Posted by: Glenn Scott | December 4, 2009

Airline Magazines Still Flying High

One part of the media business where readership remains enviable is up in the sky, where readers sit passively in airplanes.

This Wall Street Journal article reports that so-called in-flight magazines are still doing quite well, thanks to the nature of the magazine-reading experience. On board a passenger jet, let’s face it, there aren’t many choices but to read. Advertisers like that, and they also are happy to reach the audience of affluent folks sitting in those tight spaces with a great need to keep their minds busy.

Which beats thinking about air disasters.

That in itself is a good reason for you to read this piece. Another is that the writer mentions a publishing company in Greensboro, Pace Communications, that produces mags for United, Delta, U.S. Air, Southwest and Virgin America.

See if you can find Pace in the story. And keep Pace in mind when you’re trying to find an internship or a job, too.

Several of our students have worked successfully for Pace.  We seem to be developing a good reputation with the editors. That’s good. Every time our students perform well, they improve the chances for following students to gain opportunities. You’re building not only your own reputation, but ours.  So work hard and smart, wherever you go.

And for now, it won’t hurt to keep your eyes on the sky.

Also from the Journal: Reading is better in the sky.

Posted by: Alex's Blog | November 19, 2009

Advice from Jim Sheeler

Shortly after my Reality presentation, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Jim Sheeler replied to my email. I know, what great timing! It was a very brief email, but he told me that feature article journalists should take readers to places they would normally never go. And if it’s well written, the reader will follow along every time. I enjoyed reading his advice and hope you do too!

Posted by: cgroom | November 18, 2009

Example from Reality Journalist Hugh McIlvanney

This is the first graph from his article: “Tiger Woods’s hopes for victory at The Open are blown away”

Bookmakers’ maths at The Open have never been more vehemently contradicted than they were by the figures on Tiger Woods’s scorecard at Turnberry. That had to be so when his 36-hole total served as an eviction notice at the halfway stage of a major tournament for only the second time in his professional career. Yet nobody will be surprised to learn that Ladbrokes, who had Woods as 5-2 favourite on Thursday morning, with an unprecedented gulf between him and the next players on their betting list (a clutch of them quoted at 33-1), are already offering precisely the same odds of two-and-a-half to one against his chance of winning next year’s championship at St Andrews.


The rest of the article can be found here.

Posted by: jhalm | November 16, 2009

Reality Reporter Sonia Nazario

This is a brief excerpt from Nazario’s incredible piece Orphans of Addiction, accompanied by a link to the full PDF.  This is a well-researched and beautifully written if not brutally honest piece and I think it is very much worth your time to give it a read.

     Ashley Bryan lies down on the dirty carpet of her dad’s bedroom where she usually sleeps. The 10-year-old girl closes her eyes, clasps her hands and raises them to her lips. Firmly, fervently, she prays.

     She wishes not for a bike or Barbie like most kids her age, or to become a doctor or firefighter some day.

     Every night, Ashley asks for something she believes only God can deliver. She prays for a new father. Someone kind, someone whose life–and thus hers–is not ruled by the demons of drug addiction and alcoholism.

     “Just once, give me something good,” she whispers in the darkness. “Please, make life get better.” It could not get much worse.

     Her clothes, along with those of 8-year-old brother Kevin Bryan, are filthy. The two go weeks without a bath. They eat once a day, usually rice. Neglect is the norm.

     Their father, Calvin Holloman, drinks Miller High Life beer for breakfast, sometimes until he blacks out. The kitchen of their one-bedroom Long Beach apartment is used mostly for cooking or mixing the heroin and speed he and his friends inject into their veins.

     Mom has been gone for years now, Calvin says, disappearing with a man who could finance her ravenous appetite for speed. At the age of 6, Ashley ran away from home after her father punched her in the face. But with no place to go, she was forced to return for more misery.

     The conditions that have led Ashley to her nightly prayer ritual are, sadly, too common in the United States, which has a higher rate of drug abuse than any other industrialized nation.


Posted by: camilledemere | November 12, 2009

The Line of Friends and Reporting

Last night, news hit right next to the Pendulum office. And it hit one of our own. Multimedia editor Alex Trice was at least the second person in two years who was hit by a car at the Williamson Avenue crosswalk. She was on her way to our weekly Wednesday meeting at 7:30 p.m. It was rainy and dark and there are almost no lights at what could be argued is the busiest crosswalk near campus.

When we saw lights and sirens and heard “Someone’s been hit!”, we knew that a few of us would need to tell the story. But when people said “It’s Alex!”, it felt different. Lindsay Fendt still took photos, Anna Johnson still got comments from the police and the driver, who said she didn’t see Alex at all. We all moved out of the way of emergency vehicles and stood between news and worry.

It was an interesting feeling watching my friends get and report on such an important story, but still feel torn as another friend shivered in the rain and answered firemen’s questions.

Anna and Lindsay did a really good job reporting this. If you want to check it out, click here.

Posted by: Paul Busby | November 11, 2009

Reality Journalist Tim Cahill

This article should give readers an entertaining glimpse of Cahill’s unique way of telling a story. 

Out There: OK Gorillas, No Belching During the Pledge of Allegiance

Bringing a little jungle indoors, to a fresh generation of primatologists
By Tim Cahill

I am not a gorilla scientist,” I told the Saint Mary’s third-grade class, “but when I went to Africa, I learned something about gorilla behavior that no one knew until that day.” I suspect the real scientists I was visiting in Rwanda talk about my discovery even now, almost 20 years later. And when they talk about it, I bet they laugh.

Which, I explained to the third graders, doesn’t make it any less of a discovery. Just because people laugh about it.

“Can you tell the class what it is you discovered?” the teacher, Miss Larson, asked. She was tall and blond and impatient with the concept of suspense.

“Well,” I said, “I hurt my knee playing football in high school. Now it pops out of position every once in a while. I fall down and scream, and I don’t even know where I am, because it hurts so much. That’s how I made my discovery. I contributed to the science of biology because I was such a bad football player.”

The third graders weren’t, I knew, particularly interested in my knee problems. I’m often invited to speak at local schools about my various travels, and I accept these invitations because I think it’s a way of giving back something to the community. Also, I get to advise kids to belch at the dinner table and tell their parents that it is science.

“Do you guys want to see some pictures of gorillas?” I asked.

They did, and said so at the top of their little lungs. I asked Miss Larson to turn down the lights, and I flipped on the slide projector.

“OK,” I said, “here’s the first gorilla.” The on-screen image was that of a rather handsome human male wearing a photographer’s vest. The children squealed with laughter.

“It’s OK to laugh at this man,” I said. “He’s a photographer.”

Nick Nichols, a National Geographic wildlife photographer, had given me the set of slides to show in schools.

The first real gorilla up on the screen was a frightening portrait: a head-and-shoulders shot of an adult male, mouth open in what appeared to be a scream of rage. White teeth — canines the size of small carrots — stood out against the black face.

“Scary, huh,” I said. “But it’s really not, because that’s what it looks like when a gorilla yawns.”

