Truth Lies and History:
Journalists and the Story of Nogun-ri
By Robert Bateman
Synopsized from the book, Nogun-ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident published by Stackpole Books, April 2002. Visit www.amazon.com for order information about this book.
One way to approach the problem of the events at Nogun-ri,
Unfortunately the facts of what happened
in the mountains of
In late September 1999 the Associated Press (AP), well known for their staid and solid follow-up reporting in the past three decades, unleashed a bombshell. Reputedly a case of in-depth investigative journalism, their story appeared on the front pages of newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and other regional and local papers around the country and around the globe. The editorial style of the AP is geared towards both a sound-bite society and the needs of editors. It relies upon single sentence quotes and two sentence paragraphs. This meant that the information provided depended heavily upon the context given to it by the writers and editors, since no single quote would make sense without the surrounding material. The story as it appeared in September 1999 was, in the words of the Pulitzer Prize committee that gave it journalism’s highest award, a story of, "the decades-old secret of how American soldiers early in the Korean War killed hundreds of Korean civilians in a massacre at the Nogun-ri Bridge." The story was wrong.
Echoed and distorted further in the
retelling this became, in the eyes of the American public, a clear-cut case of
a deliberate massacre. A massacre committed under the orders of officers, by
The South Koreans further contended that after the initial strafing attack the survivors fled to the safety of a railroad underpass a few hundred yards away, an underpass directly in front of the defensive positions of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry. The South Korean litigants claimed that the US troops then deliberately and without provocation, opened fire on them at close range, using machine-guns and rifles, and after an initial fusillade of some hours, maintained a sporadic fire against them for three more days. Their version states that the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry wound up killing 300 people with this fire, bringing the total to 400 dead overall. Not only is this version of events wrong, in their reporting of the story the AP never revealed some critical information.
History, unlike journalism, must rest upon deeply researched facts. For a journalist it is often enough that somebody says something happened. They are reporting what that person said. A historian, on the other hand, wants to know who that person is, what they were doing at the place where they witnessed an event, what their personal background might be, and if possible have significant additional material such as contemporary sources that can confirm the broad outlines of an event. None of this existed in the AP’s reporting. More damning, the AP knew about some things but chose not to reveal them either to their readers or to the Pulitzer Committee evaluating their work for the quality of their writing and research. The end result was the story of a "massacre" that never actually happened, a story that won the Pulitzer Prize. As recounted earlier, what happened at Nogun-ri was tragic, but it was not a deliberate massacre as some in the media claimed. History is a slippery animal. For any given event there are usually several different interpretations, and that word, "interpretations" is crucial to understanding what history actually is in the modern world. At the core of this, however, what we think of as history is a narrative that rests upon an interpretation of facts. These facts, optimally, are not in dispute. What professional historians disagree on are usually their differing evaluations of those facts. For the First Cavalry Division Association, one of the problems of the reported "history" of events that took place near a small South Korean village called Nogun-ri is that the popularly known version of events does not rest on a foundation of facts. According to the news reports of 1999-2000 and the new book by the Associated Press team that "broke" the story in the first place, it was a massacre of 300-400 unarmed civilians under the orders of officers of the 1st Cavalry and conducted by the officers and men of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry.
The AP account of the events
at Nogun-ri was published with three central issues:
First, that there was a massacre of "hundreds" of South Korean civilians.
Second, that this massacre took place under the orders of American officers. Third, that the soldiers themselves verify that this information is
true. While an in-depth dissection of the original reporting appears in
my book on Nogun-ri (due out in Feb-March 2002), we can focus on just these
first three issues to understand how the reporters arrived at the positions
they did. There were nine veterans cited in the original story, six of them
"contributed" in some way to the main thesis of the AP story. Three men, Edward
This analysis discounts, for the moment, the testimony of the South Koreans who have now filed for more than $300 million in monetary compensation. For now let us concentrate on how this story hinged upon the testimony of three men who claimed to have been there and committed or witnessed these crimes.
