REPORTER APPROACHED KERREY STORY CAUTIOUSLY

By: Joe Nicholson

Vistica Finds Follow-up Coverage Lacking


The New York Times freelancer who broke the story about
former Sen. Bob Kerrey’s tragic massacre says the story made him
“very skeptical” at first.

In an interview with E&P Online, writer Gregory L. Vistica said
he wrote a standard profile of the potential presidential
candidate when a former U.S. Navy captain tipped him off about
the massacre.

“The idea that something like this could have happened – I
wouldn’t say I was doubtful. I was skeptical,” said Vistica, who
was a national security correspondent with Newsweek
magazine when he heard the story in late 1997. “But obviously it
had enough of a grain of truth in it that I began to look into it
in great detail.”

Vistica, 46, who previously worked as a national security
correspondent for The San Diego Union-Tribune, said the
former Navy captain had heard about the story from Gerhard Klann,
a former member of Kerrey’s squad during the Vietnam War.

Kerrey has insisted the killings were a tragic mistake, but Klann
has maintained that the squad “knowingly killed the civilians on
Mr. Kerrey’s orders because they felt they could not otherwise
safely retreat from [a] village.”

Vistica defended Klann’s credibility, saying, “If I didn’t think
he had credibility, he wouldn’t be in the [New York Times]
newspaper and on TV.” He referred to a TV version of the story
scheduled to appear Tuesday, May 1, on “60 Minutes II,” a CBS
News program. Vistica worked simultaneously on both the newspaper
and TV versions of the story.

Vistica said he has received “a bunch” of supportive e-mails from
friends and acquaintances as well as calls from people suggesting
he expand his New York Times Magazine story into a book.
Vistica is the author of “Fall From Glory,” a 1995 Simon and
Schuster book about the Navy’s Tailhook scandal, which involved
sexual harassment and assaults on female officers.

Asked about Kerrey’s decision to do a flurry of newspaper and
broadcast interviews in the days before Vistica’s magazine
article appeared, the writer said, “I don’t want to comment on
what his motives were. I think they were fairly obvious.”

Others have suggested Kerrey wanted to get his spin out before
the Vistica article appeared. The Times responded by
posting the magazine article on its Web site last Wednesday.

Vistica did point out that Kerrey has avoided talking in
interviews about the first killings the night of the massacre and
talked instead about subsequent killings that appear to be more
defensible. “Kerrey is focusing on that aspect because there is
some gray area there, but the press isn’t asking him about the
first killings,” said Vistica.

Still, Vistica praised Kerrey for granting him three lengthy
interviews and for making no attempt to stop him from publishing
the story. “He was not jumping for joy, but he didn’t try to
discourage me,” said Vistica, who said none of the information in
his stories was provided by political opponents who might have
wanted to hinder Kerrey’s chances for winning the Democratic
presidential nomination.

Vistica declined comment on Newsweek magazine’s decision
to spike his Kerrey story before he took it to the Times.
Asked whether he believed most newspapers, like the Times,
would have published the controversial story, Vistica said, “I
don’t know. That’s a good question. I would like to think they
would.”



Joe Nicholson (jnicholson@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor covering marketing and advertising for E&P.



Related story:
NEW YORK TIMES WIELDS WEB FOR SCOOP (04/26/01)



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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