In the Kansas City Star on Sunday, columnist E. Thomas McClanahan wrote that when it came to predicting how the war in Iraq was gonna turn out, he was pretty much wrong, wrong and wrong. (As in, from April 2003: "Iraq has been destroyed as a haven for terrorists." See? Wrong.) But it wasn't enough for McClanahan to fall on his own sword. He had to go and turn the blade on his former United Press International colleagues in Dallas as well. And he does it, like, 31 years after the fact.
And it's got a former UPI man hot under the journalism collar -- so much so he sent a letter to the Star and copied it to Jim Romenesko's media-news Web site, for all to read. But, essentially, it boils down to this: McClanahan says soldiers in Iraq "suspect that many reporters want us to lose" -- just like reporters wanted us to lose in Vietnam, to the point where Dallas-based reporters in 1975 "cheered" when they received the news that Saigon had fallen.
Tom Foty, the former UPI man who was with the wire service's radio network operation in New York and Washington from 1973 to 1984, says he doesn't believe that ever happened.
In his original piece, McClanahan writes this:
Three decades ago, I was working in United Press International's Dallas bureau, which controlled broadcast and newspaper wires for nine states. One sunny day in April, bells started ringing from the dozens of printers scattered around the room.
We knew it was an item with "flash" priority, which carries 10 bells. I looked down. A printer tapped out: "Saigon falls." What happened next was astonishing.
Many of my colleagues, young journalists who had come of age politically during the heyday of the anti-war movement, stood up and cheered. Oh, goodie. The United States has lost a war. Many were my friends, but the scene left me cold. That virus -- the deep, unquestioning antipathy for all things military -- still infects many in today's media.
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But Foty, in his missive to the paper, defends his former UPI colleagues thusly: He says the original UPI "flash" that came across the wire on April 30, 1975 -- written by Leon Daniel, UPI's war correspondent and a Marine veteran -- is time-stamped 10:20 a.m., which would have been either 8:20 p.m. or 9:20 p.m. C.S.T. depending upon whether South Vietnam observed Daylight Savings Time. (Actually, using this, it appears the time in Dallas would have been 10:20 p.m.) Either way, Foty writes, that's hardly "one sunny day in April," as McClanahan writes. And there would not have been "many" people in the bureau at that hour, he says.
For Mr. McClanahan to assert what he does is to impugn at least the professionalism, if not the patriotism, of his 1975 Dallas colleagues and by extension, others then at UPI and now at other media organizations.
Unfortunately today's UPI is little more than a famous name, no longer a vital news organization and not one that is likely to take issue with Mr. McClanahan's broad assertions. That is not the case among his former UPI colleagues. Internet list recollections of him confirm his UPI employment in Cheyenne and apparently a shorter time at UPI's Southwest division headquarters in Dallas. There is no corroborating recollection of the picture he describes .... nor anything closely resembling it at UPI's many other bureaus or New York headquarters. At bare minimum, Mr. McClanahan owes history and his ex-colleagues an identification of those "many friends" who acted so unprofessionally ... if not an apology.
Hey, maybe you were there 31 years ago. If so, drop a line. But probably not, if Foty's right. --Robert Wilonsky