None of these three men, Mr. Ed Daily, Mr. Eugene Hesselman or Mr. Delos K. Flint, were actually at Nogun-ri during the events of 26-29 July 1950. Their accounts had credibility because they were there at Nogun-ri and participated in the events they described. But this was not the truth.
The Associated Press used their accounts despite its knowledge of the problems with witness credibility. The reporting team knew the witnesses had significant problems with reliability before they published their stories, but chose to rely upon the information provided by these men about themselves rather than the documentary evidence contained in the historical records, records they state they had seen and reviewed. What is more, the AP had documentary evidence about this prior to its application for the Pulitzer Prize, yet they went ahead and submitted the story for journalism’s highest award anyway.
At the center of all of this was Mr. Edward Daily.
What blew my mind was that I had known Daily personally since my days as a company commander in the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry in 1994-1996. He had been the ultimate veteran, very involved with the regimental history and the author of two books on the history of the 7th Cavalry. So far as I knew his self-published biographical note in the front of those books was accurate. According to that document Daily was a corporal when the Korean War started, was promoted to sergeant in the last days of July, 1950, earned a battlefield commission on 10 August 1950, was captured on 12 August along the Naktong, escaped, rejoined the 7th, and fought through the rest of the war. In the process he was awarded the DSC, SS, BSM (v) and three Purple Hearts. In a word, to my mind he was a stud.
In the days and weeks following the first publication of the story Ed Daily became the most quoted, most visible, and most repentant of the soldiers from the original AP story. He became the face of the soldiers of Nogun-ri for the American and international audiences who were following the story. His face was on the front pages of newspapers around the country. He gave dozens upon dozens of interviews to other reporters following in the wake of the AP’s sensational massacre story.
The apogee of Ed Daily’s fame came when the
NBC news show Dateline flew him to
It was a dramatic moment seen around the world. There was the decorated American hero and the people he said he turned his machine-gun against under the orders of his officers. NBC ‘reporter’ Tom Brokaw was there for all the action. He asked Daily the hard questions.
DATELINE Announcer: "In the chaos of war an act so horrific it would remain a secret for half a century."
Ed Daily: "Just shoot them all."
Tom Brokaw, NBC, "You heard that order?"
Ed Daily, "Yes sir."
Tom Brokaw, NBC, "Kill them all?"
Ed Daily, "Yes sir."
But Brokaw’s investigation went deeper than just that passage. In the next minute he repeats most of Daily’s self constructed mythology.
Tom Brokaw, NBC, "The G.I.’s moved on. Leaving behind, Daily estimates, 150-200 dead, no survivors. Two weeks later Daily was wounded and captured by the enemy. He escaped, he went back to the front, and somewhere that horrible afternoon at Nogun-ri became another day, another horrible memory among many."
A few seconds later Brokaw makes Daily a tragic figure.
Tom Brokaw, NBC, "The war took its toll. Daily divorced and lost touch with his family. He says he couldn’t sleep or eat. By 1986, he was desperate and turned to the Veterans Administration for help. Doctors diagnosed him with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and put him on antidepressant medications, drugs he still takes."
The visual images at this point are of a somber Daily walking in the sunlight, a VA sign, an American flag; Ed Daily in a domestic-type scene in his house in Kentucky; and singing in church. The show aired just after Christmas in 1999. From all appearances NBC did not conduct any original research in their news "reporting" of the events at Nogun-ri at all. In fact, it seems they did little more than vacantly repeat the accusations made by the AP and passed this off as original news.
Incredibly, Brokaw was later invited to speak
In his several interviews Ed
Daily claimed that on
As readers of the Saber know all too well, the army is a strictly hierarchical organization. When orders are issued they follow a chain of command. At the battalion level an explicit order from higher headquarters, especially a potentially explosive order such as this one, is not passed from a Major to a junior enlisted man for dissemination-- even if they are the radiomen. Except in the most dire circumstances communications, especially orders, do not skip echelons. Any order from the battalion headquarters would first go to the company commander. The company commander would pass that order to the platoon leaders. The platoon leaders pass the order to the squad leaders. The order is put into effect when the squad leaders issue commands to the soldiers. Ed Daily’s version, in which an order directly from the second highest ranking man in the battalion (who was, it should be noted, not the commander, another anomaly) was passed directly to a private who communicated it to another private made absolutely no sense to me as a professional infantryman, let alone as a historian. But I was ready to acknowledge that strange things happen in combat, especially in a unit that had just disintegrated only a few hours earlier, and so I thought I should go straight to the source. I called Ed Daily.
