domingo, noviembre 19, 2006

Nuclear Weapons, War and the Media

Beyond the Bomb Conference

Pace University

New York City

November 4, 2006

Karl Grossman
Professor, State University of New York, College at Old Westbury

In examining the interplay between nuclear weapons, war and the media, it is instructive to examine how The New York Times, the paper of record in the United States, gave direction to press coverage in this country as the so-called “nuclear age” opened.

It’s a shocking story. As Beverly Deepe Keever, a reporter for Newsweek, The New York Herald Tribune and The Christian Science Monitor before becoming a professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii, details in her important book, News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb, “from the dawn of the atomic-bomb age, [William L.] Laurence and The Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created.”

Who was William L. Laurence? He was the granddaddy of embedded reporters­plus. A science reporter for The Times, he was hired by the Manhattan Project, the World War II crash program to build an atomic bomb and, while working for the government remained on The Times payroll, his Times weekly salary going to his wife while he also was paid by the government.

The arrangement was made by the Manhattan Project’s head, General Leslie Groves, with the publisher and editor of The Times. Keever writes: “To sell the bomb, the U.S. government needed The Times...and The Times willingly obliged.”

At the Manhattan Project, Laurence participated in “the government’s cover-up of the super-secret Trinity shot.” Held a month before the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the Trinity test a nuclear device was exploded for the first time. Laurence prepared a press release to “disguise the detonation and resulting radiation.” The “fake news” claimed there had been a “jumbo detonation of an ammunition magazine filled with high explosives at the 2000-square mile Alamogordo Air Base.”

The Timesman didn’t stop with this deception.

He prepared a 10-part series at the Manhattan Project glorifying its making of atomic weapons­and all but ignoring the dangers of radioactivity. And after the bombs fell on Japan, The Times itself ran the series and “on behalf of the government” distributed it free “to the press nationwide.”

Laurence’s avid pro-nuclear writings continued when he returned to The Times this becoming an institutional stance of the publication. The Times, writes Keever, “became little more than a propaganda outlet for the U.S. government in its drive to cover up the dangers of immediate radiation and future radioactivity emanating from the use and testing of nuclear weapons.”

The Times, she writes, “tolerated or aided the U.S. government’s Cold War cover-up that resulted in minimizing or denying the health and environmental effects arising from the use in Japan and later testing of the most destructive weaponry in U.S. history in Pacific Islands once called paradise….The Times aided the U.S. government in keeping in the dark thousands of U.S. servicemen, production workers and miners, even civil defense officials, Pacific Islanders and others worldwide about the dangers of radiation.”

Other Times writers who participated in the pro-nuclear spin included its military editor, Hanson Baldwin. Writes Keever: “In editorials and articles, The Times clearly favored Operation Crossroads,” a major nuclear test in the Pacific, and when President Truman “postponed the first scheduled dates for the test, Baldwin complained that ‘well-meaning but muddled persons, in and out of Congress, are proposing the permanent cancellation of the tests.’”

The atomic dysfunction at The Times went on and on. The nuclear testing-caused tragedy “from 1947 to 1991 unfolding in the faraway Marshall Islands,” for instance, was “largely untold by The Times.”

And the dysfunction continues today as The New York Times leads U.S. media in pushing for a “revival” of nuclear power.

Notes Keever, “A huge outcry followed the revelation of a breach of reporting ethics by a single individual when the Times in mid-2003 exposed the plagiarism and fraud committed…yet the issues raised” by her research “are far more pervasive and more importantly condoned and institutionalized as part of media management policies and practices. This investigation serves as a wake-up call for journalists of today and tomorrow.”

It’s more than a wake-up call for journalists today.

It could be a critical to the lives and survival of millions.

I helped Keever with her book sharing with her the work of Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, the author of Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, and Kenneth Libo, author and curator.

Beyond Belief is about how much was known about the Holocaust­as hundreds of thousands and then millions of Jews were being killed in the 1930s and 1940s­and this was intensely covered by the Jewish press. Yet The Times, Lipstadt writes in Beyond Belief, downplayed the horrible news coming out of Europe. Lipstadt writes that if The Times had done solid journalism about the situation, “it is possible that other American papers would have followed suit”­and what was happening could have been widely exposed­and efforts made to stop it.

Libo was responsible for exhibits on this issue including one at the National Museum of American Jewish History which featured enlarged photocopies of small, back-page Times articles on the shipping off of Jews to concentration camps placed alongside the major stories on this which ran in Jewish papers. A sign at the exhibit, Keever notes, quoting an article by me, read: “Setting the tone for coverage in the general press” of the Holocaust was The New York Times which “downplayed” the news.

Keever ends her book stating that “history might have unfolded quite differently if The Times had reported the Holocaust more prominently and vigorously,” and, likewise, “History might also have unfolded quite differently if The Times had given more than News-Zero coverage of the effects” of the “nuclear holocaust” of our time.

What should The Times and other media be reporting? First and foremost, that nuclear weapons and nuclear power are two sides of the same coin­that there is no “peaceful atom.”

Then it should examine the proposition that the only real way to end the threat of nuclear weapons spreading throughout this world today is to also put a stop to nuclear technology.

Radical? Yes, but consider the even more radical alternative: a world in which scores of nations will be able to construct nuclear weaponry because they possess nuclear power technology. There are major parts of the Earth­Africa, South America, the South Pacific, and others­that have now been designated nuclear-free zones. If we are really to have a world free of the horrific threat of nuclear weapons, the goal needs to be the designation of this entire planet as a nuclear-free zone­no nuclear weapons, no nuclear power.

