Greg Mitchell

Studs Terkel on Chicago’s 'Memorial Day Massacre'

Studs Terkel, the legendary Chicago radio host, raconteur and author of dozens of books, will probably now become best known to some because one of those books, Working, inspired the new Netflix series of that name from Higher Ground, the production company founded by Barack and Michelle Obama. But I met Studs back in the early 1980s after he wrote a blurb for my first book and then invited me on his radio show in Chicago. We then conversed over the following decades, before his passing in 2008.

Still, I did not know of his intimate connection to one of the most shocking historical incidents in his Chicago until I began research for my new PBS film and companion book, both titled, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried. They explore the 1937 tragedy in South Chicago near the old Republic Steel plant when police shot forty strikers and their supporters (hitting most of them in the back or side) and killed ten. The only footage of the incident was suppressed until a famed investigative reporter and a crusading U.S. Senator brought it to light.

Now, nearly 86 years later, Studs provides one of the most significant voices in my film and book, the first oral history on the subject. I’d like to think that Studs—the master of the oral history—would love that.

In 1937, however, he was still a struggling part-time actor. Of course, he was already a political activist. He would reflect on that period: “There were labor battles, historic ones, where the fight for the eight-hour day had begun. It brought the song: ‘Eight hours we’d have for working, eight hours we’d have for play, eight hours for sleeping, in free Ameri-kay.’”

For whatever reason, Studs did not attend the Memorial Day picnic, called by strikers to build support, on the wide Southeast Chicago prairie that led to the massive Republic plant. Organizers suggested that the crowd of 1500 (including many women and children) march toward the distant plant and attempt a mass, legal, picket outside. The ones who tried were stopped halfway there by a contingent of a couple of hundred police. Within minutes, some of the police opened fire with pistols at point blank range and then shot at retreating protesters.

Accounts differ on what set it off. Some of the marchers may have thrown stones and other objects at the police, though hardly at the level that warranted the shootings (and then police waded through the crowd, clubbing many at will). A Paramount News cameraman captured most of this on film.

Studs did make it to the site the following day, to meet strikers and the wounded still being treated at the union’s headquarters nearby, as he recalled: “The day after the massacre, I took a streetcar to the workingman’s bar, Sam’s Place. On this spring afternoon the place is crowded. The men are on strike. Some of them have their arms in slings. Others have bandaged heads. A couple are on crutches. This was a scene out of Matthew Brady’s photos right after Gettysburg. All are in shock. They are among the survivors of a Memorial Day picnic.

“Three of us, members of the Chicago Repertory Group, were called upon…Could we perform at Sam’s Place? Songs, sketches. It would help the morale of the strikers. A guy read a poem. I was an actor in one of the sketches, from Waiting for Lefty.”

Media coverage, both local and nationally (right up to The New York Times), overwhelmingly accepted police accounts of the confrontation—they had to shoot to halt the “mob” who were about to “riot” and invade the plant. Studs would observe: “The Chicago Tribune in those days was headed by sui generis publisher Colonel McCormick, sort of a Colonel Bull Moose figure. He was flailing away at the New Deal daily. One of his former employees called him ‘the finest mind of the 12th century.’ And Colonel McCormick was anti-union, of course. Next to a picture in his paper from Memorial Day of a cop with a club over a fallen worker, was the heading: Worker Attacks Police.”

Paramount, meanwhile, created but then failed to release a newsreel with the footage, claiming they feared it would set off riots in theaters.

A few days after the incident, protesters gathered at the Opera House for a rally. One of the organizers was economist (and later U.S. Senator from Illinois) Paul Douglas. Another was future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. Among the speakers were poet Carl Sandburg and union leader A. Philip Randolph. The police captain who led his forces on the prairie on the day of the massacre, Capt. James Mooney, came in for particular criticism. Studs attended, and recalls in my book:

“It was the most highly-charged event I’d ever attended. I was sitting in the back of the balcony, next to a steel worker. You couldn’t squeeze anyone else in. You could taste the wrath of the audience. Carl Sandburg, who was a great ham, was up there swaying, taking a year-and-a-half to get a sentence out. The steel worker next to me says, Come on.

“The emcee was a gentle old professor named Robert Morss Lovett, who taught literature at the University of Chicago, and he was beloved. ‘Mooney is a killer, Mooney is a killer,’ he said, ‘and we’ve got to stop these killers!’ It was taken up by the whole audience. It had become a roar for justice. I haven’t the foggiest notion what happened to Capt. Mooney. Was he punished? Rewarded? Instantaneously retired?”

In fact, no patrolman or police officials was punished for what happened that day, even after a U.S. Senate probe found them responsible for the massacre. A coroner’s jury judged all of the murders “justifiable homicide.” But Senate staffers had finally brought the Paramount footage to light (you can watch it here).

Studs, of course, went on to great fame as radio host, author and man about town. One of those featured in his bestselling oral history on the Great Depression, Hard Times, would be the doctor who treated the wounded at the site of the 1937 massacre--and provided the crucial testimony to the Senate about the majority having been shot in the back.

Greg Mitchell’s film Memorial Day Massacre, co-produced by Lyn Goldfarb, can now be watched for free everywhere online or streaming via and all PBS apps. He has written a dozen books, including the companion book for the new film.