I got exactly nowhere with that attempt. His story remained the same. It was December 1999. I was at a stone wall. I doubted my own doubts. After all, hadn’t several veterans told the AP essentially the same story. I decided at that point to do a little research into the psychology of memory.
It turns out that the simple fact is that human memory is not the same as computer memory. Data stored there is not fresh and ready to be called upon in its original form at any later point in life. Most studies on human memory break it down into three stages, acquisition, retention and retrieval. Variations in each stage are normal, and clinical studies demonstrate that at any point after a memory is acquired it may be modified, unconsciously, through outside stimuli. Moreover, when confronted with an authority on a subject it appears that many people will say something that the authority wants to hear, consciously or unconsciously. Thus, a memory formed ten or twenty or forty-five years earlier may be modified by somebody that presents the appearance of what sociologists call "referent authority," that is, they appear to know more of the event than does the person who was actually there. This is not difficult, especially with fifty-year-old memories.
At that point, in early 2000, I decided to do something all responsible historians do, I would check out my sources. For most of the men listed in the original AP story that was easy. When the story first broke I filed Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests for their military records. No big deal there, nothing secret in the broad outlines of our service, and for most of the men the records came back quickly. But Ed Daily’s was not among them, so I would have to try and puzzle his out through other documents.
Civilians always make fun of how we in the military do everything in triplicate. Hell, we make fun of it ourselves. But as with most things, there is a reason for this obsession with duplicates. In the winter of 2000 I benefited from that military tendency to redundancy.
I had paid for a trip to the
National Archives out of my own pocket back in November 1999, taking leave time
to pore through thousands of pages at the new facilities in
Ed Daily was nowhere to be found in any of the records.
By my estimate there were at least sixteen spots that he should have been listed by name, just in the few hundred pages I had on my kitchen floor. That is, if his self-published biography was correct.
He should have appeared on the
S1 list of men promoted to Sergeant from Corporal in July 1950. There should
have been a record of his discharge for the purpose of accepting a commission
in August 1950, then a record of his commissioning. After that there should
have been a listing of his name among the KIA/WIA/MIA at the regimental level
Again, he stonewalled. He told me he had no idea why he wasn’t in the records, but that he clearly remembered what he did at Nogun-ri. It was now Spring, 2000.
Just a day after I called Ed to ask him about the records and a hypothesis I had about where he had been, I got a call from the Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, the man who led the "investigative" team from the AP that wrote the story of Nogun-ri. He was calling at Ed Daily’s request. When I last talked to Ed I told him of the stories I had read in the English language version of Ibon Chouson (a South Korean newspaper) that mentioned the North Korean version of the events (involving rape as a motive for US troops to commit a massacre at Nogun-ri) and my understanding that there were reporters in South Korea now working on that thesis. I told him of the total lack of records in all of the sources that he was ever in the 7th Cavalry in July, August and September of 1950, and I asked him to tell me what the answer to this mystery might be. After Ed stonewalled, apparently he then called Charles Hanley and asked him to contact me.
Hanley and I had a polite conversation for more than an hour about our competing views of the sources and the events during which I told him about everything that I had found and where he could find it too. Mr. Hanley was fairly expressive about his conviction that Ed Daily’s record was valid as it was portrayed in the Associated Press stories. But in the next breath he also revealed that they (the AP) too had had doubts about Daily. It was the evidence that Hanley suggested ‘proved’ Daily was there that stunned me. Here was a reporter from an internationally known news source, and he was telling me that despite the mounds of documents that said Daily’s tale was not true, he preferred to rely upon the dubious materials provided to him by the man I now suspected of being a fake. Nothing could have more clearly illustrated to me the fact that the AP in general, and Mr. Hanley in particular, wanted to believe Daily no matter what. If he was not important to their story, then why keep a source with which there are such blatantly obvious problems of credibility? The next day my e-mail mailbox contained several letters from Hanley.