Radical? Yes, but consider the alternative­trying to keep using carrots and sticks, juggling on the road to inevitable nuclear disaster.

A nuclear-free world is the only way, I believe, through which humanity will be free of the specter of nuclear warfare. Some will say putting the atomic genie back into the bottle is impossible. I say: anything people have done, other people can undo. Especially if the reason is good. And the prospect of massive loss of life from nuclear destruction is the best of reasons.

As Amory and Hunter Lovins wrote in their book, Energy/War: Breaking the Nuclear Link: “All nuclear fission technologies both use and produce fissionable materials that are or can be concentrated. Unavoidably latent in those technologies, therefore, is a potential for nuclear violence and coercion which may be exploited by governments, factions.”

“Little strategic material is needed to make a weapon of mass destruction. Nagasaki-yield bomb can be made from a few kilograms of plutonium, a piece the size of a tennis ball.”

“A large power reactor,” they noted, “annually produces…hundreds of kilograms of plutonium; a large fast breeder reactor would contain thousands of kilograms; a large reprocessing plant may separate tens of thousands.”

Civilian nuclear power technology, they say, provides the way to make nuclear weapons­furnishing the materiel and trained personnel.

That’s how India got The Bomb in 1974. Canada supplied a reactor for “peaceful purposes” and the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission trained Indian engineers. And lo and behold, India had nuclear weapons.

Where have media been in examining the operations of the International Atomic Energy Agency­the global nuclear-pusher?

The IAEA was formed as a result of President Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” speech before the UN General Assembly. Eisenhower proposed the creation of an international agency to promote civilian applications of atomic energy and, somehow at the same time, control the use of fissionable material­a dual role paralleling that of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. In 1974, the AEC was abolished after the U.S. Congress concluded that, in theory and practice, it was in conflict of interest. But the IAEA­in the AEC’s image­remains with us.

The IAEA’s mandate: “To accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”

From its outset, the IAEA has been run by atomic zealots.

Its first director general was Sterling Cole, who, as a U.S. congressman was an original member and then chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, as extreme in its promotion of nuclear technology as the AEC.

Later, Hans Blix became IAEA director general­after, his official IAEA biography stresses, leading a move in his native Sweden against the effort to close nuclear power plants there.

Blix was outspoken in insisting nuclear technology be spread throughout the world­calling for “resolute response by government, acting individually or together as in the [IAE] Agency.”

Blix’s long-time IAEA second-in command: Morris Rosen­formerly of the AEC and before that the nuclear division of General Electric. After the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster, he rendered this advice: “There is very little doubt that nuclear power is a rather benign industrial enterprise and we may have to expect catastrophic accidents from time to time.”

As for the current IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, he too, is a great nuclear booster. “There is clearly a sense of rising expectations for nuclear power,” he told a gathering in Paris last year organized by the IAEA entitled “International Conference on Nuclear Power for the 2lst Century.”

The IAEA has been doing everything it can to fuel those expectations­scandalously downplaying the public health consequences of nuclear accidents including the Chernobyl disaster, promoting all sorts of atomic technology and, with its nearly $300 million annual budget, encouraging the spread of nuclear power around the globe.

The War & Peace Foundation has wisely proposed that the IAEA be replaced with a World Sustainable Energy Agency which would promote the use of safe, clean, non-lethal energy technologies.

Meanwhile, true nuclear non-proliferation, as Amory and Hunter Lovins state, requires “civil denuclearization.”

Even Admiral Hyman Rickover, the “father” of the U.S. nuclear navy and manager of construction of the first commercial nuclear plant in the U.S., in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, in the end came to the conclusion that the world must­in his words­“outlaw nuclear reactors.”

Rickover, in a farewell address, told a committee of Congress in 1982: “I’ll be philosophical. Until about two billion years ago, it was impossible to have any life on earth: that is, there was so much radiation on earth you couldn’t have any life­fish or anything. Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system reduced and made it possible for some for some form of life to begin.”

“Now,” Rickover went on, “when we go back to using nuclear power, we are creating something which nature tried to destroy to make life possible…Every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has life, in some cases for billions of years, and I think there the human race is going to wreck itself, and it’s far more important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”

As for nuclear weaponry, the “lesson of history,” said the retiring admiral, is that in war nations “will use” whatever weaponry they have.

Where have media been on focusing on these realities? In the case of The New York Times and most of mainstream media: in league with a power structure archly pro-nuclear…at News Zero.

Now, positively, the media revolution of our time and what it can mean to get the truth out­in Q&A.

Karl Grossman is professor of journalism at the State University of New York/College at Old Westbury and coordinator of its Media & Communications Major. A major concentration for decades has been nuclear technology. Among the six books he has authored are: Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed To Know About Nuclear Power; The Wrong Stuff: The Space Program’s Nuclear Threat To Our Planet; Power Crazy; and Weapons in Space. Grossman has given presentations on nuclear issues around the world. He has long also been active on television. He narrated and wrote the award-winning documentaries: The Push To Revive Nuclear Power; Nukes In Space: The Nuclearization and Weaponization of the Heavens; and Three Mile Island Revisited, all produced by EnviroVideo ( For the past 15 years, Grossman has hosted Enviro Close-Up, aired nationally on Free Speech TV, the DISH satellite network (Channel 9415), and on more than 100 cable TV systems and on commercial TV. His magazine and newspaper articles have appeared in numerous publications. He is a charter member of the Commission on Disarmament Education, Conflict Resolution and Peace of the International Association of University Presidents and the United Nations. He is a member of the boards of directors of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service-World Information Service on Energy and Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting, and board of advisors of the Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space. He can be reached at or Box 1680, Sag Harbor, NY 11963

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