Memorial Day Massacre: Remembering union workers’ deadly clash with Chicago cops

After decades of decline, union organizing is surging again today, mainly in new industries, from coffee empires to online megastores. At the same time, teachers’ and nurses’ unions remain strong and the venerable guild for movie and TV writers went on strike earlier this week. Stephen Colbert, knowing his late-night show would soon go dark, said on Monday, “This nation owes so much to unions.”

Labor protests and strikes, decades ago, often led to violent confrontations between unionists and local or company police. It almost never happens today. This is partly due to lessons learned by both sides 86 years ago this month in Chicago, after police shot (mainly in the back) and killed 10 unionists and wounded 30 others in what has become known as The Memorial Day Massacre.

No labor conflict has come close to this toll since.

There are other echoes today from 1937. Not a single police officer or supervisor was charged or otherwise punished for any part in the Chicago murders. And claims of “media cover-up” could have been applied back then after the only film footage of the confrontation was suppressed by Paramount News, a leading newsreel outlet.

After years of dormancy, and with few signs that the Great Depression was waning, a wave of labor actions gripped America starting in 1935. It spread far and wide, from Woolworth workers to farm workers, but centered on giant industries in the north, with miners, auto workers and steel workers leading the fight. Sit-down strikes became all the rage and even General Motors and Ford caved.

“There were strikes all over the country,” historian Howard Zinn observed. “There were riots. There were people breaking into places where there was food. There were children marching into city halls demanding that they be fed and taken care of. It was a country that was in a state of near-revolution.”

U.S. Steel, the largest steel company, avoided a strike by offering workers – under pressure from fabled CIO chief John L. Lewis – what became industrial benchmarks, such as the eight-hour work day and time and a half for overtime.

After years of dormancy, and with few signs that the Great Depression was waning, a wave of labor actions gripped America starting in 1935. It spread far and wide, from Woolworth workers to farm workers, but centered on giant industries in the north, with miners, auto workers and steel workers leading the fight. Sit-down strikes became all the rage and even General Motors and Ford caved.

“There were strikes all over the country,” historian Howard Zinn observed. “There were riots. There were people breaking into places where there was food. There were children marching into city halls demanding that they be fed and taken care of. It was a country that was in a state of near-revolution.”

U.S. Steel, the largest steel company, avoided a strike by offering workers – under pressure from fabled CIO chief John L. Lewis – what became industrial benchmarks, such as the eight-hour work day and time and a half for overtime.

But on the way they were met by hundreds of Chicago police, armed with pistols and some carrying axe handles or tear gas provided by Republic. Five or ten minutes of heated discussion between the two sides ensued, but it appeared it would lead to nothing more. Suddenly police hurled tear gas canisters and then fired dozens of pistol shots.

Some marchers may have tossed stones or a tree branch. In any event, trigger-happy police lost patience with the crowd, which included women and children, when they failed to disperse as ordered. About 40 marchers were shot as they fled across the field, including an 11-year-old boy. The vast majority of those wounded were hit in the back or side, and 10 would die that day or in the days to follow.

Dozens more suffered head wounds after police clubbed the retreating marchers.

To make matters worse, police did not call ambulances or administer first aid but instead arrested the wounded and piled them into paddy wagons for trips to a prison hospital and other distant medical facilities. Only a handful of police officers suffered injuries, all minor.

Studs Terkel, later a legendary radio host and author in Chicago but then a struggling actor, visited the scene of the massacre on the day after and compared the hobbling and bandaged workers at a first aid station there to damaged Civil War soldiers captured by the camera of Matthew Brady. (His story and those of numerous activists and those injured in the massacre are collected in the Memorial Day Massacre book.)

The local press and newspapers across the country (including The New York Times) almost invariably described the unionists as a “mob” of “rioters” who left no choice but for police to fire shots to keep them from attacking the plant. But then it emerged that a leading newsreel company, Paramount News, had a veteran cameraman named Orlando Lippert on the scene who had filmed almost the entire brutal confrontation and ugly aftermath.

Then Paramount failed to release the newsreel it prepared, claiming it feared it might set off riots in movie theaters – but more likely to protect Chicago police and officials.

This sparked a Senate subcommittee, under the crusading progressive, Robert M. La Follette, Jr., to subpoena the footage. A staffer allowed a leading investigative reporter, Paul Y. Anderson, to view it and he wrote a sensational report picked up by many leading newspapers.

Now police were on the defensive and media coverage started to shift a little. At the well-publicized hearings at the end of June and in early July, the star witness was an injured Mexican-American activist, Lupe Gallardo Marshall. There the footage was screened for the first time, including in slow motion.

The great activist Dorothy Day (also featured in the new book) would write in The Catholic Worker, “We are sickened by stories of brutality in Germany and Russia and Italy. And here in America last month there was a public exhibition of such brutality, but the motion picture film, taken by a Paramount photographer in a sound truck, was suppressed by the company for fear that it would cause riots and mass hysteria, it was so unutterably horrible.”

Paramount now had little choice but to release a newsreel devoted to the incident, although screenings would be banned in cities such as Chicago and St. Louis, or by entire theater chains. The Senate report placed full blame on police for the massacre, yet a coroner’s jury in Chicago judged the killings as “justifiable homicide.”

No one was punished for their actions that day, beyond dozens of unionists who had been jailed or fined.

