Remembering May 4, 1970: The Kent State Shootings
What Traverse City author Bob Giles' newly released book teaches us about news media today
By Clark Miller | May 2, 2020
A half-century ago, a one-way battle that lasted 13 seconds — about two breath’s time — helped galvanize resistance to the Vietnam War. Using rifles, pistols, and a shotgun, Ohio National Guardsmen fired more than 60 shots into a crowd of anti-war demonstrators on the Kent State University campus. The result: four deaths, nine wounded.
On that day — May 4, 1970 — journalist Bob Giles oversaw the news desk at the Akron Beacon Journal. In his just-published book, “When Truth Mattered,” Giles recounts the event and the political aftershocks that followed our own military firing at unarmed American citizens.
Giles reminds us, too, of the back story — President Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia, the torching of the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) building at Kent State, and Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes’ exploitation of the tragedy to curry favor among conservative voters. (Rhodes likened the demonstrators to Nazi brownshirts.)
His comprehensive retelling is gripping.
Giles’ main purpose, though, goes deeper. He explains how the Beacon Journal’s reporting that day and in the intervening months revealed the “unvarnished” truth. (The paper won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage.)
Drawing lessons from the past, Giles also suggests ways news consumers today can sort out truth from fiction. His advice:
· Be wary of rumors, misinformation, and disinformation
· Welcome scrutiny of the powerful
· Beware [of] journalist bearing opinions
· Pay attention to journalists with deep sourcing
· Seek out those who seek objectivity
· Always be skeptical
Bob Giles will talk about his book, When Truth Mattered, at the National Writers Series event scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 10. The conversation begins at 7 p.m., but attendees can log on any time after 6:45 p.m. Register at nws-tc.org/bob-giles-registration/