From: Charles J. Hanley [mailto: email address deleted for privacy]
To: Robert L. Bateman [email address deleted for privacy]
Good hearing from you yesterday. If you have a chance to turn up the 7th Cav communications log in your files, I'd sure be interested in hearing about it from you. Meantime, after hanging up yesterday, and knowing I hadn't conveyed to you anywhere near a complete idea of the items Ed Daily's dug up from closets etc., I found I'd noted a couple of other things in my notes and I've remembered one or two others:
* An old letter from the Pentagon to Daily's mother, dated in late August 1950, saying he was MIA. (I don't believe there was a unit designation attached to his name; I'd remember that.)
A faded letter from Daily to his mother, dated and
postmarked in September 1950. Writing from a
discharge document (it was not the DD214 familiar to me). It identifies him as
a first lieutenant. It must list his latest assignment (at
* An old, folded-up yellow scarf (a symbol of the 7th Cav, no?) that he said was given to the battalion officers by Col. Harris. I could see writing on it, apparently noting "Kunu-ri," "Unsan-ni" etc.
A faded newspaper obit of Col. Wadsworth, his later
You raised the question of personal snapshots. I've
learned from other vets that they all lost their personal possessions left
I wrote Mr. Hanley, once again
reiterating the basis for my belief that Ed Daily was not who he claimed to be.
I suggested that he examine the files that he had from the archives. I told him
about my FOIA request for Ed Daily’s records, and how I was still waiting, now
almost six months, to hear something back from the
I thought that our interaction was just one man looking for the truth talking to another man who was seeking the same, but with less skepticism than I thought he should have to do this research. I was trying to explain the process of history, the need to reevaluate sources as new evidence appeared, and the relative value of some sources over others provided by the person whose veracity was in doubt. I told him of the pitfalls of oral history, that it was not the same as interviewing people about recent events. I told him about the phenomena of "created memories." I did not make much headway. The next day I received the following e-mail.
From: Charles J. Hanley
To: Robert L. Bateman
Cc: Charles Hanley
Subject: Re: 'Evidence'
Thanks for your very thoughtful e-mail. I appreciate your sharing this troubling business with me. I understand completely your need to question and probe. We felt a similar need when we first heard about the discrepancies. But I then, first, turned back to our more than 100 interviews with 84 men of the 2nd Battalion and saw enough Daily connections and overall context- i.e., the common sense of it all-to begin to feel comfortable again. Then when Ed told me on the phone about the driver's license and other things, I felt more comfortable. When I saw them myself, that was it. The H Co. driver's license alone is unassailable-old, worn-at-the-corners dark blue cardboard, with appropriately faded typescript, signature, rubber stamp of the provost marshal. All the rest is convincing, too; as I said, I stopped paying rapt attention because of the overkill. Obviously, it would be a superhuman hoax-by a man who never knew he'd be challenged in this way-to have constructed such a personal history. You've got to understand, also, that I am intimately familiar with the way Daily's Nogun-ri account very slowly emerged over a series of interviews, first by telephone, then in person. And how it fit together -- in intricate, he-had-to-be-there detail-with the independent accounts of other vets, and of the Koreans. I've also spoken at length with his therapist; I know the history of his nightmares re July 1950. Anyway, I don't believe anyone in our copy is all he has ever said he was, and our interviews, obviously, are rife with bullshit and deceptions. In the journalism, as I said, we sought the least common denominator-a large-scale killing, 2nd of the 7th Cav, some dispute over "gunfire out." On the ammunition expenditure: No, I don't believe we saw S-4 logs. Remember, though, that Daily and others have flip-flopped on elapsed time, duration of heavy firing etc. I'm sure somewhere, probably to us at one point, he talked about a five-minute barrage. But then he also talks about pot-shotting at people emerging etc. As for killing 300, it's pretty clear to me that the BARs were firing, and an unknown number of riflemen. And we don't really know how many .30-cal MGs were firing. Tinkler was way down the line somewhere deciding to get in his own licks with his MG. By the way, the book will not attempt to be the "definitive" story of what happened at Nogun-ri. Instead, it will be a human story, about the people
whose lives intersected there. So, I don't imagine the Pentagon will waste its time trying to besmirch us by noting that we overlooked a bonafide report of a "woman with a radio" 10 miles away, or whatever. Again, let me stress I totally respect and understand what you see as your duty on Daily. And we'd very much appreciate your sharing any smoking gun with us. It's great to make contact with you finally. I'll keep things low-profile. But it's nice to have a knowledgeable professional to vent with. If you're ever down this way (I'm working at home these days, in Midtown), let me know. We can have a little lunch and you can tell me about Custer.
