCarthy confronted Pearson in the Sulgrave’s coat check room and either slapped, kneed, or punched the columnist. Accounts vary.

Richard Nixon, who recently had been sworn in as a U.S. Senator, intervened to break up the encounter. In his memoir RN, Nixon wrote that Pearson “grabbed his coat and ran from the room” and “McCarthy said, ‘You shouldn’t have stopped me, Dick.’”

So by the time Murrow took on McCarthy 57 years ago tonight, Americans really weren’t “waiting for a white knight like Murrow to tell them about the toxic threat the senator posed,” I write in Getting It Wrong, adding:

“By then, McCarthy and his tactics were well-known and he had become a target of withering ridicule — a sign of diminished capacity to inspire dread. On the day the See It Now program aired, former president Harry Truman reacted to reports of an anonymous threat against McCarthy’s life by saying:

“‘We’d have no entertainment at all if they killed him.'”

The notion that Murrow and his television program brought down McCarthy is a delicious story of presumptive media power:  More accurately, it is a tenacious media-driven myth.

WJC

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