Workers at the steel plant returned without a contract, but they would win recognition and most of their demands a few years later. And there was this positive result: Strike leaders in nearly every field now tried to avoid violent conflicts at all cost and police were determined to control labor actions without the use of firearms.

Today, police shootings of unarmed citizens remain far too common and often go unpunished. But there is this further legacy of 1937 massacre: It provoked the first calls for police to be equipped with cameras to document arrests — anticipating the dashboard-cams and body-cams that reveal so many shootings today.

This evidence, you might say, is now “paramount.”

Greg Mitchell is director of a new film for PBS, Memorial Day Massacre: Workers Die, Film Buried, which premieres over KCET in Los Angeles on May 6 and is available everywhere via and PBS apps starting that night. He is also the author of the Memorial Day Massacre companion book, the first oral history on the tragedy, with commentary by everyone from wounded eyewitnesses to Gore Vidal, Howard Zinn and Dorothy Day.

75 years ago: When Szilard tried to halt dropping atomic bombs over Japan

As this troubled summer rolls along, and the world begins to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the creation, and use, of the first atomic bombs, many special, or especially tragic, days will draw special attention.  They will include July 16 (first test of the weapon in New Mexico), August 6 (bomb dropped over Hiroshima) and August 9 (over Nagasaki).   Surely far fewer in the media and elsewhere will mark another key date:  July 3.

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An ABC-TV outlet in Houston, and now the Houston Chronicle, have posted a video taken at a political fundraiser for Pete Olson, featuring George W. Bush last week -- capturing some embarrassing/revealing moments after, he noted, he had asked cameras to be turned off.

The first moments form the July 18 event find him speaking almost incoherently in admitting, for once, that his friends in big business had screwed up: "There's no question about it. Wall Street got drunk -- that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras -- it got drunk and now it's got a hangover. The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments."

Then, making light of the foreclosure crisis, he said: "And then we got a housing issue ... not in Houston, and evidently not in Dallas, because Laura's over there trying to buy a house. [great laughter] I like Crawford but unfortunately after eight years of sacrifice, I am apparently no longer the decision maker."

(Catch the video on the flip side.)

Investigation Confirms Army Taking More and More Recruits with Criminal Histories

It has been rumored for some time that the U.S. Army has had to lower its standards to get enough recruits for its expanded war-fighting needs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now firm evidence has emerged, and it is not pretty.

For instance: The percentage of Army recruits receiving "moral conduct" waivers jumped from 4.6 percent in 2003 to 11.2 percent in 2007. Many of them in this group have criminal backgrounds, yet are still allowed in the military, to carry a gun and engage in what is essentially "police work" in Iraq.

Not surprisingly, trouble often follows them in the service. Their rate of misconduct, at 6%, is almost twice the average.

In 2007, almost 10,000 recruits were granted waivers for past misdemeanors. Over 2100 for "serious criminal misconduct" -- over four times the 2003 rate -- and almost 1500 for drug or alcohol abuse.

These revelations come in part one of a four-part series starting today in the Sacramento Bee by Russell Carollo, which is also being carried by other McClatchy papers.

KBR Charged with Homicide by Mother of Electrocuted Soldier

I've written often here about my friend Cheryl Harris, whose son Ryan Maseth was electrocuted and died in Iraq. You remember: the military lied and told her he had carried an electrical appliance into the shower. I helped her trace a total of at least a dozen other electrocutions and she had been instrumental in getting Congress, and the Pentagon, to probe the issue -- and she finally testified before Democrats (and some Republicans) in Congress yesterday.

She is also suing KBR, the contractors in charge, and two former KBR people also blew the whistle yesterday. Another mother, Larraine McGee, who lost a son in Iraq accused KBR of "homicide" yesterday.

"It is about time we got some answers ... at long last," said Sen. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa. He released a letter to Gen. David Petraeus asking why his command had only recently ordered "theaterwide" technical inspections of military facilities despite being alerted to widespread wiring problems in Iraq installations more than three and a half years ago in a report filed by a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers safety specialist.

Cheryl Harris accused KBR yesterday of "extreme recklessness and a total disregard for public safety." I've written so much about Cheryl and her heroic quest, let me concentrate here on the two former KBR electricians who accuse the company of shoddy and negligent management practices in its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Veteran Suicides Continue to Rise

Yet another veteran of the Iraq war committed suicide over the weekend, this time in Indiana, as a kind of national mental health crisis deepens.

The San Francisco Chronicle is out today with a shocking report: In California in 2006, 666 veterans committed suicide -- 21 percent of the 3,198 suicides in the state that year, according to the California Department of Public Health. Yet that year, the 2.1 million veterans in the state represented only 6 percent of the state's residents.

As a further sign of mounting worries, Kerri Childress, a V.A. spokeswoman, told the paper that the department now has more than 17,000 mental health workers -- and needs to hire 3,700 more, making the V.A. the largest mental health provider in the nation.

The subject of U.S. military veteran suicides, which I have covered at Editor & Publisher for nearly five years, has finally become a hot media topic in recent days, peaking last week with hearings in Congress concerning the surprisingly high suicide rate (about 1,000 attempts per month) and the V.A.'s apparent efforts to cover up the true numbers.