I really did not know what to make of these letters. I could almost understand how Ed Daily would continue to insist that he had been a commissioned officer, a recipient of the Distinguished Cross, and everything else. After all, he had been playing that role for so many years that I was almost convinced that he now believed his own stories to be true. But this was a reporter, a journalist with a major news agency, a professional skeptic, right? I assumed that he would agree with me about the evidence. I assumed too much.
I was surprised that when I spelled out for him everything about the records, all the information about Daily that should have been in dozens of different places, but wasn’t, all of the discrepancies in Daily’s accounts, he would see that the weight of the evidence was overwhelming. Hanley’s letters told me otherwise.
Then, in the first week of
April 2000, the FOIA request I had filed on Ed Daily finally came in from the
Ed Daily was a mechanic.
The single sheet was pretty clear
about this, Ed Daily served in the 27th
Ordnance Maintenance Battalion from his
The Associated Press team
received all of this information about Daily on
In April 2000 the Associate Press team won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. The actual text of their award reads,
"The Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting is awarded for a distinguished example of investigative reporting by an individual or team, presented as a single article or series.
Awarded to Sang-Hun Choe, Charles J. Hanley and Martha Mendoza of the Associated Press 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 Nogun-ri Bridge."
Now I understood that Daily was not all he said he was, but how did this fit into the big picture of how the AP got the actual story of what happened at Nogun-ri so wrong?
It turns out that items can be inserted into memory through external sources. In an experiment conducted to test the plasticity of human memory by Professor Elizabeth Loftus of the University of Washington, a group of college students watched a short film of an auto accident and then were asked "How fast was the white car going when it passed the barn?" In fact there was no barn in the film, but 17% of the students remembered that there was one, after just one week and just one misleading question. Later studies proved that time and repetition reinforce the modification of memory. The longest academically rigorous test was conducted with a period of one year between event and recall. That experiment demonstrated that as time progressed susceptibility to memory modification, either the implantation of elements that were not there or the modification of elements that were there increased substantially over time. Other experiments demonstrated that the actual process of questioning could not just bring in false memories, but could modify "memories" in the very act of questioning.
The perfect evidence that this was exactly the process followed by the Associated Press came from their own lips. In a very friendly interview with an internet media reporter named Sean Elder from the Salon.com web site, AP reporter Martha Mendoza explained how the story slowly evolved.
"Their accounts mirrored what the Korean survivors had told them -- so much so that the veterans would correct their imprecise questions to more perfectly match the Korean testimony. "I'd say it was at a tunnel and they'd say, 'Ma'am, we didn't do this at a tunnel, we did it at a culvert underneath a railroad, it was M shaped.'" They would take the maps the survivors had drawn from memory and redraw them, placing the troops and weapons differently. "I sat down with a veteran and said, 'Here's where they said the machine guns were,' and he looked at the map and said, 'No, no,' and put an X somewhere else on the map and said, 'Here's where my machine gun was. And I was on it with these two other guys; they're dead now.'"
Here was the Associated Press describing the exact process of the creation of false memories as Professor Loftus had used in her memory modification experiments. It fit too with Hanley’s version of how the story emerged. Remembering that in his letter to me Hanley echoed that process of the insertion of memories by saying (about Daily), "You've got to understand, also, that I am intimately familiar with the way Daily's Nogun-ri account very slowly emerged over a series of interviews, first by telephone, then in person. And how it fit together -- in intricate, he-had-to-be-there detail-with the independent accounts of other vets, and of the Koreans. I've also spoken at length with his therapist; I know the history of his nightmares re July 1950."
