Iowa Journalist Fall 2009

The University of Iowa

Pulitzer Prize winning AP
correspondent Hanley uses
extreme measures to encourage
reporting integrity

"Everyone looks so happy and content, I think I might need to shock you out of it," Charles Hanley, an international special correspondent for the Associated Press (AP), said as students loudly bustled into the large, brightly lit auditorium.

The visiting professional in residence then showed the journalism class a graphic segment from a BBC documentary about a story he broke in 1999. His prize-winning story exposed U.S. soldiers who slaughtered close to 400 Korean refugees (mostly women and children) in No Gun Ri, South Korea, during the Korean War.

Living the Dream AP correspondent Charles Hanley looks back on a life of reporting and traveling around the globe. Photo by Nawaar Farooq

The documentary, called "Kill ‘em All," presented intimate interviews with Army soldiers who were ordered to do the shooting, as well as from survivors of the No Gun Ri massacre.

During one scene, a Korean woman described in vivid detail how she lost her eye when she was a child during the atrocity. Another explained how a young father drowned his crying son to protect other survivors hiding from U.S. soldiers under a bridge.

The film left the large class of 120 Media and Consumers students quiet for the first time all semester.

"I know that's kind of rough, and I apologize if it’s too rough, but this is war, and this could be going on today," Hanley said. "It isn’t all comic books out there."

Students appreciated his honesty and candor.

"I liked [his presentation] a lot," Lisa Mendenhall (senior, Sigourney, Iowa) said. "He didn't need to say much to get his point across. I’ve seen a lot of speeches by journalists, and his is my favorite one so far. He reminds me why I chose this major."

According to Hanley, finishing the No Gun Ri story was a huge relief because getting it published was a bitter struggle. Many efforts were made by AP superiors to kill the piece because it was "an explosive story that shocked our leadership and made them nervous."

Evolution of Portable Computers AP correspondent Charles Hanley talks about the different kinds of computers he has used over the years. Video by Ross Koppenhaver

The article and now book, co–written by Sang–Hun Choe and Martha Mendoza, took several years to complete. When it was finished, numerous newspapers picked it up, and the authors won 10 awards, including a Pulitzer Prize in 2000 for investigative journalism.

"It was a big fight, and [winning the award] was a great vindication," Hanley said. "We were emotionally exhausted."

As a child, Hanley was always interested in journalism. He started writing stories at a young age, and even wrote for his high school newspaper. Hanley received his B.A. in journalism at St. Bonaventure University and completed a short internship for a small newspaper in upstate New York after graduating.

After completing his internship, Hanley joined the AP in 1968 as a summer replacement. But before he could adjust to his new position, he was drafted to the Army where he served two years in Vietnam as a war journalist. After his service, he resumed his position back at the AP and has been there ever since.

Now as an international special correspondent, Hanley has had the opportunity to report from over 80 countries, including war–ravaged places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I’ve been caught in crossfires, but I’ve never been hurt," he said animatedly. "I’ve had the wits scared out of me a number of times in places!"

Even though he’s been to some of the word’s most dangerous places, Hanley claims he’s enjoyed it thoroughly and has never looked back.

His advice for aspiring journalists during a recession where journalism jobs are dwindling regularly is to just hang in there.

"It’s going to be tough," he said. "Don't give up. There will always be a need for smart and energetic reporters."

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