For nearly 20 years I served as a reporter and editor at daily newspapers in major markets around the country. As a reporter I’ve covered every imaginable story from mass murders to political races. As the top editor of several daily newspapers, I’ve supervised hundreds of other journalists — some of them good, some of them bad.
In all my years in the establishment press, I can’t think of a single instance in which a colleague questioned the soundness of my news judgment. Therefore, I’ve got to wonder: Have I suddenly lost my touch? Or have my colleagues in the major media lost their nerve?
I refer to the lack of coverage of one of the most sensational stories of our time — the apparent bullet hole found in Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s skull.
So far, two highly credible military forensic pathologists involved in the investigation of Brown’s plane crash death last year have come forward, on the record, to state their conviction that there is an unexplained, circular wound, characteristic of a gunshot, in Brown’s head. Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Cogswell and Army Lt. Col. David Hause both agree that Brown should have been autopsied. Remarkably, he was not.
Today, after examining the photographic and x-ray evidence, one of the nation’s most prominent forensic pathologists sticks his neck out to agree with their findings. Dr. Cyril Wecht of Pittsburgh said there was “more than enough” evidence to suggest possible homicide in Brown’s death to warrant an autopsy.
“It’s not even arguable in the field of medical legal investigations whether an autopsy should have been conducted on Brown,” said Wecht, who has conducted some 13,000 autopsies himself and reviewed approximately 30,000 others. “I’ll wager you can’t find a forensic pathologist in America who will say Brown should not have been autopsied.”
In this case, you can forget political motivations being behind Wecht’s outspokenness. He is a prominent Democrat.
Meanwhile, as the experts line up behind the unexplained bullet hole theory, the original explanation of Brown’s death is growing more suspect. Air Force Col. William Gormley, the pathologist who signed off on the Brown case for the government, has changed his story. After being confronted with the photographs on a television show, he now renounces earlier statements suggesting the hole didn’t penetrate the skull. Brain matter is clearly visible in the photographs — which, strangely, had been lost by the government. About the missing x-rays and photos, Wecht joins the suspicious among us.
“The frequency of lost x-rays, hospital records, documents, autopsy materials and other materials in a medical-legal investigation is directly in proportion to the complexity, controversy and external challenges,” he says. He says such losses are “very, very rare” in normal cases.
There appears to be nothing normal about the Brown case — which, you would think, would add to its newsworthiness. Uh-uh. Not only has the story been largely ignored by the big papers, some of the nation’s leading reporters have begun dismissing the reports without ever looking at the evidence.
Howard Kurtz, the media critic of the Washington Post, cited the Brown story as one more reason to dismiss prize-winning investigative reporter Christopher Ruddy’s earlier reporting on the death of Vincent Foster. Is that journalism? Or is that faith?
I wouldn’t have believed my colleagues could be this myopic, this closed-minded, this trusting of authority if I hadn’t seen it happen over and over and over again in recent years. For certain stories, no amount of evidence can persuade journalists to question official government findings. Worse yet, any renegade reporters who do had better be prepared for an inquisition, ridicule and ostracism.
Frankly, I consider it to be a badge of honor to be rejected by a profession that has lost its moral foundation, its curiosity, in fact, its whole sense of purpose.
No, it’s not me that has lost my news judgment. I got into this business inspired by the press’ role in uncovering the Watergate scandal. Back then, reporters and editors had no problem questioning government handouts. What’s changed since then? The party in the White House? Is that all it takes?
If the press doesn’t get on the ball soon, my dear colleagues are going to owe Richard Nixon a profound and posthumous apology.