Digging Through a Paper Mound
Before assigning Chapter 3, tell the class to pretend they are daily news reporters and the editor has given them one week to go through 25,000 pages of the Tufts papers and find a story. As Sallah did, tell them the papers are in a university library that is about an hour"s drive from the newsroom. The papers have no table of contents and no index. They are in seven bankers boxes.
Give the students 10 minutes to write a plan of action and then open a discussion of their plans.
Go or No-Go Decision
For the next several discussion questions, review the state of current events in January 2003: The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, were still fresh in people"s minds, the Afghanistan War was under way, the prospects were strong that the United States could soon be launching an invasion of Iraq, and there was a long-term struggle against terrorism. Then distribute copies of the Coy Allegation (Appendix C) and give the class 15 minutes to read several pages, enough to understand the gist of the allegations and the amount of detail it contains.
1. Discuss the pros and cons of launching an investigation into the Coy Allegation in light of current events at that time (i.e., the likelihood that it could be published at a time when American troops would be fighting and dying in Iraq).
The discussion should focus on the role and responsibility of the press generally and in time of war.
2. Is a 36-year-old crime worth devoting time and resources to?
3. Should you just spend a few days to find out whether the military adjudicated the allegations and then write a story for the weekend?
4. Ask the class to discuss the obstacles that an investigation into the Coy Allegation would present.
The First Steps
Give the class a brief lecture about the history of the Vietnam War, the guerilla nature of the struggle and the My Lai massacre. Generate a discussion about what steps they would take to start the investigation.
On or Off the Record
Explain the context of Sallah"s first interview with Spc. William Carpenter early in the investigation. Reveal Sallah"s overall strategy and goal and how the interview began with general discussion. Ask the class how they would have dealt with Carpenter"s request to go off the record.
When a Key Source Is Culpable
Explain how they will soon read how Sallah and Weiss discovered that one of their most important, sources—Warrant Officer Gustav Apsey, the lead investigator in the military"s Tiger Force probe—omitted several very serious war crime allegations from his final report even though he had fully substantiated them. Without telling them what Sallah and Weiss did, generate a discussion on how they would handle the situation.
1. Explain that this is a story about soldiers who either committed or witnessed grisly atrocities against unarmed Vietnamese civilians and war prisoners more than three decades ago. Tell the students to pretend that they are Mike Sallah or Mitch Weiss and that they realize they will soon have to interview these soldiers to find out what they know about these incidents. Generate a discussion on whether they should do any advance preparation before the interview. If so, how should they prepare?
2. Pick one specific veteran and explain what atrocity he committed or witnessed. Tell the students to pretend that they have just dialed the soldier"s telephone number. Pretend you are the soldier and answer the call. "Hello?" Then wait for the student to ask the first question and continue a mock interview as long as your imaginations allow. Make sure the entire class takes notes and then writes a story that thoroughly covers the interview. Discuss the results.