Thursday's Frederick News-Post front page story on veterans' suit against governmental experiments seems to link their disputed series on so-called Agent Orange allegations by local "victims." The last paragraph states:
"Fort Detrick is not specifically named as a defendant in the lawsuit."
The rest of the story implies otherwise.
As TheTentacle.com colleague Norm Covert revealed, the present Fort Detrick “scandal” is a creature of The Frederick News-Post; Norm served long years as the fort’s public affairs director. He knows. But he said the local paper has made no attempt to interview him.
Norm Covert and my other friends commiserate very well over the fact my present life is consumed writing “A Redneck’s Progress: A Memoir.” The computer manuscript, of course, recounts the media scandals I have known in this long life. My boyhood was rocked by New Orleans’ Times Picayune headlines about Huey P. Long’s hayride gang, which I didn’t fully understand.
My first year back from the Berlin Airlift and in Georgetown College’s freshman class brought along a pair of lollapaloozas.
Alger Hiss was the name on everybody’s lips, at the time. Laid back, slim and very Ivy League, he was accused by sloppy, messy-dresser and very unattractive Whittaker Chambers of working for the Communist cause. The ex-Time editor testified under a plea bargain with Justice; his strongest proof? He worked alongside the Carnegie Peace Foundation president in the same Red cell. Mr. Hiss’s lawyers volleyed back with strong denials, of course. If his name was not on everybody’s lip, it was not the media’s fault. (Mr. Hiss spent approximate two years in federal prison for perjury before a congressional committee; Mr. Chambers’ allegations were for crimes whose statute of limitations ran out.)
Wisconsin Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy immediately grabbed the anti-Communism publicity bludgeon, reportedly at the suggestion of Georgetown School of Foreign Service’s founder, Msgr. Edmund Walsh. The black Vatican curia engaged covertly in fierce combat against the Kremlin’s Red proselytizing. Facing considerable political rewards, the senator rushed openly to his church’s and the public’s side.
Because the ex-Marine was alive, noisy and highly controversial, he settled into the role of the editors’ darling. His newspaper column inches only sagged and fell through the floor, when Attorney Joseph Welsh accused him of inhumanity. The clincher for Senator McCarthy’s demise was Mr. Welsh’s tears while chiding the chairman: “Have you no decency, sir? At long last, have you no decency?”
The Washington Post, nor any other paper, touched on the public scandal, known very well to reporters. The senator’s last years were pickled by booze; he accosted newsmen/women and Hill visitors alike with the drunken cry: “Do you know who I am?” Nor did the story receive one television second.
Even before the media counted so many, journalism’s establishment made the decision that was not the way to go. Blinking at Jack Kennedy’s sexual escapades, they blasted full force JFK’s successor. Showing Lyndon Johnson’s operation scar was a minor example; lacerating him about a war started by someone else finally drove him not to seek re-election.
Rep. Wilbur Mills deserved the media attention for stupidity: his Argentinean stripper-mistress, Fanny Foxe, skinny-dipped in the Mall Reflecting Pool, while Lincoln Memorial tourists were still about. Fellow Congressman Wayne Hayes blew the chairmanship of the all-powerful House Administration Committee by putting sexpot Elizabeth Ray on his public-funded payroll.
They were, incidentally, Democrats, demonstrating Henry Kissinger’s truth: Power is the best aphrodisiac. Both legislators received public and media-thrashing; they deserved brushing off as trivial that had absolutely nothing to do with their lives as public servants. That’s how I felt, even while covering the stories.
Texas Rep. John Hunter received unwavering support from the Speaker. Tip O’Neil’s runny blue eyes fixed on mine while he said: “You don’t sit with a guy (Hunter) 20 years without knowing him.” He flatly declared the man from Texas innocent.
When alone in his private Capitol Hill office, Mr. Hunter confided: What do you want? I have a wife and daughters that would be devastated by my coming out and saying the story might be true. His employee accusing him of sexual harassment (and more, she told me off camera broke into tears when we did a Sunday television interview. That was in 1976. The congressman went on to be elected that fall; he fell two years later.
Watergate gave several of my journalist friends’ national recognition; not including Carl Bernstein. I remembered him when he broke in on The Washington Star. He earned my mistrust; he played slightly underhanded tricks. Bob Woodward and their editor had their hands full, I know, keeping Mr. Woodward’s collaborator on the course to avoid legal repercussions.
George Delaplaine enabled me to switch my career here, in 1984; I wrote for The Frederick News Post over two decades. For several years I was the only columnist in town. George fended off several non-minor plots to get me fired. I cannot fault my former outlet for seeking to save circulation by concocting lures: On every newspaper’s second page there is a goodie reserved strictly for those who subscribe, buy or in any way come into possession of that day’s News-Post hard copy.
But trusting Norm Covert’s years’ experience and depth of knowledge acquired from his long service at Fort Detrick, I question hocus-pocus by the present editorial staff to hype readership and interest. They fixed on a sure-fire means to grab attention and maybe dollars: Propagating views of a man, whom Norm dismisses as a displaced evangelist minister Randy White; TheTentacle.com columnist said Mr. White “has decreed Fort Detrick guilty of murder by ‘Agent Orange.’”
The News-Post has produced no substantial evidence to prove Norm Covert wrong in his insistence fort scientists over the decades have guarded the public’s health fiercely. The newspaper goes on publishing people’s fears, their paranoia that there may be a disease lurking in the fort’s surrounding community.
I know the journalistic trick; in less harmful ways, I’ve used it myself. Hype is marginally ethical for television news, when the game’s all about grabbing ratings, where you can. It is completely abhorrent when a community’s newspaper goes on a bender, mostly based on one man’s claims, boosted by other frightening stories that offer no substantiation.
The Frederick News-Post must immediately deploy very major efforts to prove, or not, the smear the paper perpetrates on the county’s major employer that happens to be the local facility manned by soldiers, sailors and Marines.