|INCIDENT AT NO GUN RI|
May 31, 2000
Media correspondent Terence Smith reports on the battle between two news organizations over the story of an alleged slaughter during the Korean War.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
| TERENCE SMITH: It's a peaceful, bucolic scene today. The waters run gently beneath the bridge at No Gun Ri. (Gunfire) But this South Korean village is a haunted place. Battles raged here 50 years ago, and residents can still trace the bullet holes in the bridge. |
PARK HEE-SOOK, No Gun Ri Survivor (Translated): There were so many dead people here next to the stream, and there were a lot of American soldiers around. I didn't want to die, so I piled the dead bodies on top of me.
NORMAN TINKLER, Korean War Veteran: Either shoot, stay alive or die. That's all there was to it.
TERENCE SMITH: The events at No Gun Ri are still causing controversy half a century later.
GEORGE RUPP, President, Columbia University: For revealing with extensive documentation the decades-old secret of how American soldiers early in the Korean War killed hundreds of Korean civilians in a massacre at the No Gun Ri Bridge. Please come forward. (Applause)
TERENCE SMITH: That was the thrust of an extraordinary report released last fall by the Associated Press that has won its authors numerous awards, and this year, the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Journalism, the industry's highest award. The article quoted a dozen G.I.'s and Korean survivors describing a horrific scene in which American soldiers, allegedly acting on orders, machine-gunned up to 300 cowering refugees. But what actually happened at No Gun Ri on July 26, 1950, in the chaotic opening days of the Korean war? Did nervous American soldiers, fearing that North Korean infiltrators might be hiding among civilian refugees, massacre innocent South Koreans?
|Looking for the real story|
| MARTHA MENDOZA, AP National Investigative Reporter: There's orders to fire on civilians remarkable, sensational orders that have, you know, stunned military historians when we brought them to them. They're orders to fire on civilians at the time. |
TERENCE SMITH: Martha Mendoza, a national investigative reporter for the AP, was part of the team that worked on the story for more than a year.
MARTHA MENDOZA: We don't declare whether things happened or not. We describe it. You know, we say, "here's what these people saw. Here's what these people saw. Here's why, according to these military records, there's every reason to believe this."
TERENCE SMITH: The reporting team, including Sang Hon Choe and Charles Hanley, conducted hundreds of interviews here and in Korea, and AP researcher Randi Hershaft made countless trips to archives to assemble the paper trail that reconstructed the events at No Gun Ri, 80 miles south of Seoul. The story had an immediate worldwide impact, making headlines around the world. At the Pentagon, Army Secretary Louis Caldera announced a full- scale investigation into the incident and whether the U.S. soldiers were acting under orders.
LOUIS CALDERA, Secretary of the Army: It will be an all- encompassing review. I am committed to finding out the truth to these matters as best we can after these many years.
ANCHOR: There are questions today about the accuracy of an award-winning report by one of the...
TERENCE SMITH: But more recently, the story has also generated an unusual public battle among major American news organizations. U.S. News & World Report and others are challenging the authenticity of several of the sources quoted by the Associated Press. Veterans groups contacted the magazine, U.S. News executive editor Brian Duffy says, questioning whether one of the sources, Edward Daily, had been at No Gun Ri at the time.
BRIAN DUFFY, Executive Editor, U.S. News & World Report: Our reporting indicated that Mr. Daily, according to the army's best records, was not at No Gun Ri, was not a machine-gunner, and served in the unit that was at No Gun Ri fully eight months after the alleged incident occurred.
EDWARD DAILY, Korean War Veteran: We followed our orders and we fired in there to eliminate the problem.
TERENCE SMITH: The AP initially stuck by its source, and as other news organizations picked up the story, Ed Daily became, in effect, the voice of the incident at No Gun Ri. NBC's Tom Brokaw interviewed Daily on "Dateline"...
EDWARD DAILY: We set up a machine gun position that I had was right over here to fire at an angling.
TERENCE SMITH: "Dateline" paid to fly the veteran back to No Gun Ri.
SPOKESMAN: In the chaos of war, an act so horrific it would remain secret for half a century.
TOM BROKAW: You heard that order?
EDWARD DAILY: Yes, sir.
TOM BROKAW: Kill them all?
EDWARD DAILY: Yes, sir.
SPOKESMAN: The order, carried out without question. The nightmares would come later.
|Verifying the story|
TERENCE SMITH: Then last week, the AP re-interviewed Ed Daily and the media dispute suddenly took a new and bizarre turn. The agency reported that Daily, when confronted with army records, now recognizes that he could not have been at the scene on the day of the incident, and that he had instead learned of it secondhand from soldiers who were there.