And I was off on Phase One of my standard grade school gorilla lecture. They’re not scary monsters at all; in fact, they’re very gentle. They don’t eat humans; they don’t even eat meat. I showed pictures of gorillas eating bamboo and nettles. The kids, like all kids, sat there staring at Nick’s photos with their mouths agape. On the grade school slide-show circuit we like to wow ’em with charismatic megafauna.

I showed pictures of several gorillas together and explained that the animals live in family groups of two to 35 or more and that, most of the time, the oldest and biggest male, whose back is silver, is the boss. Silverbacks stand about five-foot-eight and weigh as much as 400 pounds. During the day, the gorilla family will eat, rest, and move on until late afternoon. Just before it gets dark, they build a nest, almost like big bird’s nest, and that’s where they sleep.

I showed a picture of a blond-haired human male standing in the rain, taking notes.

“That man,” I told the students, “is a scientist. His name is Conrad Aveling. He gets to study the gorillas every day, rain or shine.”

To get a job like that, I said, you have to go to school for a long time and study a lot. This makes you a very precise and literal-minded person, so that if a journalist visits you and writes a story about the gorillas, you will be obligated to write him a long letter and tell him all the things he got wrong. If, for instance, the writer described a gorilla as being twice his size, the scientist would say: “This is incorrect. The gorilla may be twice your weight, but he is not 12 feet tall.”

“Field scientists,” I told the third graders, “are a lot like Miss Larson, but their clothes are dirtier and they swear a lot.”
After the slide show, it was time for Phase Two: I asked the shyest of the girls and the most obstreperous of the boys to assist me. The girl would sit in front of the class, in Miss Larson’s chair. She would be the gorilla. The boy would be the scientist. He would try to approach the gorilla and learn about its behavior. If he did anything wrong, anything at all, the gorilla would just go away and never come back. I think this prepares boys and girls for the realities of later life. Boys more than girls, perhaps.

“It is sometimes hard to find the gorillas,” I said. “You have to remember where they were the night before and start from their sleeping nests. Then you track them through the grass and bushes.” Sometimes, I explained, you can smell them before you see them. The silverback has an odor like skunk and vinegar, only very faint. And then you may see them moving through the shafts of earlymorning light that falls through the trees. They walk bent over, on their knuckles, and look like bears shambling through the sun. When you see them, you should fall to the ground and approach carefully.

My eight-year-old scientist began crawling up the aisle toward the gorilla in pigtails sitting in Miss Larson’s chair.

Locate the silverback, I advised. Make sure he sees you. Don’t get between him and any of the babies, because he will try to protect them, and then he could hurt you. Look at the silverback’s face. It reads just like a human being’s face. If he frowns at you, go away.

You should also know how to say some things in the mountain gorilla language.

“The gorilla ‘hello,'” I said, “sounds like this.” I made my voice phlegmy and hoarse and then breathed out twice, in a kind of gentle growl. “It means, ‘Hey, I don’t want to fight or hurt anyone’s babies.’ Scientists like Mr. Aveling call that sound a double-belch vocalization.” I encouraged the kids to work on their belches and to demonstrate the science they’d learned at the dinner table that evening.

As the boy scientist crawled forward, belching loudly, I advised him to keep his head down. Watch the silverback’s head. Wherever it is, yours is lower. If you stand above him, he thinks you want to fight. Scientists call that an aggressive posture.

The gorilla will be watching your face, and you can smile at him, but don’t show your teeth. Gorillas who show their teeth often want to fight. Look at the silverback, but keep dropping your eyes. Gorillas are like humans: They get mad at people who stare right at them for a long time.

Mr. Aveling, I said, taught me all those things about gorillas, and he was very strict. He said I should observe “proper gorilla etiquette” at all times. And it was true: If I minded my manners with the gorillas, I could sometimes sit near them and watch their behavior for hours. Sometimes I even exchanged double-belch vocalizations with silverbacks.

When the animals wanted me to go, they frowned at me and said another important gorilla word. “It’s called a cough grunt,” I said, “and it sounds a little like a train just starting up.” I made a series of quick soft coughs in the back of my throat. “That means, ‘Go away.'”

The gorilla in Miss Larson’s chair did a pretty good cough grunt and the boy scientist crawled backward down the aisle. There was applause all around.
And I was into Phase Three: Only 650 mountain gorillas exist today. That’s all. (Some scientists think the population in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park are not mountain gorillas, but a species of the more populous lowland gorilla — or a unique subspecies. If so, there are only 320 or so mountain gorillas alive.) These numbers haven’t changed much in the last couple of decades.

It is tempting, at this point, to dramatize the mountain gorillas’ plight by setting up a morality play of good guys and poachers, but the real problem facing the gorillas is loss of habitat. Virunga and Volcano National Parks, where the gorillas live and are protected, are a mere 149 square miles. In the aftermath of the genocidal wars in Rwanda, over 700,000 returning refugees have flooded into the area near the base of the mountains. These people want land to farm. Families must be fed.

And yet the forests of the Virungas act as giant sponges, feeding the streams and rivers during the dry season. Destroy the forest for farms, and everyone starves during the next drought. It’s a vexing problem, with no easy solutions, and what I tell the children is that the surest way to kill the gorillas is to destroy their habitat. It’s true for any animal.

My friend the photographer, Nick Nichols, wanted to show the habitat problem in his pictures. One day we were standing on a very steep hillside, watching a family of about nine mountain gorillas who didn’t know we were there. There were three of us — me, Nick, and Conrad Aveling. It was about noon, the hottest part of the day, and the animals had just finished feeding for the morning. The silverback was sprawled out on his back, bouncing an infant off his rather considerable belly. A female lay with her head on the male’s thigh, dozing in the sun.

I felt as if I were staring down into Eden. And yet, if I lifted my gaze, I could see down past the periphery of the park, right into Rwandan farmland, which rolled bare and treeless up to the very edge of the forest. That was the picture Nick was trying to get: the gorillas at rest, the threatening farms close below.

The girl in pigtails would be the gorilla. If the boy scientist did anything wrong, she would just go away. This prepares boys and girls for the realities of later life.

I was just standing there, watching him work, when I shifted my weight, slipped on some moss, felt my knee pop and heard myself saying, “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah.” Clutching my knees to my chest had the effect of turning me into a human bowling ball, and I began rolling faster and faster down the steep and grassy slope.

I’ve tried to see this from the gorillas’ point of view. Here you’ve just had breakfast, and you’re ready for some quality time with the kids, followed by a nap. Then there’s this hideous noise: ah-ah-ah-ah-ah. And when you look up, the foliage is parting in a rapid downhill vector. Whatever the horrible thing is, it’s coming right at you.

The gorillas fled in all directions as I rolled directly through them and came to rest against a low shrub. My first coherent thought was that I had breached every single rule of gorilla etiquette. I sought to apologize to Conrad Aveling.

“Well, yes,” he said. “On the other hand, a lot of us have wondered what would happen if a human charged a group of gorillas.”

And that, I told the third graders, is how playing football very badly can lead to important scientific discoveries.

Posted by: Nolan | November 11, 2009

Leonard Pitts, Reality Journalist

Sept. 12, 2001: We’ll go forward from this moment

It’s my job to have something to say.

