I’ve been blessed by three careers and a long life. If I could have yet another career it would be in journalism but, unfortunately, age precludes it. Ever since editing my college newspaper, I’ve loved newspapers and in retirement now spend at least half a day reading them. I’ve written over 2,000 op-eds or articles for newspapers, journals and other periodicals. I prefer, like most people my age, reading print editions where topics can be discussed in some depth as opposed to the short summaries we get on TV news shows that often leave one asking, “What did he/she just say?”
Alas, print journalism appears to be slowly dying. Young people don’t seem to have the time or the interest in reading newspapers and prefer digital formats. Fortunately, great newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times will continue to publish print editions indefinitely. Not so, however, the daily newspaper published in America’s eighth largest city, at least according to its editor and publisher who was quoted in October of last year as saying that his paper would someday only publish a print edition once a week on Sundays. This followed the posting of another decline in average daily circulation to 66,192. The plan reportedly calls for the paper, like many other daily newspapers, to adopt to a digital future. Annual declines in average circulation over the past five years have averaged 14.4% and are projected to fall to 48,502 in 2022 and 41,518 in 2024.
So some day, except on Sundays, I might not have challenge of searching in the bushes for the daily newspaper published in the city that claims to be America’s finest. I’ll have to be satisfied with scrolling the local news on my mobile device. I shall miss the smell of the newsprint. It makes me sneeze, but it’s worth it. What I won’t miss, however, is the liberal bias of what used to be a conservative newspaper, especially since acquired by the person who owns the daily newspaper published in the large city just north of America’s finest. Could this have anything to do with the decline in circulation?
San Diego County is home to the largest Navy/Marine Corps. base complex in the world. It is also home to thousands of military families including retirees. They deserve quality coverage of military news. They could do without recreated accounts of painful events that happened half a century ago and which could inflame racial tensions again. I refer to the front page article concerning a book recently published which purports to tell the most complete story of the race riot that occurred in the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk while deployed in the combat zone of Vietnam in 1972.
As I retrieved the Sunday edition from the bushes, there on the front page was a photo of the giant super carrier above a large headline reading “RACIAL TENSIONS EXPLODE AT SEA IN ’72.” Note the use of the present tense form of the verb “explode.” The sub-head read “Navy lawyer’s book recounts riot on Kitty Hawk, after which only Black sailors were accused” which is incorrect even by the book’s own recount. Headlines are designed to catch the reader’s attention and this one certainly caught mine.
The two-page article reviewed the book written by a retired Navy lawyer who defended six of the Black sailors accused in the riot which went on for six hours pitting whites against Blacks with both sides using makeshift weapons. More than 50 crew members were injured some seriously enough to be evacuated. There were reports of marauding gangs of Black rioters attacking white sailors. Needless to say, a riot at sea can quickly lead to disaster and calls for immediate and even extreme measures to regain control before the ship, its weapons and its crew are further imperiled, not to mention the mission of a warship engaged in combat operations including operating aircraft.
The author wrote his book based upon four boxes of notes he had kept for half a century. At the time of the riot, he had been in the Navy for two years and was serving as a shore-based lawyer in San Diego. He was not in the ship at the time of the riot. No one knows for certain the accuracy of the reports made by observers unless they were in the ship at the time of the riot. According to the newspaper article, “(c)over-ups, perjury, (and) racism clouded Navy sailors’ cases” and the captain’s handling of disciplinary cases was inconsistent in that Black sailors were punished more severely than whites for the same infractions. But infractions are seldom the same and usually differ in severity and other aspects. The ship’s Executive Officer usually reviews all disciplinary measures prior to Captain’s Mast and he was Black.
Extensive investigations were followed by trial by courts-martial of 23 Black sailors. Only one white sailor was charged and he was acquitted. Seven of the Black defendants accepted plea deals and ten were convicted. All received minimal sentences. The rest were exonerated or acquitted.
The author waited 50 years to write his book. The newspaper review called it the most complete account yet of what happened on board the carrier. I doubt that. My recollection is that the Navy’s investigation was intensive. The fact that more Black sailors than whites were accused proves nothing. Many lessons were learned and implemented. This is not to say that racism did not exist in the Navy in in 1972 but what is the point in re-opening these wounds 50 years later?
The author said that he worried that his book may come across as “a one-sided rant by a disgruntled defense attorney.” His worry was justified. He also said that he took pains to be balanced in his depiction of events. You could have fooled me.
VOL. 112, NO. 49 - Dec. 7, 2022