The Face-Off: Bob Bateman Vs. the Associated Press

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HISTORY, NEWS & POLITICS

HNN, 9-09-04

The Face-Off: Bob Bateman Vs. the Associated Press

By Bonnie Goodman

Ms. Goodman is a graduate student at Concordia University and an HNN intern.

On Saturday, August 28, 2004, C-Span 2 Book TV presented a “Debate Over No Gun Ri” with AP Journalist Charles Hanley and historian Robert Bateman. Charles Hanley is the co-author of The Bridge at No Gun Ri: A Hidden Nightmare from the Korean War, and Robert L. Bateman is the author of No Gun Ri: A Military History of the Korean War Incident. The debate was moderated by freelance broadcast journalist, John Callaway, and held at the Pritzker Military Library in Chicago on July 20, 2004. In 1999, the Associated Press won the Pulitzer Prize for their investigative report on the massacre at No Gun Ri, which occurred in July 1950, the first year of the Korean War. Critics then charged that the AP journalists’ evidence was weak. One of those who doubted the AP account was historian Robert Bateman, who then published his own historically researched book on the topic.

The ensuing controversy should have resulted in a bitter debate between Hanley and Bateman, but their debate was rather tame in comparison to the moderator’s attacks on Bateman. Callaway showed a very noticeable bias against Bateman that was visible in the tone of his voice as well as the type of questions he asked Bateman. Callaway’s questions to Bateman resembled more a man on trial for the crimes at No Gun Ri rather than a debate about them. The attacks seem to focus on the fact that Bateman was using historical methods and documents in writing his book on No Gun Ri, and did not use journalistic methods, such as having gone to South Korea and interviewed the people involved as Hanley and the other AP journalists did to write their book.

There were distinct moments within the debate that Callaway seemed to try to corner Bateman. This was the case when Callaway asked Bateman why he did not go to South Korea, and when Bateman responded that it was because he did not have the funds that the AP journalists had in when they wrote their story. Callaway’s remark was on the verge of badgering Bateman, when he questioned Bateman’s motivation for writing a book which he did not have the resources to research fully. Later, Callaway read a passage taken from Bateman’s book which mentioned a story from Life Magazine, dated August 20, 1950. Callaway then accused Bateman that he believed every other story written on No Gun Ri, including the Life Magazine one, with the exception of the AP story.

Callaway seemed to show his preference for journalists, which gave the viewer the impression that this is because he himself is one. This preference gave Hanley a distinct advantage in the debate, and made Hanley and the Associate Press journalists appear as the victims of Bateman’s continued attacks against their credibility. Callaway said that he was “playing devil’s advocate,” but he was far more critical of Bateman than Hanley. In comparison Callaway showed a calmer demeanor when asking Hanley questions, and the questions were far less accusatory than those Callaway posed to Bateman.

Bateman and Hanley seemed to be quite civil to each other considering the ongoing heated debate in the media. There were only mild jabs at each other’s methodology and sources used when they wrote the No Gun Ri story. The only major insults that went back and forth were Bateman’s accusation that Hanley could not understand the military having never been in it, as well as the lack of documentary evidence in Hanley’s No Gun Ri account. Hanley’s accusation was that Bateman could not truly understand what happened at No Gun Ri because he never went to South Korea to investigate it. The debate rehashed many of the issues the two authors have already fought in print about. The debate ended in a stalemate, neither side giving an inch–very much like the Korean War itself..

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