JONATHAN WOLMAN: The story overall doesn't depend on Ed Daily's veracity.
TERENCE SMITH: Jonathan Wolman, the AP's executive editor, defended the central thrust of the story in an interview shortly before Daily changed his story. He and Martha Mendoza stressed that they had numerous other authentic sources for the account of a massacre.
MARTHA MENDOZA: Ed Daily told us about the shooting of a large number of civilians in South Korea. That happened. The Pentagon has confirmed to the New York Times that they have now concluded that more than 100, I believe it was, people died there. The South Korean investigators have concluded the same thing. That account stands.
TERENCE SMITH: But Brian Duffy at U.S. News contends that Daily is a pivotal figure in the AP Account.
BRIAN DUFFY: His quotes are, I think it is safe to say, the most dramatic of the account. He talks about on summer nights, he can still hear the screams of the children in the tunnel who were being shot. And, in an odd way, he tied the whole AP account together.
TERENCE SMITH: And other veterans interviewed by U.S. News put a different spin on the incident at No Gun Ri.
BRIAN DUFFY: We quoted others saying "there was no massacre." There was shooting, but certainly the veterans we talked with who were there all took issue with the fact that the firing was done on orders from any officer.
TERENCE SMITH: But in its research, the AP uncovered orders that seemed to direct the G.I.'s to stop all movement across the front line. "No refugees to cross the front line," read one. "Fire everyone trying to cross lines." "Use discretion in case of women and children." "All civilians in this area are to be considered as enemy," read another, three days later; "action taken accordingly."
MARTHA MENDOZA: Some of the veterans recall hearing orders, and we quoted them as hearing those orders to fire on civilians. We also in our reporting described some veterans who did not hear orders. Where those orders came from, we've tried to track down as best we could, and we're looking forward to the Pentagon getting to the bottom of it.
|Reporter as historian|
TERENCE SMITH: In the midst of the media sniping over the No Gun Ri story, questions have been raised by some at the Associated Press about the objectivity of the principal author of the U.S. News investigation, military affairs reporter Joseph Galloway. Galloway, who participated in this year's Memorial Day services in Washington, is himself a member of some of the veterans groups that originally raised the alarm about the AP story.
BRIAN DUFFY: I don't think it's a conflict at all. I mean, we disclosed the fact, in our first story, that the reporter in question had first heard questions about Mr. Daily's record through his membership in these associations. It sheds unflattering light on the entirely military. But by the same token, I mean, shooting on unarmed refugees, if it happened, I think any good soldier would say, you know, "that's beyond the pale."
MARVIN KALB: There is a plus and a minus here. The plus is as a member of the Association, he will get information that perhaps another reporter will not get.
TERENCE SMITH: Former broadcaster Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center in Washington, disagrees with Brian Duffy about Joseph Galloway.
MARVIN KALB: The very fact that he is a member raises a question of a conflict of interest, and since the question is raised, it almost answers itself. He should not have been the one to do the story.
TERENCE SMITH: Beyond that, Kalb questions whether journalism is the appropriate medium to examine historical questions like No Gun Ri.
MARVIN KALB: Journalists are best at covering the news. "Tell me what happened, tell me today, tell it to me fast, give it to me as fairly as you can and then move on to the next story." But when journalists begin to go back ten years and then 40 and 50 years, they take on the role of historians. That requires a special kind of skill, which they really don't have.
TERENCE SMITH: The AP's Jonathan Wolman and Martha Mendoza disagree.
JONATHAN WOLMAN: It teaches us a lot about a war, and within journalism, it teaches us a little about war coverage. And for the United States, which projects power across the globe, I think these are lessons we want to learn, and we want to fold these lessons into our preparations for the future.
MARTHA MENDOZA: I think that people who read newspapers buy those newspapers because they are basically hiring us to tell them the truth. And when we find out things that are happening, it's our responsibility to tell them the truth, and that's what makes this job such a great responsibility.
TERENCE SMITH: No matter how unpleasant that truth might be?
MARTHA MENDOZA: Absolutely.
TERENCE SMITH: For its part, the Pulitzer Prize board is standing behind its award to the AP. Edward Seaton is chairman of the Pulitzer Board.
EDWARD SEATON: The basic story is clearly there-- even, as I understand it, from the New York Times report that the Defense Department has confirmed that an atrocity occurred, and that is what the prize is for.
TERENCE SMITH: The South Korean government is attempting to reconstruct what happened at No Gun Ri, and survivors and families continue to press compensation claims. The Pentagon investigation has been under way for eight months. More than 100 people have been interviewed. A final report, originally expected near the 50th anniversary of the start of the war this June, is now expected this fall.
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