Often, however, small town newspapers are the only sources for information on vet suicides. It happened again yesterday with a report in The Herald Bulletin of Madison County, Indiana.

"Questions still remained Saturday after the suicide of a decorated Iraq war veteran in the Elwood City Jail on Friday," the newspaper's Jessica Kerman reported.

U.S. Army Spc. Timothy K. Israel, 23, was pronounced dead at 2:45 p.m. Friday at St. Vincent Mercy Hospital in Elwood after an Elwood police officer found him hanging in a holding cell 15 minutes earlier, according to Ned Dunnichay, Madison County coroner.

Israel had used the drawstring from his pants to commit suicide. "He had been arrested Friday morning on suspicion of domestic battery after an argument with a former girlfriend," Kerman related. "However, friends of Israel said he was wrongfully accused.

"Keith Israel, the veteran's father, said Thursday that he was considering a civil lawsuit against the Elwood Police Department because he believed no one was monitoring surveillance cameras in the cell. At that time, Keith Israel said he believed his son's suicide was the culmination of ongoing police harassment and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Timothy Israel was deployed to Iraq in October 2006, serving for a year. His father said he earned a Purple Heart after being wounded by a roadside explosive in 2007."

The Indianapolis Star reports today, "Detective Mike Minnicus of the state police Pendleton post will look at videotapes of the cellblock monitoring system and will review the Elwood department's policy manual on the use of the holding cell."

Debate: ABC Decides Top Issues Facing Americans Are Flag Pins and '60s Radicals

In perhaps the most embarrassing performance by the media in a major presidential debate in years, ABC News hosts Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous focused mainly on trivial issues as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama faced off in Philadelphia.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the health care and mortgage crises, the overall state of the economy and dozens of other pressing issues had to wait for their few moments in the sun as Obama was pressed to explain his recent "bitter" gaffe and relationship with Rev. Wright (seemingly a dead issue) and not wearing a flag pin while Clinton had to answer again for her Bosnia trip exaggerations.

Then it was back to Obama to defend his slim association with a former '60s radical -- a question that came out of rightwing talk radio and Sean Hannity on TV, but delivered by former Bill Clinton aide Stephanopolous. This approach led to a claim that Clinton's husband pardoned two other '60s radicals. And so on.

More time was spent on all of this than segments on getting out of Iraq and keeping people from losing their homes and other key issues. Gibson only got excited when he complained about anyone daring to raise taxes on his capital gains.

Yet neither candidate had the courage to ask the moderators to turn to those far more important issues. But some in the crowd did -- booing Gibson near the end.

Yet David Brooks' review at The New York Times concluded: "I thought the questions were excellent." He gave ABC an "A."

But Tom Shales of The Washington Post had an opposite view: "Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos, turned in shoddy, despicable performances." Walter Shapiro, the former USA Today political writer, declared in Salon, "Broadcast to a prime-time network audience on ABC and devoid of a single policy question during its opening 50 minutes, the debate easily could have convinced the uninitiated that American politics has all the substance of a Beavis and Butt-Head marathon."

Also see Think Progress' story on how right-wing Fox host Sean Hannity fed the Bill Ayers question to George Stephanopoulos.

Columnists War Breaks out at 'NYT'

NEW YORK -- The New York Times Op-Ed page hasn't been this hot in a long time. Now we are experiencing Columnist Wars, with Bob Herbert today joining in a rapidly escalating battle between Paul Krugman and David Brooks -- largely over an incident involving Ronald Reagan at a local fair over 27 years ago.

None has mentioned a colleague by name, while tossing around charges such as "woefully wrongheaded" and "agitprop."

Krugman kicked it off with a Sept. 27 column on the Republicans' continuing problems in attracting minority voters. "Republican politicians ... understand quite well that the G.O.P.'s national success since the 1970s owes everything to the partisan switch of Southern whites," he declared. "Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism."

Then came this kicker, as Krugman charged that GOP godfather, Ronald Reagan, who "began his political career by campaigning against California's Fair Housing Act, started his 1980 campaign with a speech supporting states' rights delivered just outside Philadelphia, Miss., where three civil rights workers were murdered."

Brooks took awhile, but fired back on Nov. 9, opening his column: "Today, I'm going to write about a slur. It's a distortion that's been around for a while, but has spread like a weed over the past few months. It was concocted for partisan reasons: to flatter the prejudices of one side, to demonize the other and to simplify a complicated reality into a political nursery tale.

"The distortion concerns a speech Ronald Reagan gave during the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states' rights speech in Philadelphia to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side. The speech is taken as proof that the Republican majority was built on racism.

"The truth," Brook explained, "is more complicated." He claimed that Reagan had actually attempted to court black votes right after the 1980 convention. Brooks then offered as an excuse for the Mississippi trip: the Reagan campaign "was famously disorganized," and he was forced to go when locals promised he would be there. When he got there he gave a "short and cheerful" speech: "The use of the phrase 'states' rights' didn't spark any reaction in the crowd, but it led the coverage in The Times and The Post the next day."

Brooks concluded: "You can look back on this history in many ways. It's callous, at least, to use the phrase 'states' rights' in any context in Philadelphia. Reagan could have done something wonderful if he'd mentioned civil rights at the fair. He didn't. ...