They pay me to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.

You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.

What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward’s attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed.

Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.

Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.

Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, social, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We’re frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae – a singer’s revealing dress, a ball team’s misfortune, a cartoon mouse. We’re wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods, and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though – peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.

Some people – you, perhaps – think that any or all of this makes us weak. You’re mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.


Yes, we’re in pain now. We are in mourning and we are in shock. We’re still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn’t a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn’t the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel. Both in terms of the awful scope of their ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and, probably, the history of the world. You’ve bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.

But there’s a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall. This is the lesson Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length, in the pursuit of justice.

I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people, as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.

In the days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We’ll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.


You see, the steel in us is not always readily apparent. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don’t know us well. On this day, the family’s bickering is put on hold.

As Americans we will weep, as Americans we will mourn, and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.

So I ask again: What was it you hoped to teach us? It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred. If that’s the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don’t know my people. You don’t know what we’re capable of. You don’t know what you just started.

But you’re about to learn.

Posted by: My Nguyen | November 10, 2009

For Your Consideration: Anna Quindlen

Picture 2The following is Quindlen’s final column for Newsweek’s The Last Word in which she thoughtfully and graciously steps aside to allow the future generation to make their mark on the news business.

At times, I feel the mark of an effective and celebrated writer is not only his or her ability to produce good work, but also to recognize it.


Stepping Aside

Three big binders bring a message from a new generation about the future of the news business.

Published May 2, 2009

The last bit of evidence arrived in the form of three binders of news clippings. Because all the submissions for the Livingston Awards have to come from reporters under the age of 35, looking at the dates of birth on the entry forms for the finalists was like a stroll through my own past.

This young man was born the year I graduated from college, that young woman just about the time I became a reporter at The New York Times, this one when I was covering city hall, that one when I was writing my first column.

Needless to say, this made me feel really old.

But my second response to reading over the stories was delight. They were so thoroughly reported, so well written. Whether local, national or international news, they were just what journalism ought to be. The next time anyone insists the business won’t survive I may bash him with one of these binders, which are heavy with hope for the future.

They also made me think again about my own future. These clippings thoroughly ratified a decision I began to make a year or so ago, that has led me here, to my last LAST WORD column for NEWSWEEK.

Read the rest of the article here.
Posted by: Neel Arora | November 10, 2009

Reality Journalist Preview: Tarun Tejpal

My reality Journalist is Tarun Tejpal from New-Delhi, India. He is the editor-in-chief of Tehelka Magazine, a weekly periodical founded by him and a few other journalists. The magazine is charged with addressing societal and humanitarian issues.

What makes his story remarkable is his part, as editor-in-chief, in the biggest sting operation ever conducted by the press in India. This is India’s Watergate, so far. It exposed the top of the political and military echelon in 2001 with charges eventually levied against the Navy chief and the minister of defense. ‘Operation West-End’ revealed the corruption that went along with defense contracts, amounting to billions of dollars in a country where nearly 700 million people live in poverty, twice the population of the United States. It showed the frailty of the Indian Prime Minister and the lack of accountability in the system.

The next few years of his life, after his sudden rise to celebrity status, would be speculative and uncertain. He was almost instantly placed under the proverbial Z category security list with imminent danger lying outside a blanket of gaurds and police that always surrounded him. He was driven from his own home repeatedly, for the safety of his wife and two children, who were still in their teens. He would be in and out of the country for a number of years before his efforts became folklore and the investigation concluded, while he and his team moved on to other challenges in the country.

Tarun Tejpal is one of the premier investigative, anti-establishment writers in the country, and he matches up to anyone in the world.

Click here to see a detailed interview that will explain what makes him a reality journalist, and why he is commited to investigative journalism. His passion enfuses and he provides a great number of tips you will not find anywhere. In effect, he tells you what it takes to be a great journalist. (You might have to skip through certain sections when he speaks about Indian politics, but make sure to watch the last two minutes).  

Click here for a list of his most recent and memorable peices.

Below is a piece he wrote in the wake of “Operation West End.” It is a lesson in investigative journalism and it provides a look inside one of the most corrupt and bureaucratic societies in the world, using eloquent prose and narrative form. He entered a place where no reporter dared to go, a dangerous minefield in an unaccountable system. The piece is a thoughtful reflection of the entire saga and its immediate aftermath.

This article is for all of you who aspire to something beyond the constructs of the inverted pyramid. It will take you to the very heart of journalism.

For whom the bell tolls

(Cut in certain places for purposes of the assignment; click here for the full version) 

Nothing had prepared us for the avalanche of energies that were triggered off by Operation West End. For months we had known that we had chanced upon a story of great gravity and impact. For months our dread had grown steadily as it became increasingly clear that this was not a story that stopped at a given point and offered itself up for analysis, criticism and policing. It was a story that went all the way to the top, and left little scope for face-saving manoeuvres. We couldn’t get one part of the governmental hierarchy to police another, inferior, part of it: by indicting everyone we were risking taking on everyone, the entire system, all of government. My standard line to Aniruddha Bahal, who masterminded the investigation used to be, ‘We’ll blow the whistle, but who’s going to police this?’

Faced with this spectre, we decided to keep our eyes close to the ground: maintain a narrow frame of reference, purely journalistic; not worry about who would gain, lose, and other consequences; stay with the story, just the story, and deliver it the moment it was done. So there were two reasons we were not prepared for the scale of the fallout. One, we deliberately kept ourselves from thinking about it. And, two, like the residents of Jaunpur, there was nothing in our experience that could have helped us anticipate it.

 Battle cry: The sacred cow the middlemen milked

Operation West End began like most stories in a quiet, humble way. In August 2000, last year, Aniruddha Bahal, coming off the disappointment of a major scoop he had been working on for the last three months (it had seen him disappear for weeks in pursuit of the story), floated the idea of an investigation into the dubious nature of defence purchases, and the general porousness of even a ministry as sensitive as defence…..

The story idea of Operation West End got firmed up in the context of several things. The most recent provocation was the fire at the Bharatpur ammunition depot that had trashed (millions) worth of equipment. The rumour mills suggested it was basically a setup to destroy inferior purchases. The other things on our mind were the nagging questions that continued to trail the end of the Kargil war…… 

 But the moment the conflict was over, we switched to the critical, questioning stance we construe as good journalism and began to ask all the uncomfortable questions that were jumping out at all of us. For us the sum total of the picture was: the troops did a great job, but the leadership, military and civilian, tripped up seriously. Of course in no time at all the establishment’s stormtroopers were in action trying to obfuscate the questions in a web of denials, countercharges and so on. Yet the questions stuck, and most people were left with the lingering feeling that all was not well with our defence establishment.

The third factor prompting the story was an old one, the fifteen-year old Bofors-fuelled controversy about kickbacks in defence deals. This was a controversy that had ravaged Indian public life for years, and had led in 1989 to a ban on defence middlemen. Since then on different occasions, different defence ministers, including George Fernandes last year, had asserted that their inquiries revealed there were no more defence middlemen operating in India. But the truth that everyone of the chattering power elite of Delhi knows is that the city crawls with defence middlemen; that the best farmhouses that gird the city are owned by defence middlemen; the most expensive cars are driven by defence middlemen; the most lavish parties thrown by them. They may work under different guises and label themselves other things, but then no crook nails a plaque on his wall saying ‘crook’.