Yet I was still stymied by the fact that Daily and at least one or two of the other veterans appeared to be telling essentially the same story, even if it appeared that they were "coached" by the AP. I could not tie the discrepancies in Daily’s account to those in other veteran’s versions. Then I discovered that Daily had been in contact with all of the sources after the AP met with him, but before the AP ever contacted them.
Daily was part and parcel of the memories of many of the veterans quoted by the AP. When I learned from news reports appearing in April 2000 that Ed received roughly $2,300 a month tax-free in disability from the VA for his PTSD brought on by the horrors he witnessed in combat in the opening days of the Korean War, PTSD brought on by his "memories" of Nogun-ri, one more piece of the puzzle snapped into place.
As an example, Daily also attempted to bring others into this circle, among them one of the AP’s other star sources, James Kerns. The New York Times reported it this way.
"Mr. Daily went on the road to help other veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome. In the fall of 1998, James Kerns, 70, a former sergeant in Piedmont, S.C., said Mr. Daily invited him to a workshop in Columbia, where Mr. Daily opened the session by talking about the affliction. At the time, Mr. Kerns said, he had not yet been contacted by The Associated Press, but its reporters had begun asking others, including Mr. Daily, about Nogun-ri. While at the workshop, Mr. Kerns said, Mr. Daily asked him about the massacre." (emphasis mine)
The fact is that just after Daily was contacted by the AP, he started talking to as many men as he thought might be relevant about the "Massacre at Nogun-ri." Yet that did not mean that he was necessarily at the center of the AP’s research and story, did it?
Both before and after their actual awarding of the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism the members of the AP team started to inflate the depth of the research they claimed to have done for the story. The AP team felt what they had was ironclad. They affirmed over and over that their sources were solid. According to an interview that Ms. Mendoza gave to the magazine City on a Hill in October 1999 (Miguel Espinoza, Kristin Wartman, Kathleen Haley, Katie Morris, Sommer Naffz, "UCSC Alumna Uncovers Korean War Massacre," City on a Hill, Vol. 34, Issue #6,. Oct 28, 1999, pages 4-5), the research that resulted in the AP’s use of sources like Ed Daily, Eugene Hesselman and Delos Flint was exhaustive:
"Well we have been sort of working solely on it for four or five months. And then we began the editing process. We went through many, many rewrites. Maybe more than 20. We knew we had to have every little bit of this right. We could not have even one tiny detail questionable because it was going to come back and haunt us."
An ironic statement in light of all of the archival material that the Associated Press had on-hand to document Daily’s military biography prior to the publication of their story.
By late May 2000, there was little room left for doubt in my mind that the AP reporters had transitioned from objective reporters to strong advocates of the South Korean version of events. Perhaps because they now had a New York City book agent and a contract for what they hoped would be a major book. Despite the fact that I’d given them (specifically Hanley) every scrap of evidence he could possibly need to reevaluate the strength of his sources even before he won the Pulitzer, he ignored me and continued to support Ed Daily, and by extension all of his sources. He did not reverse track until both US News and World Report reporter Joe Galloway and a host of other news outlets (including the New York Times and the Washington Post) published stories exposing the facts of Daily’s records using the exact same material. Only then did Hanley, pressed from the outside by the rebuke of his fellow journalists use his unique access to Daily to get Daily to admit that he was not at Nogun-ri. (Hanley and the AP have subsequently attempted to portray the revelation of Daily as a fraud as something they discovered, making no mention of the fact that it was only after Daily’s record had been exposed as fraudulent that the AP finally admitted their errors. When Daily plead guilty to federal charges stemming from his misrepresentation of his record the AP article on his guilty plea only mentioned that the AP had gotten his initial admission, bypassing the fact that they only did so long after other news agencies exposed their witness as being "factually challenged.")
