The NYT's Nuclear 'Promised Land'

Note: This is a sidebar to "Money is the Real Green Power" (Extra!, 1-2/08).

The New York Times is not alone in promoting a revival of nuclear power. But as the U.S. paper of record, it sets the media tone. Its pro-nuclear editorial culture began decades ago when the Manhattan Project and its corporate contractors (notably General Electric and Westinghouse, which became the major manufacturers of nuclear power plants) sought to perpetuate what was established during World War II, by making other things atomic.

Because of the Times’ importance, Manhattan Project director Gen. Leslie Groves personally arranged for its reporter, William Laurence, to join the project. Laurence was responsible for the first piece of nuclear media disinformation; he wrote a press statement to cover up the first test of an atomic device, claiming there had been an ammunition dump explosion. Laurence later, as the only “journalist” that had been at the 1945 Trinity test, wrote that it was like being “present at the moment of creation when the Lord said ‘let there be light.’”

After atomic bombs dropped on Japan, the Times both ran and “distributed free to the nation’s other newspapers” a 10-part series written by Laurence glorifying the Manhattan Project, notes News Zero: The New York Times and The Bomb by Beverly Keever (Common Courage Press). Radioactivity was all but unmentioned in the series.

And the Times science reporter continued for years to wax poetic about atomic technology. “From the dawn of the atomic-bomb age, Laurence and the Times almost single-handedly shaped the news of this epoch and helped birth the acceptance of the most destructive force ever created,” writes Keever, professor of journalism at the University of Hawaii. Laurence would describe nuclear power as “making the dream of the Earth as a Promised Land come true.”