William Broad, science journalist and senior reporter for the New York Times, featured two oral history interviews from the Oral History Archives at Columbia’s collections in his reporting on how two journalists — one Black and informing Black communities and the other white and working for a newspaper of record — reported on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The titles alone are revealing:
The Black Reporter Who Exposed a Lie About the Atom Bomb
How a Star Times Reporter Got Paid by Government Agencies He Covered
Broad used parts of a 1971 oral history with Charles H. Loeb, a WWII war correspondent deployed to the Philippines and Japan whose articles were shared across a network of Black newspapers nationwide, to do some institutional reflection on how and why Loeb’s reporting, “while coolly analytic, cast light on a major wartime cover up.”
That cover up was the role William L. Laurence (aka “Atomic Bill”) and the New York Times played in willingly misinforming the U.S. reading public about the horrific toll of nuclear weapons, atomic energy, and the use of the atom bomb as a weapon of war. Broad consulted a 1964 interview with Laurence to provide some context as to why a reporter might be do deeply implicated in exchanging press access for money, power, and status.
Both articles are a fascinating look into the role of race, ego, institutional hubris, and journalistic ethics. And we’re, of course, most interested in how reporters today use oral histories at primary source materials to unearth new truths about our collective past.