"Still, the agitprop version of this week -- that Reagan opened his campaign with an appeal to racism -- is a distortion." Then he smashed Krugman: "But still the slur spreads. It's spread by people who, before making one of the most heinous charges imaginable, couldn't even take 10 minutes to look at the evidence. It posits that there was a master conspiracy to play on the alleged Klan-like prejudices of American voters, when there is no evidence of that conspiracy. And, of course, in a partisan age there are always people eager to believe this stuff."

Krugman, no fool, knew Brooks was referring to him and hit back with a post on his Web page: "So there's a campaign on to exonerate Ronald Reagan from the charge that he deliberately made use of Nixon's Southern strategy. When he went to Philadelphia, Mississippi, in 1980, the town where the civil rights workers had been murdered, and declared that 'I believe in states' rights,' he didn't mean to signal support for white racists. It was all just an innocent mistake.

"Indeed, you do really have to feel sorry for Reagan. He just kept making those innocent mistakes." He then recalled other Reagan "race-baiting" whoppers and added: "Similarly, when Reagan declared in 1980 that the Voting Rights Act had been 'humiliating to the South,' he didn't mean to signal sympathy with segregationists. It was all an innocent mistake.

"In 1982, when Reagan intervened on the side of Bob Jones University, which was on the verge of losing its tax-exempt status because of its ban on interracial dating, he had no idea that the issue was so racially charged. It was all an innocent mistake.

"And the next year, when Reagan fired three members of the Civil Rights Commission, it wasn't intended as a gesture of support to Southern whites. It was all an innocent mistake.

"Poor Reagan. He just kept on making those innocent mistakes, again and again and again." Oh, then there was the fact that "Reagan opposed making Martin Luther King Day a national holiday."

No word of reply from Brooks, so far, but now Bob Herbert has pushed the envelope with an angry column today which starts, "Let's set the record straight on Ronald Reagan's campaign kickoff in 1980."

He charged: "Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, 'I believe in states' rights.'

"Reagan apologists have every right to be ashamed of that appearance by their hero, but they have no right to change the meaning of it, which was unmistakable. Commentators have been trying of late to put this appearance by Reagan into a racially benign context.

"That won't wash. Reagan may have been blessed with a Hollywood smile and an avuncular delivery, but he was elbow deep in the same old race-baiting Southern strategy of Goldwater and Nixon.

"Everybody watching the 1980 campaign knew what Reagan was signaling at the fair. Whites and blacks, Democrats and Republicans -- they all knew. The news media knew. The race haters and the people appalled by racial hatred knew. And Reagan knew. ...

"Throughout his career, Reagan was wrong, insensitive and mean-spirited on civil rights and other issues important to black people. There is no way for the scribes of today to clean up that dismal record. ...

"Ronald Reagan was an absolute master at the use of symbolism. It was one of the primary keys to his political success.

"The suggestion that the Gipper didn't know exactly what message he was telegraphing in Neshoba County in 1980 is woefully wrong-headed. Wishful thinking would be the kindest way to characterize it."

Your move, Mr. Brooks.

Two of Seven Soldiers Who Wrote 'NYT' Op-Ed Die in Iraq

The Op-Ed by seven active duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq questioning the war drew international attention just three weeks ago. Now two of the seven are dead.

Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance Gray died Monday in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad, two of seven U.S. troops killed in the incident which was reported just as Gen. David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress in the "surge." The names have just been released.

Gen. Petraeus was questioned about the message of the op-ed in testimony before a Senate committee yesterday.

The controversial Times column on Aug. 19 was called "The War As We Saw It," and expressed skepticism about American gains in Iraq. "To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched," the group wrote.

It closed: "We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through."

Mora, 28, hailed from Texas City, Texas, and was a native of Ecuador, who had just become a U.S. citizen. He was due to leave Iraq in November and leaves behind a wife and daughter. Gray, 26, had lived in Ismay, Montana, and is also survived by a wife and infant daughter.

The accident in Iraq occurred when a cargo truck the men were riding in overturned.

One of the other five authors of the Times piece, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head while the article was being written. He was expected to survive after being flown to a military hospital in the United States.

Pentagon Covered Up 'Friendly Fire' Killing

USA Today revealed in a front page story on Monday that a study of several hundred American deaths in Iraq turned up at least seven cases where families were given the wrong information about how their loved ones died (most of them, it turned out, were killed by friendly fire). Then the Washington Post revealed that a U.S. soldier was ambushed and murdered by our friends in the Iraqi police.

My additional digging now shows that the military willfuly covered up this significant detail in releasing the news of his death to his family and to the press.

The Post story by Amit Paley visits the Sholeh police station in Baghdad, where posters "celebrating Moqtada al-Sadr, head of the Mahdi Army militia, dot the building's walls." One rainy night this month, it seems, the Sholeh police set up an ambush and killed Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., 20, said to be a "budding journalist." At the time, Paley writes, Stanton and other members of the unit "had been trailing a group of Sholeh police" escorting known Mahdi Army members.

"How can we expect ordinary Iraqis to trust the police when we don't even trust them not to kill our own men?" asked Capt. Alexander Shaw, head of the police transition team of the 372nd Military Police Battalion.

This made me wonder how the Pentagon reported his murder to the press and, presumably, his family back home in his native Hemet, Calif.

