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NY Times Suppressed Pacific Nukes Information

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Pacific Islands Report, 25 January 2002


By Craig DeSilva
Assistant Editor

HONOLULU, Hawai'i (January 25, 2002 -Pacific Islands Report/Pacific Media Watch): The New York Times, celebrating its 150th anniversary, is considered a bastion of excellence in the world of journalism. But a University of Hawai'i professor has written a dissertation criticizing the newspaper's coverage of the United State's nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific before and during the Cold War era, says Pacific Islands Report.

Beverly Keever, an associate professor of journalism at UH-Manoa, said The New York Times failed to challenge U.S. government policy that deliberately suppressed information to its readers about the number and yield of the tests.

According to Keever's research, the newspaper only reported 56 percent of the 86 tests that the United States conducted in the Pacific between 1946 and 1962. Keever said that despite having an award-winning science writer on staff, the Times did little to explain the tests' long-term health and environmental effects. She said the articles on the topic that the Times did publish "lacked depth and analysis and were often small and buried within the paper."

"The Times suppressed the coverage of the 24,000-year half life by not explaining that the plutonium was deadly if it got inside your body and that it was going to be around for half a million years before all the radioactivity dissipated," she said in an interview with the Pacific Islands Report.

Keever's research also revealed that only one out of 128 articles about plutonium published and indexed in the NYT through 1962 mentioned the radioactive half-life of deadly key man-made elements used in the nuclear weapons tested in the Pacific.

Most articles regarding the evacuation of Pacific Islanders were taken directly from military or United Nations press releases and told from the government's point of view. "Many of these stories said how well the Pacific Islanders were doing when in fact they were living in horrible conditions," she said.

In 1958, when banning nuclear tests was the center of national and international controversy and the U.S. government was downplaying its experiments in the Pacific, the Times published only nine articles totaling roughly 36 inches of type about the 32 tests at Bikini and Enewetak in Operation Hardtack I.

Not until decades later, in an obscure official report, did the U.S. government reveal that the yield of those 32 tests totaled 28,026 kilotons - or the equivalent of 1,868 Hiroshima-size bombs. Thus, the nine Times articles totaling about 36 inches of type had devoted about one inch of type to report on what was later revealed as the equivalent of 51 Hiroshima-size bombs.

"A lot of people were very aware of the Pacific because it is where a lot of battles were fought (during World War II)," Keever said. "But the fact is the government didn't announce all of the tests and the yields of the tests. So there was no way people could know how powerful and destructive these tests were."

Keever's 250-page dissertation also comes at a time when the NYT is coming under fire for its inadequate coverage on the Holocaust during World War II. She said the Times should be held accountable for not closely reporting on the Pacific nuclear tests.

"I think it was part of the closeness to the U.S. government, just towing the government line. Also, there was a feeling from scientists quoted who said they didn't want to scare the (public) out of their boots. If they wrote too much derogatory or alarming information, people would demand the tests stop," she said.

Keever's findings shed more light onto the issue of giving redress to Pacific Islanders who were evacuated from their home by the U.S. military. The Nuclear Claims Tribunal in Majuro ruled that the Enewetaks should be compensated $341 million in reparations for the cleanup of their island and the hardships they experienced at nearby Ujelang, a small island with few resources and infrastructure. Honolulu attorney Davor Pevec is lobbying the U.S. Congress for the money to compensate the Enewetaks.

Keever went to New York last summer to conduct research in the Times archives. She had earlier attempted to speak to reporters or editors who were working for the NYT during the period of the Pacific nuclear tests. However, she was told that many of them are dead or are difficult to locate.

Keever became interested in the subject after co-editing a book on how the mainstream media covered the major ethnic and racial groups in the U.S. She also wrote a literary review on media coverage of the Pacific.

She has incorporated the U.S. nuclear testing issue into University of Hawai'i classes and seminars.

"We need to educate the young people," she said. "The media need to be shamed to the fact that they didn't do a good job. You can't just blame the government. The press have a role and they failed to challenge the government's policy of secrecy and deception."



PACIFIC MEDIA WATCH is an independent, non-profit, non-government organisation comprising journalists, lawyers, editors and other media workers, dedicated to examining issues of ethics, accountability, censorship, media freedom and media ownership in the Pacific region. Launched in October 1996, it has links with the Journalism Program at the University of the South Pacific, Bushfire Media, the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism, and Pactok Communications, in Sydney and Port Moresby.

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