Where eagles dare: Fearlessness and loathing in the land of the crooked

It was in the backdrop of all this – Kargil, Bharatpur, the middlemen controversy – that Bahal and his Falstaffian sidekick, Samuel Mathew, an investigative reporter of extraordinary grit and resourcefulness, began their story. Over the course of the first few weeks they did some background sleuthing and chanced upon a defence product that was in queue for purchase. It was something called a hand held thermal camera.

Neither of them knew anything about the product. They downloaded information on it from the net, and with the help of Tehelka’s design department created a brochure for it. Designed it in-house, printed it in-house. They also formed a dummy company and named it West End International. This entire phase of the operation was full of literary allusions that no one has discovered so far. The thermal camera was christened Lepak by Bahal, a reference to the Lepak gun which can glue together formations of fighter planes in the sky that Yossarian waxes about in Catch-22. The logo of West End International was taken from a book-jacket that the design department had made as a dummy presentation for one of V.S. Naipaul’s books.

Armed with this rudimentary paraphernalia, Bahal and Mathew sailed into one of the most audacious journalistic stings ever. They started at the bottom of the food chain, with their first contact being a section officer who earned Rs 2000 off them. And then before they knew it they were sucked into a web of graft and deal-makers. Over the next few months the soul of the system bared itself open to them. It was an ugly sight, based only on the principle of greed. Everyone, from army officers, bureaucrats, defence dealers and politicians were willing to help push anything as long as there was a kickback in the offing. The avarice was naked, completely transparent: percentages and commissions were openly discussed; help of all kinds in circumventing the system was generously offered; in a spirit of camaraderie, secrets of other dubious deals were served up; credentials were established by flaunting rosters of personal corruption. There was no trace of shame, no intrusions of conscience.

 Tyros in matters of defence hardware, totally ignorant of the subtleties of financial skulduggery, Bahal and Mathew – particularly Mathew – made enough gaffes to render some moments into pure slapstick. In one meeting, asked about West End’s bank, Mathew replied Thomas Cook. On another occasion he described the head office of the company as based in Manchester United. My own favourite is his answer to a question about the range of the thermal binocular. ‘Unlimited,’ says Mathew cheerily. ‘Unlimited?’ goggles the interlocutor. ‘Well, it blurs after a point,’ admits Mathew. Arundhati Roy’s favourite moment is Mathew’s description of the product range of his company. It is involved, he says, in ‘making typical type of bombs.’

To my mind, there are only two explanations for this incredible lack of discernment on the part of those who manned the defence gravy train. The first is that the greed was so blinding that they could see nothing else. The second is that deals of this kind were so quotidian, so everyday that there was no reason for anyone to suspect anything. But it would be skewed to conclude that the entire operation was a vaudeville affair, starring a couple of bumbling reporters.

The truth is that Bahal and Mathew planned each sting with meticulous care (in fact neither took a single day off for six months). Bahal would give thorough briefings to Mathew, who carried out most of the stings. The devices would be checked and re-checked (in the knowledge that they could land one set of confessions, or capture the transaction of a deal, only once). The venues would be recceed in advance. They would tick off detailed checklists (which grew more elaborate as the cast of characters increased and with it the possibilities of an unintentional gaffe). And having done all that both of them would turn to God. Before every operation, Mathew would visit the church, and Bahal would nip into a temple.

Even with God on their side, Bahal and Mathew had to display exceptional courage. People keep asking me about the cameras the team used. All that is idiot stuff, not rocket science. The cameras are just low-end devices which can be purchased or put together at any electronics outlet. The key is the gumption of those who used it. Had they been discovered at any point the consequences could have been very serious. You have to only imagine what could have happened if Mathew had been caught out at the defence minister’s house, all wired up. They would have doubtless taken him to the cleaners.

The longest day: The story is over; long live the story

The truth is there was continual tension, and it mounted with every passing month as the final contours of the story began to reveal itself. By the time Bahal and Mathew nailed Bangaru Laxman and walked out of his room with a demand of US $30,000 ringing in their ears, it was January 2000, and the story had pretty much played itself out. To proceed any further we needed two things: more money, and the actual product, the thermal hand held camera. And since we had neither, the curtains were pulled down on the fieldwork by the middle of January and the tedious task of transcribing, scripting and editing the evidence began.

Two large rooms in our office were cordoned off, their windows blacked out with opaque cardboard. Till now a mere half dozen of us in the office had known of the investigation; now fifteen staffers were handpicked from different departments – television, investigations team, and Tehelka – and conscripted for transcribing the almost ninety hours of tape. This entire team worked around the clock, in shifts, in total secrecy – with Bahal administering the omerta every day. No sooner did the thick bound transcripts begin to emerge that Bahal began to script the story. When edited, the first cut clocked in at over seven hours. Bahal then took another go at it, and ruthlessly hacked it down to a little over four hours.

The general consensus was that even this was too long for anyone to sit through. With song, dance, hero, heroine, villain, a Hindi film could become tedious at under three hours. Our earlier investigation, Fallen Heroes, into matchfixing in cricket, had been just an hour-and-a-half long and had the attraction of starring famous players, and a subject everyone was crazy about. In the case of Operation West End the dramatis personae consisted largely of unknowns, and the subject matter was far less accessible and exciting. Faced by this we took a decision that strengthened our belief and resolve in what we were doing. We decided the story was way too serious and went beyond the normal issues of mass media: viewer interest, accessibility, attention spans, and so on. We decided we would give the story the space it needed to establish itself. If it needed more than four hours to play out and prove its findings, then so be it.

(That decision was to prove critical. It freed us up. Over the coming weeks as the odds against us mounted, as pressures of investments, funding, friends, foes, ethics, motives, legal notices, threats, phone tapping, surveillance et al grew, we took refuge in the calm certainty of the story. We were journalists and had done a journalistic investigation, and that, in sum, was it. All the other shrapnel flying around couldn’t damage that core truth.)

The final tape was ready by the after-noon of 12 March. In less than 24 hours, on the afternoon of 13 March, we broke the story, screening it in the ballroom of the Imperial Hotel in Connaught Place. The screening was scheduled for 1.30 p.m. The editors at Tehelka arrived at nine at the Tehelka office and began to punch the phones. I made a couple of mandatory calls, one each to Amitabh Bachchan and Shankar Sharma of First Global, our first round investors. Neither was told the details of the story; just that we were breaking a very important story in the afternoon. We had gotten so far, but we were still worried. In a display of amazing commitment the twenty odd people who had worked on preparing the tapes had maintained the omerta, but there was always the fear of the last minute slip.

The same morning I also went and personally met half a dozen important people – none of them politicians. We may have been naive but we were not so foolish as to be unaware of the sheer gravity of what we were doing. We were also not unaware of the entrenched and vested interests our story would end up hurting. I felt the need to make sure that nothing – no envy or doubt – muddied the story once it broke. I also felt the need to rally the good behind us.

