By: M.L. Stein
EILEEN WELSOME, AN Albuquer-
que Tribune reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize, Polk Award and Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting for her series on the U.S. government’s “plutonium experiment” with human beings, called on journalists to keep the story alive.
“As reporters, we have to be more vigilant than ever to make sure that the unfolding of this dark chapter in Cold War history doesn’t stop if and when Congress passes a compensation bill for victims,” she said as she received the $25,000 Selden Ring Award in a recent Los Angeles ceremony.
She won the awards for disclosing how the government used U.S. citizens as human guinea pigs with deadly radiation injections. She used the Freedom of Information Act to follow a 50-year-old paper trail, locating families of five of the subjects and telling their stories.
“The plutonium experiment was one of the longest-running cover-ups in medical history, a project that survived its original architects and was carried forward by a second generation of scientists,” Welsome said.
She noted that the experiments began in the 1950s, were “quietly revived” during the ’60s and “its subjects secretly tracked into the ’80s.”
Since Welsome’s series was published, the Tribune and other media have identified several of the people selected for the experiments. Their records did not give their names, merely code names.
Also, following her stories, other news media have written hundreds of stories about other Americans used in human radiation tests.
“Many now believe that the history of the Atomic Age and how scientists at our nation’s most prestigious universities disseminated information about radiation and its dangers is the story of a cover-up,” Welsome said.
She predicted that the story will continue to be the subject of newspaper and magazine articles and will affect how future histories of the Cold War are written.