“One morning in the latter part of March, Task Force Barker
moved out from its firebase headed for ‘Pinkville.’ Its mission:
destroy the trouble spot and all of its inhabitants,” says a letter
written by Ron Ridenhour to Congress and the Pentagon that began
the My Lai investigation. The horrific My Lai massacre became the
most infamous massacre of the Vietnam War.
He goes on to say, “It was so bad…that one of the men in his
squad shot himself in the foot in order to be medivaced out of the
area so that he would not have to participate in the slaughter.
Gruver estimated that the population of the village had been 300 to
400 people and that very few, if any, escaped.”
Ron Ridenhour served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. After he
returned from Vietnam in 1969, he wrote this letter, which brought
the My Lai massacre to the attention of the American public and the
world. After the war, Ridenhour became an investigative journalist
exposing things such as a New Orleans tax scandal, for which he won
the George Polk Award for Investigative Journalism in 1998,
according to The Fertel Group Web site,
Ridenhour died suddenly in 1998 at the age of 52 and an award
has been created in his honor to reward courageous truth telling.
“The Ron Ridenhour Awards memorialize and foster the spirit of
fearless truth-telling that one-time whistleblower and life-time
investigative journalist Ron Ridenhour reflected throughout his
extraordinary life and career,” according to www.fertel.com.
Wednesday the first Ron Ridenhour Award for Truth-Telling award
was given to Joseph C. Wilson IV, according to a Washington Post
“Wilson, 53, is the retired diplomat who was sent by the CIA to
Niger last year to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy
‘yellowcake’ uranium there for possible use in nuclear weapons. In
July he accused the Bush administration of using the bogus
allegations to help make a case for war. President Bush later
backed away from the claim,” wrote Washington Post reporter Reilly
Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department analyst, was also
awarded with the Ron Ridenhour Courage Award. Ellsberg leaked the
Pentagon Papers more than 30 years ago and was introduced as the
“the ultimate whistle-blower.” Ellsberg hauled “7,000 pages of the
government’s secretary history of the Vietnam War out of the
Pentagon in the middle of the night,” the Washington Post
These men were honored for what journalists everywhere should be
striving to achieve. As American citizens we are given the ultimate
opportunity to express our opinions and question what our
government is doing. As journalists, our job is to more forcefully
question the practices of our government for the citizens, which
can not do it themselves.
As a free press, our job is to act as a watchdog of the
government for the public. Journalists need to keep the government
honest but consistently report the truth that they find. These
three men have done just that. Ridenhour, Wilson and Ellsberg all
exposed government mistakes and did the best they could to inform
the public of the whole truth.
Journalists everywhere should aspire to be like these men. As
journalists, we have an awesome outlet to inform the public of what
there government is doing and it is our job to use that outlet
responsibly and to make sure the truth is known.
The Society of Professional Journalists, the largest journalism
organization in the nation, has a code of ethics, which most
journalists follow. The first (as thus most important) thing in
that code is seek truth and report it. “Journalists should be
honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and
Colleen is the managing editor for The Collegian. Her column
regularly runs on Mondays. Colleen’s future ambitions include
working for the C.I.A. after graduate school.