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Mary Bell

Akron Beacon Scoops a Lie

(February 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 6, 8 February 1943, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

This is the story of the evolution of a lie.

On Thursday, January 21, the Akron Beacon Journal published a story under the head Ship ‘Strike’ Ires Guadalcanal Fighters, signed by its most florid writer of sensational stories, Helen Waterhouse.

“Six battle-scarred veterans” (anonymous) reported that the crew of a merchant ship refused to unload supplies on Sunday and that wounded soldiers who had lived on a rice diet were forced to unload their own supplies. “Confirmation has come from a high official source in Washington, who though he witnessed these conditions during his service in Guadalcanal, must necessarily remain anonymous.”

All that was missing were the facts – who, where, when, why, how. Shades of journalistic ethics! On such a foundation was built up what the New York newspaper PM correctly called “the most vicious of all the labor lies used to stampede Congress and the country into repressive labor legislation.”

The small-town Akron Beacon Journal, elated at its “scoop” of the nation, reported in its next issue that the story was “widely copied in the American press.” It was printed as fact by the McCormick-Patterson press and echoed by their spokesmen in Congress. The Chicago Tribune quoted congressmen who said crewmen of the merchant ship stood on the decks jeering and chanting at sick and wounded marines working in the tropical sun. They were supposed to have taunted, according to this paper: “Oh. you fifty bucks a month suckers!”

The truth came later in the Navy’s announcement:

“Admiral William F. Halsey, Jr., commander of U.S. forces in the South Pacific, informed the Navy Department today that in no instance have merchant seamen refused to discharge cargo from their vessels at Guadalcanal or in any other way failed to cooperate with U.S. forces ashore in that area.”

Marshall E. Dimock, in charge of Merchant Marine recruiting for the Maritime Commission, said there was “no case on record” anywhere in which merchant seamen refused to man the winches on Sunday or any other day.

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Last updated: 13 February 2015