10 Press Exposés That Made a Difference


Exposing the My Lai Massacre (1969)

press exposes
South Vietnamese peasant Do Chuc holds up the mutilated hand of his son, Do Ba, as he tells reporters at the Song My Resettlement Center about the slaying of 370 civilians in the hamlet of Tu Cung which became known as the My Lai Massacre. Underwood Archives/Getty Images

In 1968, U.S. Army soldiers slaughtered hundreds of unarmed civilians in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. The following year, a freelance journalist named Seymour Hersh got a tip from an antiwar lawyer about the war crime. Hersh, who previously covered the Pentagon for the Associated Press, worked one of his former military sources, who identified Lt. William Calley as being involved in the massacre [source: Hersh].

At a library, Hersh found a newspaper brief saying that Calley had been charged with murder. Hersh then tracked down Calley at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, and managed to get an interview with him. Hersh then traveled around the U.S. finding other soldiers and piecing together the story of the atrocity [sources: Hersh, Pilger].

But getting the explosive story published wasn't easy. After both Life and Look magazines turned down a chance to publish Hersh's articles on My Lai, he finally took them to Dispatch News Service, a small antiwar wire service in Washington [source: Hersh]. But after newspapers picked up Hersh's story, it shocked the national conscience. President Richard Nixon, who publicly condemned the massacre but reduced Calley's life sentence to three years of house arrest, later wrote in his memoirs that the incident undermined his efforts to build support for the war [sources: Corley, PBS].