Here's the Los Angeles Times account of Oct. 22: "While patrolling Baghdad on Oct. 13, Stanton was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee just two weeks after his 20th birthday. Two others were injured." Nothing about an ambush by our U.S.-funded and -trained police allies.

Here's how the Press-Enterprise in Riverside described it: "Pfc. Kenny Francis Stanton Jr., 20, of Hemet, died Oct. 13 in Baghdad from injuries he suffered after a bomb detonated near his armored Humvee, U.S. Army spokesman Sheldon Smith said Monday.

"Smith said the incident occurred about 9:10 p.m., Baghdad time, while Stanton was inside the vehicle on patrol. He said it's uncertain if the bomb was set off after the vehicle ran over it or if it was set to explode remotely." His mother told the paper she had spoken with him just the previous week and he told her to avoid reading the news about Iraq and not to worry about him. "He wanted to protect his mom," Stanton's father said.

The Pentagon officially records it as a "hostile fire--IED attack" fatality, occuring in "southwest Baghdad."

For the victim's hometown Valley Chronicle, Lt. Col. Lee Packnett of Army media relations added the detail that Stanton was wearing body armor "when an improvised explosive device -- or IED, one of the weapons most commonly used against U.S. forces -- detonated under or near the vehicle."

All of the many accounts describe the incident similarly.

So even if it really happen that way -- ambushed by IED, not gunfire or grenade -- the official military story (and therefore the official press story) leaves out one rather key fact: that Stanton was killed not by insurgents or terrorists or "foreign fighters," but by the Iraqi police.

How many other such deaths have occurred -- and been falsely related and reported?

A Los Angeles Times piece revealed that Stanton had volunteered so he could do "some good" in Iraq, even though his father opposed the war. Now here's Gen. Salah al-Ani, chief of police for the western half of Baghdad, quoted in today's Washington Post: "None of the Iraqi police are working to make their country better. They're working for the militias or to put money in their pocket."

Here's how Stanton's hometown paper describes the murder victim, who had worked for the Bulldog, his high school paper: "By all accounts, Kenny Stanton was a likeable guy. More than likeable, actually. 'Everyone he met loved him,' said cousin Jessica Galvez. 'He always made you laugh. He wanted everyone happy around him.'

"His MySpace website immediately began streaming with messages of grief from both his civilian and Army friends.

"And they started calling, from Korea and Iraq, and even stopped at the Stanton home in Hemet, where his father and mother, Kenny Sr. and Gloria, and his brother and sisters, Mario, 17, Brandie, 13, and Terry, 12, gathered with members of their extended family to begin grieving for the son, the friend, the clown, the big brother, the best buddy."

Killed, you might say, by our own hand.

Colbert Shocks the Media Silent

For days the battle has raged on the Web: Did Stephen Colbert go too far in lampooning President Bush, to his face, at the White House Correspondents Dinner on Saturday night? Is that why his barbs did not generate more laughter around the room of 2700 journalists, celebrities and other guests? Or was it because he suggested the press was spineless in failing to confront the president on Iraq? Or was Colbert just not that funny? [VIDEO]

In any case, the event has inspired debate on hundreds of political and media blogs, the posting of the video on dozens of sites, and massive traffic to E&P, where the first in-depth account of Colbert's performance was posted Saturday night.

You'd think from all the criiticism that the guy had based his routine on joking about launching a war and not finding the WMDs that inspired it. Oh, right, that was President Bush, two years ago.

Nevertheless, Dana Milbank of The Washington Post, appearing on Keith Olbermann's MSNBC program Monday night, joined the ranks of those who attended the dinner who felt Colbert "was not funny." On the other hand, he said the president's routine that night with a Bush impersonator was a howl.

This is the same Milbank who last June mocked a congressional forum on the Downing Street memo, and said it was led by a "hearty band of playmates."

Certainly, deciding what's funny is subjective, sometimes a matter of taste (or tastelessness), but increasingly, also, partisan. We bring our politics to everything nowadays, although some may be more open to good satire than others, even when someone on "your side" is hit.

Still, with the knocks on Colbert increasing, I have to ask: Where was the outrage when President Bush made fun of not finding those pesky WMDs at a very similar media dinner -- in the same ballroom -- two years ago? It represents a shameful episode for the American media, and presidency, yet is rarely mentioned today.

It occurred on March 24, 2004. The setting: The 60th annual black-tie dinner of the Radio and Television Correspondents Association (with many print journalists there as guests) at the Washington Hilton. On the menu: surf and turf. Attendance: 1,500. The main speaker: President George W. Bush, one year into the Iraq war, with 500 Americans already dead.

President Bush, as usual at such gatherings of journalists, poked fun at himself. Audiences love to laugh along with, rather than at, a president, for a change. It shows they are good sports, which many people (including the president) often doubt. It's all in good fun, except when it's in bad fun, such as on that night in March 2004.

That night, in the middle of his stand-up routine before the (perhaps tipsy) journos, Bush showed on a screen behind him some candid on-the-job photos of himself. One featured him gazing out a window, as Bush narrated, smiling: "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere."

According to the transcript this was greeted with "laughter and applause" from the audience.

A few seconds later, he was shown looking under papers, behind drapes, and even under his desk, with this narration: "Nope, no weapons over there" (met with more "laughter and applause"), and then "Maybe under here?" (just "laughter" this time). Still searching, he settled for finding a photo revealing the Skull and Bones secret signal.

