A Cleveland Press Columnist Broke the News of the Manhattan Project in 1944 Before His Story Was Squashed by Government Censorship


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"Before Woodward and Bernstein, before Glenn Greenwald, there was John W. Raper, a columnist for The Cleveland Press, who stumbled across something very odd while on vacation in New Mexico."

That's the hook to a terrific article by Atlantic editor Rebecca J. Rossen which chronicles the cause and effect scenarios of a Cleveland Press columnist who stumbled across a story of a lifetime while vacationing in the American southwest: The Manhattan Project.

We suggest you read it for yourself (look, here's the link again), but we'll give you a brief recap.

Ohio-native John W. Raper, or "Jack," as he was commonly known among friends, happened upon the clandestine city of Los Alamos, a year and a half before the atomic bombs would rain on Japan. Had the story he wrote for The Cleveland Press in response to his findings, aptly titled "Forbidden City: Uncle Sam's Mystery Town Directed by '2d Einstein," reached the big leagues, this Ohio Jack could have single-handedly changed the course of history.

When the U.S. government got wind of his divulgences, however, they made sure he divulged no further and promptly squashed his report into a gooey pulp, an occurrence, Rossen thoughtfully notes, that speaks to a nearly foreign era of journalism- one that's void of wildfire social platforms like Google and Twitter and ensnared with terms like "voluntary censorship."

Roseen goes on to quote nuclear historian Alex Wellerstein who explains, "The main difference between the media situation today and the media situation of the past is that in the 1940s you actually could often geographically limit the impact of an article. That is, something coming out in a local or regional media source could be prevented from circulation and syndication, after the fact."

And with the The Manhattan Project, censors did this quite vigorously, Wellerstein points out.

It's an interesting quandary to consider: one one hand there are issues of free speech and the general public's right, particularly about an operation that's so pervasive. On the other hand, the entire outcome of the war would have been different.

What are your thoughts? Was this example of period government censorship "for the greater good?" In what ways is the current state of the media better or worse?

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