Would it have made a difference to Watergate if, years later, Woodward & Bernstein had reported on the prosperity of Cambodia and the largess of Pol Pot? Perhaps it would cause you to wonder about their interpretation and judgment, overall, but becoming a lickspittle to the atrocious Pol Pot wouldn't have changed the facts surrounding Nixon's abysmal behavior. Such is partially the case with the Australian reporter Wilfred Burchett (1911-1983), who enjoyed an interesting, combative, contrarian and occasionally awful carreer around moments of great insight, courage and brilliance.
The official government position was that there was no lethal radiation generated by the atomic bomb. The government and the sixth column (in general) came down very hard on Burchett, saying that he was an agent of the Japanese working to win sympathy for that country. That, or he was a Communist spy. Or that he was just wrong. Or crazy.
The New York Times published a story on 12 September, 1945, rebuking Burchett’s account of “plague” as “Japanese propaganda”: "US Atom Bomb Site Belies Tokyo Tales: Tests on New Mexico Range Confirm that Blast and Not Radiation Took Toll” ran the story. The article was written by William Laurence, a future Pulitzer Prize winner.
At about the same time
another journalist—the American George Weller—made his own harrowing way to Nagasaki
(again against orders from General MacArthur) to report on the damage done by
the bomb. Although Weller’s
interpretations of the bomb and its use were diametrically opposed to Burchett’s
("The atomic bomb may be classified as a weapon capable of being used
indiscriminately, but its use in Nagasaki was selective and proper and as
merciful as such a gigantic force could be expected to be.”), his story was
censored and seized when submitted for publication.
It would take several years for the story of radiation poisoning to reach the general public, and for the government to reverse its earlier position.
In the meantime Burchett moved on to other provocative and unfortunate things. After covering the war for four years through the Pacific and Europe, he moved on to middle Europe, reporting on the ghastly show trials of the Soviet regime, and for the most part taking the sides of the prosecuting agents. He also covered the Korean War for a far-left leftie publication, taking the side of the Chinese. (In one infamous bit, Burchett reported from North Korean and Chinese POW camps, saying that they were like comfortable Swiss retreats.) And then on the some eye-squinting, not-so-great observations from the North Vietnamese viewpoint in the 1960's. And then of course there was the whole Khmer Rouge pro-Pol Pot romance--which I just can't see any way around. I don't know what happened to him on this one. (I should say that Pol Pot was brought into power by a CIA-backed coup and received support and largesse from the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Thailand and Australia, among others. The detestable, scumbag genocidist died in his sleep only a few years ago, another totalitarianist gone terribly wrong after receiving arms and money from my country.)
But there was a time when Burchett did deliver a story and delivered it well. His reporting from Hiroshima is a classic of pursuing the logic of observations--and it stands still in light of all of his future missteps.