But I have to confess that we were on tenterhooks till the screening actually began. About 300-odd people – among them retired generals, bureaucrats, mediapeople, and then as word spread, politicians – showed up for the screening, not quite sure what to expect. And then as the tapes began to roll, as the story of Operation West End began to seep into the public domain, the tension began to flow out of us. Now nothing could pre-empt us, nothing could trip up the story. For better or worse, it would soon cease to be our sole and onerous responsibility. Our duties were done; our work was over. The story was out there, and was now everyone’s duty and responsibility.

The naked and the dead: Storm-troopers at large; the road not taken

It didn’t quite turn out like that. True, the story did dominate the public domain, and ended up being claimed by everybody – politicians, public, media. But, sadly, it did not get quite as detached from us as we had imagined. At the press conference, after screening the investigation, we had made it clear that as far as we were concerned our role was over. We had followed a story, it had turned out to be a good story, we had broken it, and we were now out of it. The politics of it did not concern us. We also said we did not set out to get any politician, the story led us there: it led the reporters to Bangaru Laxman and Jaya Jaitly, characters who didn’t exist in our mindspace when the story began. We also said that we had nothing against the BJP or the Samata Party. We were sure had this investigation been carried out in any other regime – a Congress or Third Front government – according to us the chances were very high the results would have been the same. The problems we’d unearthed were endemic, and a wake-up call to everyone.

We repeated our independent stance ad nauseum over the next many weeks, but everyone had stopped listening. The Congress and other opposition parties were with predictable cynicism trying to extract any kind of mileage from it (and doing poorly as ever), but it was the BJP’s strangely cussed, almost immoral reaction that was the most disappointing. The party and the prime minister – a man many of us admire – felt no compulsion to display a moral core.

The moral high-ground of governance was abandoned to indulge in some inter-party bickering. Ill-conceived attempts were made to paint it as a ruling party versus opposition game. Precisely what it was not. First and last it was a story about corruption and decay. This was not like Bofors or dozens of other similar controversies. This was not one political party casting allegations at another. This was a purely journalistic story, with no trace of politics in it. There was also no web of confusing arguments and gray areas you had to steer yourself through. Operation West End was not about accusations. It was about evidence. People had heard it. And seen it.

And by any reckoning what had been seen and heard was distressing. The picture was so perverse it demanded a modicum of contrition: at one end of the frame very poor soldiers serving out the prime of their lives in the most inhospitable conditions for a few thousand rupees a month; and at the other, sleazy fatcats cutting dubious deals worth hundreds of crores in Delhi. To then deny it all, to try and oilily slither past a people waiting for some answers, was, in my opinion, a grave mistake. The naked must be honest: there is some grace, explanation and redemption in that.

In the long run, I don’t think the Tehelka expose will do the ruling party as much damage as will the party’s handling of the entire affair, its rather sad response to the tapes. The spectacle of a much-loved prime minister evading and then denying vivid proof of corruption was a deeply diminishing one. It was a wounding reminder that we must never expect too much of our leaders, a reminder once again that there is no higher conscience we can appeal to. In the pond of Indian politics and power, the conscience is an eel forever wriggling out of grasp.

Had the prime minister simply admitted that yes, something was gravely wrong. Yes, the guilty would be brought to book. Yes, they remained committed to weeding out corruption, it would have buoyed the national mood. Even if he had then gone on to do nothing. When we don’t get action, we at least still need words. When we get neither, we are left with nothing.

Catch 22: Half lessons from half- finished battles

Yet, unexpectedly, we may be left with something.

By the time we had finished with all our explanations (the detective in the dock, even as the thief posted queries)…

* motives?

none; it was a purely journalistic story

* affiliations?

none; not political, not business

* ownership?

owned and managed by media professionals

* funding?

venture capital

* methodology?

legitimate; time-tested; reporters and spycams

* ethics?

above board; did not pry into anyone’s private life; only exposed the abuse of public money and public office…

By the time we had finished with our explanations, the story had become much larger than anything we had done. We watched it acquire its own life with as much awe as anybody else. When I went to speak at JNU – in an electric atmosphere, where agitated, highly informed students were unwilling to listen to K.R. Malkani’s facile excuses – I said if the story was the size of the pencil I was holding, then the energies that had been sparked off were bigger than the JNU campus (it sprawls over park and ravine, to those who don’t know). We believe that. All we did was a story. The staggering goodwill we have received, the tsunami of reactions that have followed have constituted easily the most humbling experience of our lives. To be stopped on the road, in restaurants, airports and be thanked by unknown people is way more than any journalist expects for anything he does.

Making sense of this scale of response is difficult. I have applied the pop psychology that is every mass media person’s stock-in-trade. Is it that we, as a people, have become so desperately cynical that even a pinprick of light seems like a big ray of hope? Or is the outrage due to the fact that Operation West End holds up a mirror to ourselves, and the image of ourselves we see is really ugly? Or is it that personal and public degeneration have finally hit a critical mass and the ready to burst dam has felt the first jackhammer rattle its concrete?

More qualified people will make better sense of the phenomenon, but I have some sense of the residual impact of Operation West End. The most astonishing in my opinion is the fact that corruption has once again become an issue in India. For the last decade – since V.P. Singh fought the 1989 election on the Bofors issue – corruption has been a non-issue. It seemed as if we’d given up on it. But suddenly it is the one thing that is dominating private and public discourse. At least we see it once again – even if fleetingly – for the aberration it is.

The second perhaps important impact has a more incestuous air. The story will hopefully serve as a reminder to all of us of the continuing power of journalism. It is a reminder that good stories can make a difference, a lesson most of us had forgotten in the last ten years (including this writer who has occupied several senior editorial positions in this period). It’s a nice thought that if Indian journalism broke four major stories like this every year, people in public life would be forced to clean up their acts. In a way it is also a reminder that in a poor democracy like ours the press has a quintessentially scrappy, adversarial role that should never be diluted.

(Curiously, in the weeks following the story any number of white journalists who came to see me would ask why India never had any sexual scandals. For me the answer is simple: we are a very poor country, and in the hierarchy of scandals, the only really important scandals are the financial ones. Money misused, money siphoned off, money wasted – these are the things that hurt us. The sex scandal comes way down in the hierarchy. It means nothing, concerns no one, does not exist in the public domain. It is basically a first world indulgence, a means to group voyeurism and artificial excitement).

We, the media, tend to make oracles of anyone in the news. Fashion designers and beauty queens are asked to comment on everything, from food to politics, and they do, with grace and authority. So, my fellow-journalists inevitably deliver the coup de grace and ask me, what can be done? That the rot runs so deep, how can it be reversed?

I have no idea. Or at least no better than the next guy. I can only think of the same cliches. Claw back the credibility of the key institutions: the police, the judiciary, the media. In other words, don’t expect self-restraint to solve the problem, build in enough deterrence. Then the next cliche: start with yourself, and try and call a halt to corruptions at a personal level. I confess I do amuse myself sometimes with fanciful ideas: if in a hundred years of the last century we could go from being a feudal people to a colonial state to an independent democracy, can we not in the next fifty years go from degradation and corruption to some state of grace?