At the same time the overall number of sources that the AP reporters claimed they contacted in their investigation climbed. In an interview granted to her alma mater not long after she won the Pulitzer Ms. Mendoza bumped the numbers up. Now it was the number of total interviews they conducted in researching the story. In their original story the AP claimed "more than 100" interviews with veterans went into their research for the story of Nogun-ri. As reported by Nicole Loftus in Flagstaff Life, (Nicole Loftus, "Pulitzer Prize winner speaks to NAU" Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff Life, 12-18 April 2000):
"What Mendoza uncovered after a year and a half of interviewing more than 220 sources, researching archives, confronting Pentagon officials, and mapping troop movement was the horror story of what happened to hundreds of unsuspecting South Koreans under a bridge in late July 50 years ago."
In the same story is the amazing revelation, unmentioned by the AP prior to this, that there were a host of general officers interviewed for the story. The reporter at Northern Arizona University, unless she misquoted Ms. Mendoza (and Mendoza did not publish or request a correction of this number), passed on the news that there were more than 24 former general officers among her sources.
If, however, we use the more widely cited and quasi-official number of 130 interviews provided by the AP originally, and Mr. Hanley’s account that 100 of these interviews were with members of the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, that means that of the remaining 30 interviews ( 130-100 = 30 ) the overwhelming mass, 24 out of 30, came from retired generals. Since the AP included an interview with historian Bruce Cummings on their web site, and further research reveals that at least two interviews were with former officers in the 545th MP company of the 1st Cavalry Division, that further reduces the number to 27 men, of whom 24 were retired generals? That is, unless, Ms. Mendoza was inflating her numbers or was misquoted by the reporters to whom she gave interviews. Here we should almost certainly be giving Ms. Mendoza the benefit of the doubt. It is unlikely that she made this claim. It is far more likely that the young collegiate reporter misquoted her. What probably happened is that the young reporter, with no knowledge whatsoever about the military, equated in her ignorance (the reporter’s not Ms. Mendoza’s) "officer" with "general," thereby putting words into Mendoza’s mouth. We should therefore probably translate that assertion as "24 former officers." But still leaves interesting questions.
Only three officers appeared in the story, one was taken out of context and the other two denied that an event such as that described by the South Koreans ever took place, so what of the other 21 officers? At this time the Associated Press has refused to release the names of those 21 officers despite repeated requests. In my own research into this discrepancy I contacted Charles Hanley, Martha Mendoza, AP editor Jack Stokes and the AP public relations personnel on several different occasions by telephone and e-mail asking for this information. At this time, months after the original requests, no one from the AP has responded, though they have acknowledged receipt of the requests.
Regardless of the number of their sources, we are still left wondering about how it was that the AP came to find the sources that they did to support their thesis if so many denied or made statements contrary to the claims of the South Korean witnesses. How did the AP come to find all of these veterans who confessed to their part in an atrocity?
In a follow-up story on Mr. Daily after the revelations about the problems with the AP’s central witnesses the New York Times (Michael Moss, "The Story Behind a Soldier’s Story," New York Times, (May 31, 2000): A1) gave this version of the AP’s investigation as related by Charles Hanley.
"Charles J. Hanley, a reporter who worked on the Associated Press project and staunchly defends it, said that as many as 20 veterans confirmed some or all of Mr. Daily's account, and that the reporting team found sources outside Mr. Daily's sphere of contacts. Mr. Hanley acknowledged that Mr. Daily was a valuable source for The A.P., supplying ex-soldiers' telephone numbers early in the inquiry."
But that first claim, by Hanley, is an important element because it demonstrated how despite the AP claims that Daily was not "central to their story" he was, in fact, central to their access to the people they used in creating their story. He was their "in" with many of the veterans they quoted and, in fact, had been in contact with those veterans about their testimony to the AP himself. In other words, Daily contacted and talked in depth with all of the AP’s sources either before they did or at around the same time.
The Associated Press claim that they contacted people "outside" Daily’s sphere of influence would, however, only be relevant if they used those sources in their story. Perhaps more importantly, given Daily’s known ability to plant memories in other veteran’s minds, would be the idea that Daily was not their first source. (Remember, many veterans of the 7th Cavalry thought they remembered him in Korea, only later admitting that they were actually "remembering" what Daily told them about their interaction in combat) If he was, if the first man that the AP contacted that told them what it appears that they wanted to hear was Ed Daily, then a lot of things might fall into place.