There is no record of whether Dana Milbank attended that dinner, but his paper the following day seemed to find this something of a howl. Jennifer Frey's report, carried on the front page of the Style section (under the headline, "George Bush, Entertainer in Chief"), led with Donald Trump's appearance, and mentioned without comment Bush's "recurring joke" of searching for the WMDs.

The Associated Press review was equally jovial: "President Bush poked fun at his staff, his Democratic challenger and himself Wednesday night at a black-tie dinner where he hobnobbed with the news media." In fact, it is hard to find any immediate account of the affair that raised questions over the president's slide show. Many noted that the WMD jokes were met with general and loud laughter.

The reporters covering the gala were apparently as swept away with laughter as the guests. One of the few attendees to criticize the president's gag, David Corn of The Nation, said he heard not a single complaint from his colleagues at the after-party. Corn wondered if they would have laughed if President Reagan, following the truck bombing of our Marines barracks in Beirut, which killed 241, had said at a similar dinner: "Guess we forgot to put in a stop light."

The backlash only appeared a day or two later, and not, by and large, emerging from the media, but from Democrats and some Iraq veterans. Then it was mainly forgotten. I never understood why Sen. John Kerry did not air a tape of the episode every day during his hapless final drive for the White House.

In any case, another 1,900 Americans have died in Iraq since Bush's ha-ha home video. As it happens, the Downing Street memo, and a similar British document that surfaced recently, suggested that Bush doubted WMDs existed and "fixed" the intelligence to take the nation to war. What a riot.

At that same Downing Street memo forum at the Capitol last year that Milbank mocked, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, after cataloguing the bogus Bush case for WMDs and the Iraqi threat, looked out at the cameras and notepads, mentioned the March 24, 2004 dinner, and acted out the president looking under papers and table for those missing WMDs. "And the media was all yucking it up ... hahaha," McGovern said. "You all laughed with him, folks." Then he mentioned soldiers who had died "after that big joke."

Dana Milbank, who seems to like a good laugh, did not mention this in his hit piece the following day.

Times Completes Long Pass... Then Fumbles

The New York Times can't seem to win for losing. It scores its biggest scoop of the year, with its domestic spying revelations, and wins wide praise. At the same time it gets hammered from left, right and even some in the middle for holding the story for a year, and then belatedly timing publication either to the Patriot Act debate and/or an upcoming book -- and being less than transparent about the whole kit and caboodle.

Will Bunch, the Philadelphia Daily News reporter and blogger, said it best today with this simple question: "Is there a word in the English language that means 'stunned' and 'not stunned' at the same time?"

He could have been referring to the "what's next?" element of this, after the Times' bungling of WMDs, the Judith Miller matter and, among other things, the recent Ken Auletta piece about the newspaper's publisher in The New Yorker. What Bunch actually meant was that he had predicted days ago that it would soon emerge that the Times had the spy piece before the November 2004 election and failed to run it, costing John Kerry the presidency. This morning, of course, the Los Angeles Times cited two sources inside the Times confirming that indeed a "debate" about running the piece pre-election did indeed take place.

Also in the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category we have Matt Drudge wildly alleging within minutes of the story breaking last Friday that it was somehow tied to publication of a book by one of the co-authors, James Risen, next month. Fat chance! The L.A. Times, citing the same inside sources, also confirmed that allegation today, saying it was at least part of the reason the Times finally acted now. The Times still denies this.

Adding to the bizarre picture, we have Jonathan Alter of Newsweek, and not someone at the Times, recounting the summoning of the Times' publisher and executive editor to the Oval Office by President Bush on Dec. 6 in a final attempt to forestall the much-delayed but now on-track story. True? The Times has not yet confirmed, but then it has said little overall about the delay-then-publish angle.

On the other hand, even E&P scooped the paper when Judy Miller used her get-out-of-jail card this past autumn.

Meanwhile, the Times threatens to become the story -- instead of the story that it (finally) broke. If so, George Bush, the true Teflon president, wins again.

It all makes the Miller affair seem sane and simple in comparison. The spy story, when published, set off angry editorials, including one in the Times itself, blasting the White House, and even got Democrats, many legal scholars and some Republicans in Congress bent out of shape, a few even mentioning the "IO" words (impeachable offense) -- and yet the newspaper itself was OK with keeping it under wraps for more than a year?

I'm holding off further judgment, awaiting additional commentary from the Times -- possibly, it will have a compelling explanation for all this.

But so far what we've gotten from Executive Editor Bill Keller is mainly this: the paper held off publication because the White House assured senior editors of the Times "that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions." Asked for more this morning, the Times declined comment and sent word to E&P that no one is doing interviews on this subject.

In the Auletta piece in The New Yorker, Keller admitted that he should have pushed his paper to modify its Judith Miller defense after the Court of Appeals ruled against her. Keller said he never made an attempt because "An object in motion tends to stay in motion." Apparently, in the case of the spy program story, an object at rest tended to remain at rest.

No wonder the Times seems a tad defensive at the moment.

A Plea to Editors on Iraq

In his Sunday column for the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof said he had a notion about how to solve our Iraq problem. One hangup: He won't let us in on it until his next column, on Tuesday. Oh well, we've waited this long.