When we launched Tehelka last year we made some immodest claims. We said we wanted to rediscover the distinction between journalism, public relations, and entertainment. A distinction that had been blurred in the nineties by a combination of satellite television, colour pages in the newspapers, and the first giddiness of liberal consumerism. Also by the co-options of politics and business. By the end of the nineties, every senior journalist, every publication, could be identified with a political party or a business house. We said we too loved trivia, we too had friends among politicians and businessmen, but we believed that the core of journalism was a very serious one. It was built on the bedrock of uncomfortable questions, not comfortable alignments, nor pretty sentences or pretty pictures.

Since I in particular was a journalist of the early eighties, I made some loud claims about trying to bring back the hard journalism of the eighties. A decade when all the major issues of the day were centred in the public domain by print journalists. Not just centred, but scrapped and fought over. It has been a long, arduous and exhilarating year at Tehelka. There are things we’ve managed to pull off, and others that have just bested us. And then there have been things we could have never bargained for. Even as I write this the air is thick with rumours of plots to bump off some of us, and the television behind me informs me the Delhi police has just picked up six contract criminals commissioned to kill me. Bahal and Samuel inevitably live under as great a threat. The only way we deal with it is to not think about it.

We think about the stuff that is harder still: how to make both journalism and the business of journalism work? One we have some sense of, the other we are perilously discovering. The odds against a group of journalists like us are long. But we are determined to give it our all. Operation West End is over; Operation Hang-In-There is on.

…….There is nothing in our experience or imagination that can tell us how it will all finally unfold.

Posted by: Cyntra Ja'Nae | November 9, 2009

Lane DeGregory “The Girl in the Window”

Part One: The Feral Child

PLANT CITY — The family had lived in the rundown rental house for almost three years when someone first saw a child’s face in the window.

A little girl, pale, with dark eyes, lifted a dirty blanket above the broken glass and peered out, one neighbor remembered.

Everyone knew a woman lived in the house with her boyfriend and two adult sons. But they had never seen a child there, had never noticed anyone playing in the overgrown yard.

The girl looked young, 5 or 6, and thin. Too thin. Her cheeks seemed sunken; her eyes were lost.

Read the rest of the story here.

Posted by: Allee Bennett | November 9, 2009

C.J. Chivers: Reality Journalist

This article was taken from the New York Times and can be found at:


Erratic Afghan Forces Post Challenge to U.S. Goals

By: C.J. Chivers

New York Times


The Afghan foot patrol descended a mountain and slipped through a canyon. Then things went wrong. One Afghan soldier insulted another. And there, exposed on dangerous ground, a scuffle erupted.


The soldiers turned on each other with shoves, punches and kicks. One swung an ammunition can in a slow-motion haymaker. The patrol had already been hapless: a display of errant marksmanship, dud ammunition and lackluster technique.


“For months I’ve been telling everyone how proud I am of you,” seethed an American captain, yanking the Afghans apart. “Today you embarrassed me.”


The Obama administration has put a priority on expanding the size and abilities of Afghanistan’s security forces, first to help fight an expanding war and eventually to allow the Pentagon to draw down its troops. The task was inherited from the Bush administration, and the United States has helped to field roughly 170,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers in units created from scratch. In plans now under review, these numbers could double.


Many Afghan units, especially in the army, have shown signs of competence at basic missions and skills. But this joint patrol late last year in Nuristan Province, and dozens of others from 2007 to this spring, along with interviews with trainers and the senior officers who supervise them, showed problems on the Afghan and American sides alike.


American training units have been short-staffed and overstretched. Essential equipment has at times proved to be in poor condition or mismatched. Accountability for weapons and munitions has been broadly criticized.


Among the Afghans, mass illiteracy, equipment loss, crime and corruption, which is prevalent in the police, have blunted readiness. Immaturity and ill discipline bedevil many units. Illicit drug use persists, and some American officers worry about loyalty and intelligence leaks.


The Americans started rebuilding Afghanistan even before a similar effort in Iraq, where the Pentagon badly underestimated the difficulties — and initially overstated its success. Iraqi forces now operate broadly in their country.


American trainers in Afghanistan attend courses taught by veterans of the Iraq experience, and the lessons learned from Iraq are distilled into plans for Afghanistan, the training command says.


Those plans are ambitious. In Afghanistan, the Pentagon wants to make Afghanistan’s military able to direct artillery and airstrikes, and to develop an air corps with attack aircraft. And Western trainers are emphasizing supervisory skills required for a professional force: personnel and payroll management, logistics and maintenance.


Simultaneously, the Afghan government plans to require police officers to undergo drug testing and senior police officials to disclose personal assets. The United States is also entering Afghan soldiers and officers into a biometrics database, to verify identities and scrub payrolls of members who do not exist.


“We’re making a lot of progress,” said Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica, who leads the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, the unit coordinating the training.

The United States has spent more than $15 billion fielding Afghan forces, by the command’s tally. Officers throughout the ranks say Afghan security self-sufficiency is years off, even in the Afghan National Army, or A.N.A.


“I think if you come back in a couple of years, you should see advances,” said Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the command’s deputy commander. “I wouldn’t tell you that the A.N.A. is going to be ready across the board in a couple of years. I don’t think that’s a true statement.”


Rebooting the Police

American officers training the Afghan forces describe two different views. By one view, the security forces, especially the army, represent one of the most promising institutions the Afghan government has yet offered: a large group of men who rejected the Taliban and staked their lives on the faith that the government would prevail.


Seasoned by fighting and shaped by Western trainers, a corps of Afghan officers and noncommissioned officers has begun to emerge. The units they lead have allowed the Afghan government to provide security in Kabul and extend the government’s presence to areas once beyond reach.


The forces’ casualty figures point to the loyalty and resolve of many Afghans in uniform. Nearly 1,700 police officers and 600 Afghan soldiers were killed on duty from January 2007 through April. Western forces suffered 586 deaths in that time.


By another view, the same forces, though most pointedly the police, are minimally skilled, unreliable, prone to crime and little match for an insurgency that has grown since 2006. Problems are widespread enough that many Western soldiers openly regard the Afghan police with suspicion.


In interviews over three years, American soldiers have complained that police officers and supervisors sell promotions and equipment, skim subordinates’ wages, shake down villagers, take bribes or participate in other schemes, including the opium trade.


Journalists for The New York Times have seen officers accused of selling fuel for their American-provided trucks, and of burglarizing a home they had been ordered to search. Officers at one southern post in 2007 were cultivating poppy plants inside their post’s walls.


Maj. Vincent G. Heintz, who supervised a police mentoring team last year, said that the district where he worked, Chahar Darreh in Kunduz Province, cycled through several Afghan commanders during the year, including one who was “wholly incompetent” but apparently politically connected.


The next commander, Major Heintz said, was “a professional criminal who brokered a détente with the local Taliban” and who showed up with 10 or 15 of his own bodyguards, fired the police and put his gang into police uniforms. They then set up roadblocks and shook down motorists, he said.


