W. Joseph Campbell

NYT-Bay of Pigs suppression myth: Check out new trailer

In Anniversaries, Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Media myths, New York Times on April 4, 2011 at 8:20 am

Fifty years ago this week, the New York Times bowed to pressure from the White House of President John F. Kennedy and suppressed or emasculated a story offering details about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion.

Had the Times not censored itself, had it published it knew about the planned assault on Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the invasion likely would have been scuttled, and the United States would have been spared a humiliating foreign policy setback.

Or so the media myth has it.

What I call the New York Times-Bay of Pigs suppression myth is a hardy, tenacious tale that is addressed and debunked in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

The suppression myth is the subject of a new video trailer, posted online last night by my graduate assistant, Jeremiah N. Patterson.

At the heart of the suppression myth is a report filed from Miami by veteran correspondent Tad Szulc and published on the Times front page April 7, 1961, 10 days before the ill-fated invasion.

Supposedly, editors at the Times so thoroughly watered down Szulc’s dispatch that when published, it was a mere wisp of what the correspondent had filed. Supposedly, the report was emasculated in New York.

But that’s just not so.

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, Szulc’s dispatch received editing at the Times that was judicious, restrained, and well-considered — editing that had the effect of improving the story’s accuracy.

But it wasn’t spiked. It wasn’t suppressed.

It ran to 1,000 words and was published above the fold on the Times front page — prime real estate in American journalism.

Nor is there any evidence that Kennedy or officials in his administration knew about the Szulc report and asked, lobbied, or otherwise cajoled the Times to suppress the dispatch or water it down.

That notion, I write in Getting It Wrong, “is utter fancy.”

Indeed, I add, “the recollections of none of the principal figures in the Times-suppression episode say that Kennedy pressured the newspaper’s editors.

“These include the memoirs of Turner Catledge, then the managing editor of the Times; of James (Scotty) Reston, then the chief of the Times’ Washington bureau; of Pierre Salinger, Kennedy’s press secretary, and of Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., an award-winning Harvard historian who was a White House adviser to Kennedy.”

Harrison Salisbury in his Without Fear or Favor, an insider’s look at the Times, offers a detailed account of the handling of the Szulc dispatch.

And Salisbury’s version is unequivocal. “The government in April 1961,” he wrote, “did not … know that The Times was going to public the Szulc story, although it was aware that The Times and other newsmen were probing in Miami. Nor did President Kennedy telephone [Times president Orvil] Dryfoos, Scotty Reston or Turner Catledge about the story.”

“Most important,” Salisbury added, “The Times had not killed Szulc’s story. … The Times believed it was more important to publish than to withhold. Publish it did.”

The trailer discussing the New York Times-Bay of Pigs media myth is the latest video Patterson has prepared on topics related to Getting It Wrong.

Early this year, he produced a trailer about the book and in Fall 2010 prepared a trailer about the media myths surrounding The War of the Worlds radio dramatization of 1938.

WJC

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