Remember back in June when it was the 40th anniversary of the “napalm” girl photo that so shockingly depicted some of the civilian casualties in the Vietnam War? I wrote this piece in PJ for the occasion, in an attempt to set the record straight for the zillionth time.
It has taken more than three months, but the New York Times today published a sort-of correction of its erroneous description about the napalm attack in Vietnam in June 1972 that preceded the famous photograph of children terrified and wounded by the bombing.” Plus this: “[T]he phrasing — ‘while the planes that carried out the attack were “American planes” in the sense that they were made in the United States, they were flown by the South Vietnamese Air Force, not American forces’ — makes it sound like a bunch of teenagers borrowing daddy’s car.”
And Glenn Reynolds adds:
The narrative — Americans evil baby-killers! — must be preserved. The self-esteem of an entire generation of Boomer journalists requires it.
Reynolds as correct that a great deal of this is ego-driven; it’s hard to issue a correction no matter how wrong one turns out to have been. But a great deal of it is also ideology-driven. After all, since it is an axiom that the Americans are evil baby-killers, what difference does accuracy make in the pursuit of that Higher Truth?
Nothing whatsoever new here. As I wrote in my PJ piece:
As familiar as the photo has become, the story behind it is less so. For example, if the introductory paragraph of this essay had read: “She was the nine-year-old girl who was burned by napalm dropped by American forces in South Vietnam,” how many readers would have caught the error?
In fact, it was the South Vietnamese who were doing the bombing, but the idea that Kim was burned at the hands of Americans persists. That is only one of several common misconceptions about the attack, because the incident has been widely misrepresented and misunderstood through errors of omission and commission.
The Times’ error is one of commission. And its retraction is a joke, albeit an unfunny one.