By: Joe Nicholson

Journal Story Prompts Times To Post Kerrey Story Online

The New York Times Wednesday wielded its Web site as a weapon in an old-fashioned newspaper street brawl over a scoop.

When The Wall Street Journal published a piece Wednesday on a cover story to appear in this Sunday’s issue of The New York Times Magazine, the Times turned to the Web to avoid a complete loss of its scoop. The Journal teased their Wednesday story on Page 1.

Both papers reported that former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., a possible presidential candidate in 2004 and a decorated Vietnam War veteran who was a Navy SEAL, had admitted a tragic mistake that led to a massacre of at least 13 unarmed Vietnamese women and children.

The Journal described its interview with Kerrey and quoted the Medal of Honor winner saying, “I’m tired of people describing me as a hero and holding this inside.”

When the Journal story appeared, Times editors resolved to post the magazine’s story on the Web. The full version was available on The New York Times on the Web at 5 p.m.

“We decided it pretty quickly,” Times Managing Editor Bill Keller told E&P Online. After Kerrey talked publicly about the story, Keller said, “It seemed silly not to let people know what he was talking about.”

In addition to his interview with the Journal, Kerrey described the tragedy during a recent speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., and in an interview with the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, which also published a story Wednesday.

Kerrey’s decision to speak before the Times’ Sunday magazine appeared helped focus attention on his version of the Vietnam massacre story. According to the Times, Gerhard Klann, one of members of the squad under Kerrey’s command, said the squad “knowingly killed the civilians on Mr. Kerrey’s orders because they felt they could not otherwise safely retreat from [a] village.” Kerrey contradicted that account, saying he ordered his men to return fire in the Mekong Delta hamlet of Thanh Phong on Feb. 25, 1969, after they were fired on.

The Times magazine story was written by free-lance writer Gregory L. Vistica, who simultaneously worked on a TV version of the story, which is scheduled to appear May 1 on “60 Minutes II,” a CBS News program.

Joe Nicholson ( is an associate editor covering marketing and advertising for E&P.

Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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