NEW YORK – Two journalists in New York said Tuesday they want a Pulitzer Prize awarded to a New York Times reporter for his coverage of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki revoked, saying he was employed by the U.S. War Department when he wrote his articles.
As a New York Times reporter, William L. Laurence was given the prestigious U.S. award in 1946 for his eyewitness account of the bombing of Nagasaki and a series of 10 articles on the development, production and significance of the atomic device.
Amy Goodman, host of the national radio and TV program “Democracy Now!” and her brother, David, a contributing writer to Mother Jones magazine, are hoping other journalists will follow their lead in asking the board to revoke the prize.
The pair said Laurence, a science correspondent for the New York Times, was also on the payroll of the U.S. War Department.
“For four months, while still reporting for the (New York) Times, Mr. Laurence had been writing press releases for the military explaining the atomic weapons program. He also wrote statements for President Harry S. Truman and Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson,” the pair wrote in an Op-Ed piece that appeared Friday in the Baltimore Sun.
“He was awarded by being given a seat on the plane that dropped the bomb on Nagasaki, an experience that he described in the Times with religious awe,” they wrote.
After the United States bombed Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, and Nagasaki three days later, Gen. Douglas MacArthur promptly declared southern Japan “off limits” and barred journalists from covering the aftereffects of the bombings.
Despite that order, two reporters went to great lengths to get into the devastated areas to offer firsthand accounts.
Wilfred Burchett, an independent journalist, wrote the first report from Hiroshima a month later. His article headlined “The Atomic Plague” was published Sept. 5, 1945, in the London Daily Express.
George Weller of the Chicago Daily News slipped into Nagasaki and wrote a 25,000-word story but submitted it to military censors, who prevented the piece from reaching his paper.
The Goodmans compared those reporters to Laurence, who downplayed the effects of radiation.
“So that is one key part of this, that he was working for the War Department as well and they were very much denying that radioactivity was the cause of death,” Amy Goodman said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “He played a key role in that silencing even though he knew that radioactivity was a serious issue.”
Because he was reporting for the New York Times, which is regarded as the “paper of record. . . . It very much determined people’s understanding of what took place.”
The Goodmans plan to deliver their letter of protest in person Thursday at Columbia University and might be accompanied by a Japanese atomic bomb survivor.
If the prize is not revoked, they said the award “will be tainted,” because it sets a precedent for journalistic standards.
“It is absolutely critical that we, that the media, do not simply become a megaphone for those in power, that we hear victims’ voices,” Goodman said.
Even though the coverage of the incident was 60 years ago, Goodman feels the issue is still relevant, especially in light of doubts that have been raised in the coverage leading up to the war with Iraq.
Weller’s son, Anthony, found copies of his father’s suppressed dispatches, and, “unable to find an interested American publisher,” sold them to the Mainichi Shimbun, the Goodmans wrote in their Baltimore Sun editorial.