Afghan units have also not eradicated the presence of “chai” boys, who often are uncompensated teenagers who live closely with commanders. Afghans and American officers say some are apprentices, others valets, and some suffer sexual abuse, which a few commanders regard as a perquisite of power.


The training command said that if abuse of these teenagers was reported, it would be acted on. “It is totally unacceptable,” General Ierardi said, but added that he had not seen reports of it from the field.


American officers acknowledge that corruption has hampered efforts to make a viable police force, which now has about 82,000 members. They also say corruption should not define all the officers serving, and that burnishing the force’s skills and reputation is a focus.


Last fall, President Hamid Karzai appointed a new interior minister, Muhammad Hanif Atmar, a former education minister. Mr. Atmar, educated in Britain and largely viewed as uncorrupt, has pushed for changes that could foster credibility, including requiring senior officials to disclose private assets and testing the A.N.P, or Afghan National Police, for drugs.


Officers testing positive can be fired, said Brig. Gen. Anne Macdonald, who supervises police development.


The United States is also retraining uniformed police units in a process called Focused District Development. Under this program, police units in districts are mentored intensely through phases, including being replaced by an interim unit for several weeks while they undergo refresher training and have their equipment inventoried, examined and, as necessary, replaced.


The program implicitly acknowledges problems. General Ierardi said it was essential because it provided a chance to “refresh the screen.” To date, 65 of the country’s 365 districts and 12 companies have enrolled in the program. The Pentagon plans to expand the training.


The program has shown merits, officers said. Major Heintz, for instance, said that in his

duties under the program, following up on the police in Chahar Darreh, he was able to get the crooked commander relieved less than a month after he showed up. The new commander “has done a good job with the force,” he said.

Improving the Army

The situation is different in the army, for which the American effort is trying to build momentum, General Formica said. The Afghan Army has nearly 90,000 soldiers and is slated to grow to 134,000.


In units on the ground, some previous initiatives have shown results.


On patrols observed by The Times this year, many Afghan soldiers wore their equipment, remained alert, walked with weapons ready and moved by bounds across dangerous ground. These are not difficult tasks, but on patrols in past years Afghans often neglected them.


Sgt. Maj. Arthur L. Coleman Jr., the senior American enlisted soldier in the training command, said improved fundamentals reflected a significant development: the army has grown experienced sergeants, who enhance performance.


“We’re really starting to see discipline,” he said. “You’re starting to see accountability.” He added: “That’s going to pay big dividends down the road as we mature.”


Other indicators also suggest that military discipline, while behind Western standards, is improving. The army’s percentage of soldiers absent without leave has dropped to under 10 percent for more than a year, the command said. Not long ago, it exceeded 15 percent.

This year, an inaugural class of 84 lieutenants graduated from the National Military Academy of Afghanistan, a four-year school modeled after West Point. Next year the academy is scheduled to produce about 300 more lieutenants. The Pentagon hopes to build a more able military around these and other new officers and sergeants.


Enlisted soldiers with specialties are also appearing in the field. Of a squad of Afghan soldiers recently assigned in the Korangal Valley, for example, one had been trained as a trauma medic. The training command said 3,500 such medics had completed an eight-week course.


But poor officers remain. During an insurgent mortar attack late last year, an Afghan lieutenant did not require his soldiers to take cover or put on their protective gear. Instead, he proposed holding a formation in the open to ask which soldiers were collaborating with the Taliban.


Two American Marines present directed the lieutenant to order his soldiers to safety. Minutes later, an incoming round exploded yards from where the soldiers were to stand.

In a recent attack on Korangal Outpost, an Afghan captain ignored his duties. Incoming 30-millimeter rounds landed among his men. He spent the fight in a latrine, while Marines checked for injured Afghans and directed the return fire.


Problems Beyond the Ranks

The Pentagon’s plans have been undercut at times by the American military’s own management, or by larger trends in Afghanistan’s educational and economic development.


Over the years, as American units have cycled through, they have often been forced to repeat the work of previous units.


Several years ago, for example, the Americans distributed 8,000 donated Czech assault rifles to Afghan units. The weapons fired the same ammunition as existing Afghan rifles, but were otherwise incompatible. The weapons had to be recalled last year, even as the military was trying to rush other weapons to the field.


Other equipment has disappeared in vast quantities, trainers in the field said, including sleeping bags and warm clothing required to operate much of the year, especially at night. The shortages were so acute in 2007 that units in the 82nd Airborne Division canceled overnight missions because Afghan soldiers could not participate.


A year later, the same shortages limited the work of Afghans in Nuristan Province.

One American officer said Afghan soldiers had been issued the gear, often two or three times. They had either sold it or given it to their families, he said.


This year, the American military said it issued storage containers to the army, and cold-weather gear had been locked up. It will be reissued in the fall, the military said.

Events on the patrol that became an intraplatoon brawl also underlined concerns about ammunition. Much of the Afghan government’s ammunition is old surplus donated by nations trimming arsenals or sold to the Pentagon by low-bidding contractors. For years, little was independently tested for reliability.


In Nuristan, the captain tried firing five rounds of 40-millimeter high-explosive ammunition at a cave. All five failed: three skipped off the cave’s face without exploding; two did not leave the barrel. The captain, Markus Trouerbach, was disgusted.


“Dud!” he said. “Nice dud. Great.”


Later, he said that of 20 rounds fired during an exercise, 9 worked. An Afghan sergeant said he fired seven rounds at insurgents. Two did not explode.


The training command held its own test. Of 720 40-millimeter rounds fired, 22 did not work properly, according to two American officers; the command said it heard no other complaints.


The failure rate, 3 percent, was much less alarming than the troops’ experiences in Nuristan. But it exceeded by many times the acceptable failure rate of similar ammunition issued to American troops.


In interviews, three arms dealers and a manufacturer said the Pentagon paid less for the 40-millimeter ammunition than the ammunition typically costs to produce. They said Arcus, the Bulgarian firm manufacturer, provided substandard ammunition. (The vendors asked not to be identified out of fear of being blocked by the Pentagon from future bids.)


Arcus said the rounds had been made to exacting standards and passed company tests. Neither the Pentagon nor Arcus would discuss the ammunition deal in detail, including how the prices were arrived at, saying the information was proprietary.

Posted by: camilledemere | November 9, 2009

Seymour Hersh – Uncovering Army Coverups

Taken from

Ex-GI Tells of Killing Civilians at Pinkville
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 25, 1969

TERRE HAUTE, Ind., Nov. 25—A former GI told in interviews yesterday how he executed, under orders, dozens of South Vietnamese civilians during the United States Army attack on the village of Song My in March 1968. He estimated that he and his fellow soldiers Shot 370 villagers during the operation in what has become known as Pinkville.

Paul Meadlo, 22 years old, West Terre Haute, Ind., a farm community near the Illinois border, gave an eyewitness account—the first made available thus far—of what happened when a platoon led by Lt. William L. Calley Jr. entered Pinkville on a search-and-destroy mission. The Army has acknowledged that at least 100 civilians were killed by the men; Vietnamese survivors had told reporters that the death total was 567.