All Kristof would say on Sunday is that he opposes both Bush's stay-the-course plan as well as an "immediate" withdrawal. This, of course, is simply knocking down straw men. Bush's strategy has been thoroughly discredited, and hardly anyone calls for bringing the troops home immediately, in time for Thanksgiving or even Christmas.

So what did Kristof come out with in the Tuesday column? We should pull "at least" half of our troops out of Iraq by the end of 2006 with the rest to follow by the end of the following year. Also, we should by then get rid of all of our military bases there. "All the Iraq options are bad," he declares. "But this is the least bad."

Kristof writes: "I met last month with three visiting Iraqi journalists, all of them anti-insurgency and pro-constitution. All three favored a target date for withdrawal." He adds: "A target date would also light a fire under all Iraqis to work out a modus vivendi. Time and again, deadlines have proved the only way to get Iraqi politicians to do anything."

While the pace could be quicker, this is a welcome and realistic step forward.

Kristof notes that many Democrats are coalescing around this outline (though not, alas, the Hillary-Biden wing of the party). Just Sunday, in a Washington Post op-ed, former candidate for vice president John Edwards admitted he was "wrong" to back the war three years ago and called for a U.S. withdrawal to begin early next year. His fellow former senator Tom Daschle has also re-surfaced recently, leading a drive to get Bush to at least set a timetable for a pullout.

Now that Kristof has floated his idea, I'll state my position now: It's time (actually, it's overdue) for newspaper editorial writers to take the lead in helping to bring this American tragedy to a close. I have been advocating this, rather fruitlessly, for over two years. I mention this not as an I-told-you-so but to point out what dithering has cost: 1,700 more American lives, and more fuel for the terrorists' fire.

I see Kristof is now referring to the situation in Iraq as a "quagmire." Two years ago when I suggested that, many poked fun. Yet he still refers to the neocons who got us into this mess, embracing cooked intel like a high-priced hooker, as "well-meaning."

It's true that this is not a black-and-white case. There is something to be said for giving a president and his team a further chance to fashion a better future for the Iraqis. But this is not that president and this is not that team. And the better future does not likely require our unlimited occupation.

The bottom line, which I humbly ask newspaper editorial boards to consider: Whatever your feelings about keeping Americans troops in place to protect Iraqi citizens, remember who is running the show back at the White House and Pentagon, and whether you trust them to manage this enterprise.

Most Americans have already answered this question. According to all major polls, they think the president misled the country into the war and is not to be trusted today, in general.

I'll put it this starkly: If you're not going to call for the impeachment of the president and the resignation of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld -- and I'm sure you're not -- then you really ought to increase pressure on them in your editorials to change direction in Iraq, and begin a phased (not immediate) withdrawal.

I've been pushing this idea for two years, suggesting that if at least one national newspaper backed a phased withdrawal it might start a stampede. No one responded the first three times, and no one expects The Washington Post, for example, to lead the charge (witness Sunday's Fred Hiatt column).

The Seattle Times did argue for a pullout several months ago, but until recently The New York Times was actually advocating sending more troops. The Times has run many tough editorials against the president and his conduct of the war, but the newspaper has not called for setting a timetable or beginning withdrawals.

Apparently they trust Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld to handle this disaster just fine. Do you?

On Oct. 15, 2003, Kristof wrote a column backing the $87 billion bill for Iraq, adding, "Above all, to stave off catastrophe in Iraq, we must keep our troops there and provide security, for that is the glue that keeps Iraq together." How time flies.

It's worse than Waiting for Godot. It's Waiting for God Help Us. Secretary of State Rice recently said U.S. troops might still be in Iraq 10 years from now.

Besides Kristof and Edwards, another prominent figure weighed in on the war this weekend. General William Odom (ret.), former head of the National Security Agency under President Reagan, wrote an article for earlier this year in which he argued that the war is serving the interests of Osama bin Laden, the Iranians, and extremists in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. According to Odom, all that we fear could go wrong if we "cut and run" is actually made more likely by staying in Iraq.

In his latest piece, which he calls a "postscript," Odom (now a senior fellow with the Hudson Institute and a professor at Yale University) calls Iraq "the worst place to fight a battle for regional stability. Whose interests were best served by the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the first place? It turns out that Iran and al-Qaeda benefited the most, and that continues to be true every day U.S. forces remain there. A serious review of our regional interests is required. Until that is accomplished and new and compelling aims for managing the region are clarified, continuing the campaign in Iraq makes no sense."

But Odom is not for total disengagement. He wants the U.S. to remain a force, but recognizes that we will gain no help from key allies until our troops are on the way out. Therefore, "it becomes clear that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq is the precondition to winning the support of our allies and a few others for a joint approach to the region. Until that has been completed, they will not join such a coalition. And until that has happened, even we in the United States cannot think clearly about what constitutes our interests there, much less gain agreement about common interests for a coalition."

He adds: "Putting it bluntly, those who insist on staying in Iraq longer make the consequences of withdrawal more terrible and make it harder to find an alternative strategy for achieving regional stability.... To hang on to an untenable position is the height of irresponsibility. Beware of anyone, including the president, who insists that this is 'responsible' or 'the patriotic' thing to do."


Here's one of several letters from newspaper execs I've received in response to the above:

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