Plain Dealer Published Photos of My Lai Massacre in Vietnam 50 Years Ago Today

Posted By  on Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 12:50 pm

Fifty years ago today, the Cleveland Plain Dealer — what was, at the time, a daily newspaper — published shocking photos of the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam. It was the first outlet in the United States to do so.

Snapped by Ron Haeberle, a U.S. army staff photographer from Cleveland who’d been honorably discharged shortly after the massacre, the photos landed in the lap of PD ace reporter Joe Ezterhaus.

Ezterhaus interviewed Haeberle and relayed the eyewitness account: U.S. army troops had “indiscriminately and wantonly mowed down” residents of the small South Vietnamese village, including women and children, on March 16, 1968.

Ezterhaus’ story appeared below the fold on the front page. A full two-page spread with multiple My Lai photos appeared inside, (pages 4-B and 5-B).

CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER

  • Cleveland Plain Dealer

Per Ezterhaus’ report: “U. S. forces mechanically killed the civilians, some in their bed in huts. The murders were carried out, [Haeberle] said, with M16 rifles and machine guns. He said he saw as many as 30 American soldiers murder as many as 100 South Vietnamese civilians, many of them women and babies, many left in lifeless clumps.”

Ezterhaus later wrote a scathing, 14,000-word piece for a lefty, small-circulation magazine called the Evergreen Review, recounting how he and Haeberle had attempted to sell the photos to major national magazines for big bucks, and how PD editors, trying to wash away the stain of the Robert Manry episode, were hoping the photos might secure the paper a coveted Pulitzer Prize, or at the very least a mention in TIME’s weekly press section.

The Evergreen piece got Ezterhaus fired, but he soon secured a job at Rolling Stone, on the recommendation of none other than Hunter S. Thompson.

“I just finished your My Lai piece in Evergreen,” Thompson wrote to Ezterhaus on Aug. 31, 1971, “and it reminded me once again to bitch at Jann Wenner for not offering you a fat contract of some kind.”

The photos, which were soon published elsewhere, brought national attention to the massacre itself, and to the brutality of the Vietnam War.

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