Meadlo, Who was wounded in a mine accident the day after Pinkville, disclosed that the company captain, Ernest Medina, was in the area at the time of the shootings and made no attempt to stop them.

Calley, 26, Waynesville, N .C., has been accused of the pre- meditated murder of 109 civilians in the incident. Medina, as commander of the Eleventh Infantry Brigade unit, is under investigation for his role in the shootings. Last week the Army said that at least 24 other men were under investigation, including Calley’s chief noncommissioned officer, Sgt. David Mitchell, 29, St. Francisville, La., who is being investigated for assault with intent to commit murder. Calley was ordered yesterday to stand general court-martial.

Here is Meadlo’s story as given in interviews at his mother’s home near Terre Haute:

“There was supposed to have been some Viet Cong in Pinkville and we began to make a sweep through it. Once we got there we began gathering up the people…started putting them in big mobs. There must have been about 40 or 45 civilians standing in one big circle in the middle of the village … Calley told me and a couple of other guys to watch them.

“ ‘You know what I want you to do with them’ he said,” Meadlo related. He and the others continued to guard the group. “About 10 minutes later Calley came back. ‘Get with it,’ he said. ‘I want them dead.’

“So we stood about 10 or 15 feet away from them, then he (Calley) started shooting them. Then he told me to start shooting them. … I started to shoot them, but the other guys (who had been assigned to guard the civilians) wouldn’t do it.

“So we (Meadlo and Cilley) went ahead and killed them. I used more than a whole clip—actually I used four or five clips,” Meadlo said. (There are 17 M-16 shells in a clip.) He estimated that he killed at least 15 civilians-or nearly half of those in the circle.

Asked what he thought at the time, Meadlo said, “I just thought we were supposed to do it.” Later, he said that the shooting “did take a load off my conscience for the buddies we’d lost. It was just revenge, that’s all it was.”

The company had been in the field for 40 days without relief before the Pinkville incident on March 16, and had lost a number of men in mine accidents. Hostility to the Vietnamese was high in the company, Meadlo said.

The killings continued.

“We had about seven or eight civilians gathered in a hootch, and I was going to throw a hand grenade in. But someone told us to take them to the ditch (a drainage ditch in the village into which many civilians were herded-and shot).

“Calley was there and said to me, ‘Meadlo, we’ve got an- other job to do.’ So we pushed our seven to eight people in with the big bunch of them. And so I began shooting them ill. So did Mitchell, Cilley …(At this point Meadlo could not remember any more men involved).I guess I shot maybe 25 or 20 people in the ditch.”

His role in the killings had not yet ended.

“After the ditch, there were just some people in hootches. I knew there were some people down in one hootch, maybe two or three, so 1 just threw a hand grenade in.”

Meadlo is a tall, clean-cut son of an Indiana coal mine worker. He married his high-school sweetheart in suburban Terre Haute, began rearing a family (he has two children) and was drafted. He had been in Vietnam four months at the time of Pinkville. On the next day, March 17, his foot was blown off, when, while following Cilley on an operation, a land mine was set off.

As Meadlo was waiting to be evacuated, other men in the company had reported that he told Calley that “this was his (Meadlo’s) punishment for what he had done the day before.” He warned, according to onlookers, that Calley would have his day of judgment too. Asked about this, Meadlo said he could not remember.

Meadlo is back at a factory job now in Terre Haute, fighting to keep a full disability payment from the Veterans’ Administration The loss of his right foot seems to bother him less than the loss of his self-respect.

Like other members of his company, he had been called just days before the interview by an officer at Fort Benning, Ga., where Calley is being held, and advised that he should not discuss the case with reporters But, like other members of his company, he seemed eager to talk.

“This has made him awful nervous,” explained his mother, Mrs. Myrtle Meadlo, 57, New Goshen, Ind. “He seems like he just can’t get over it.

“I sent them a good boy and they made him a murderer.”

Why did he do it?

“We all were under orders,” Meadlo said “We all thought we were doing the right thing. At the time it didn’t bother me.”

He began having serious doubts that night about what he had done at Pinkville. He says he still has them.

“The kids and the women—they didn’t have any right to die.

“In the beginning,” Meadlo said, “I just “thought we were going to be murdering the Viet Cong.” He, like other members of his company, had attended a squad meeting the night before, at which time Company Commander Medina promised the boys a good firefight.

Calley and his platoon were assigned the key role of entering the Pinkvi1le area first.

“When we came in we thought we were getting fired on,” Meadlo said, although the company suffered no casualties, apparently because the Viet Cong had fled from the area during the night.

“We came in from this open field, and somebody spotted this one gook out there. He was down in a shelter, scared and huddling. Someone said, ‘There’s a gook over here,’ and asked what to do with him. Mitchell said, ‘Shoot him,’ and he did. The gook was standing up and shaking and waving his arms when he got it.

“Then we came onto this hootch, and one door was hard to open.”

Meadlo said he crashed through the door and “found an old man in there shaking.

“I told them, ‘I got one,’ and it was Mitchell who told me to shoot him. That was the first man I shot. He was hiding in a dugout, shaking his head and waving his arms, trying to tell me not to shoot him.”

After the carnage, Meadlo said, “I heard that all we were supposed to do was kill the VC. Mitchell said we were just supposed to shoot the men.”

Women and children also were shot. Meadlo estimated that at least 310 persons were shot to death by the Americans that day.

“I know it was far more than 100 as the U.S. Army now says. I’m absolutely sure of that. There were bodies all around.”

He has some haunting memories, he says. “They didn’t put up a fight or anything. The women huddled against their children and took it. They brought their kids real close to their stomachs and hugged them, and put their bodies over them trying to save them. It didn’t do much good,” Meadlo said

Two things puzzled him. He vigorously disputes the repeated reports of an artillery barrage before the village was approached.

“There wasn’t any artillery barrage whatsoever in the village. Only some gunships firing from above,” he said.

The South Vietnamese government said Saturday that 20 civilians were killed in the Pinkville attack, most of them victims of tactical air strikes or an artillery barrage laid down before the U.S. troops moved in. The government denied reports of a massacre.

Meadlo is curious also about the role of Capt. Medina in the incident.

“I don’t know if the C.O. (Company Commander) gave the order to kill or not, but he was right there when it happened. Why didn’t he stop it? He and Calley passed each other quite a few times that morning, but didn’t say anything. Medina just kept marching around. He could’ve put a stop to it anytime he wanted.”

The whole operation took about 30 minutes, Meadlo said. As for Calley, Meadlo told of an incident a few weeks before Pinkville.

“We saw this woman walking across this rice paddy and Calley said, ‘Shoot her,’ so we did. When we got there the girl was alive, had this hole in her side. Calley tried to get someone to shoot her again; I don’t know if he did.”

In addition, Calley and Medina had told the men before Pinkville, Meadlo said, “that if we ever shoot any civilians, we should go ahead and plant a hand grenade on them.”

Meadlo is not sure, but he thinks the feel of death came quickly to the company once it got to Vietnam.

“We were cautious at first, but as soon as the first man was killed, a new feeling came through the company…almost as if we all knew there was going to be a lot more killing.”

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