Way back in December 1999 Ed Daily sent me a complete list, with the names, home addresses, and phone numbers of all of the men actually quoted in the AP story. Moreover, he sent this to me with a handwritten note accompanying it that stated that several of these men were not part of the 7th Cavalry Veteran’s Association but were men whom he himself had come in contact with and passed on to the AP. I confirmed this; these men were not on any of the rosters of the regiment that I had. Of course, it is possible that Daily was not telling the truth and was attempting to garner credit for the research done by the AP. Either way, the fact that he had that list is direct evidence that either he gave them the names and numbers or the AP shared their list of sources with Daily. In either event this demonstrated that Daily was central to their story through his interaction with every single witness cited by the AP.
If there was anyone contacted by the AP in their reporting of the story of Nogun-ri that was beyond Daily’s "sphere of influence" they did not use that man in their report.
In late October 1999 the magazine City on a Hill published the first version of how the Associated Press found the first American veteran to confirm the South Korean’s story. (See Martha Mendoza as quoted in Miguel Espinoza, Kristin Wartman, Kathleen Haley, Katie Morris, Sommer Naffz, "UCSC Alumna Uncovers Korean War Massacre," City on a Hill, Vol. 34, Issue #6,. Oct 28, 1999, pages 4-5.) In an interview with Ms. Mendoza the story of the story came out this way,
"Very often their response came right to this instance. We figured out which exact company. We probably did 35 interviews before one guy told me about this incident, and those 35 interviews were long."
Two months later, in an article written by Ms. Mendoza in Investigative Reporters and Editors Journal that appeared in the January-February 2000 issue, the same story included a little more detail.
"Finally, on our 34th interview, I found a man who said he witnessed what happened at Nogun-ri. His detail was convincing. But it wasn't until 15 interviews later that we hit another."
But in April, just after the AP won the Pulitzer Prize that all-important first source was described like this in the Flagstaff Life article, "On Mendoza's 34th call to a former general, she got her first informant. The first thing he said was, "We had to shoot them all."
OK, so it was the 34th or 35th interview…and their witness was either a general or an officer. As stated earlier, it was probably the reporter from Flagstaff Life that confused "officer" with "general."
In the summer of 2000 another version of this same tale appeared in University of California Santa Cruz Review, this one closed the loop. In an interview with Mendoza reporter Karin Wanless reprinted Mendoza’s words this way, "After three dozen dead-end interviews, one veteran told Mendoza he had been at the Nogun-ri railroad trestle. [Said Mendoza] ‘He was providing the exact same details that these South Koreans had provided about the incident. Except his perspective was that he was sitting behind the machine gun firing at them,’ Mendoza says." (Karin Wanless, "The Bridge at Nogun-ri," University of California Santa Cruz Review, (Summer 2000))
Finally, in their new book, The Bridge at Nogun-ri, A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War, the AP authors wrote the story of how they found their first witness this way, "Then, on the thirty-fourth call, Mendoza found an ex-sergeant who described the shootings of the refugees at a trestle in the first days of their deployment." (pg 272)
Thirty four, thirty-five or thirty six interviews into their investigation the Associated Press found the only man who might make their story for them. There was in this whole convoluted story only one man who claimed he was both a machine-gunner at Nogun-ri, an ex-sergeant, and also former officer. Only one man fits all three of those terms. Only one man who might politely listen to their version of events and echo them back to them one tantalizing detail at a time. Only one man with the personal connections to give them rosters of the 7th Cavalry and contacts that might support their thesis. Only one man that might then go to the Korean War veterans of the 7th Cavalry and propagate their story among susceptible veterans.
I believe that the Associated Press accidentally made it clear through their own words that the one man they found on their 34th interview was Edward L. Daily.
[Korean War Educator’s note: Author Robert Bateman welcomes e-mails regarding this article or the book at Bateman_maj@hotmail.com.]