Weakness and Deceit
|Awards||Pulitzer Prize, 1999|
Raymond Bonner (born 1942) has been an investigative reporter and foreign correspondent for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He has also been a staff writer at The New Yorker and contributed to The New York Review of Books. His latest book, Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong, was published by Knopf in February 2012.
Bonner graduated from MacMurray College and earned a J.D. degree from Stanford University Law School in 1967. In 1968 he joined the U.S. Marine Corps, and was honorably discharged with the rank of captain in 1971. Before taking up journalism, Bonner worked as a staff attorney with Ralph Nader's Public Citizen Litigation Group, as the director of the West Coast office of Consumers Union, and as director of the consumer fraud/white collar crime unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's office.
Bonner is best known as one of two journalists (the other was Alma Guillermoprieto of The Washington Post) who broke the story of the El Mozote massacre, in which some 900 villagers at El Mozote, El Salvador, were slaughtered by the Salvadoran army in December 1981. A Times staff reporter at the time, Bonner was smuggled by FMLN rebels to visit the site approximately a month after the massacre took place.
When the story broke simultaneously in the Post and Times on January 27, 1982, it was dismissed as propaganda by the Reagan administration, as it seriously undermined efforts by the US government to bolster the human rights image of the Salvadoran government, which the US was supporting with large amounts of military aid.
The Times was strongly criticized by the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, by Accuracy In Media and by the Reagan government for reporting the story of the massacre. The Times was pressured to pull Bonner from the Central American Desk. The then managing editor Abe Rosenthal moved Bonner to the Business Desk and Bonner resigned soon afterward. He continued to contribute as a freelance correspondent and returned to the staff of the Times in 1992 after details of the massacre were verified when a United Nations forensic team excavated the site and found hundreds of skeletons, including many tiny ones, and the reality of the El Mozote massacre was confirmed.
Asked in an interview with Mark Hertsgaard why he had recalled Bonner from El Salvador in the first place, A.M. Rosenthal, then-Executive Editor of the New York Times, explained: "The general impression among me and some others was that Bonner was first-rate, but we were really screwing this guy, because he wasn't getting what you really need to be a reporter. You don't have to get it necessarily at the Times, but you have to have some background in reporting non-foreign affairs in order to be a foreign affairs reporter. You have to know how a paper runs, what a paper considers its standards, and so on."
For another account of Bonner's firing, "The Truth of El Mozote," The New Yorker, by Mark Danner: "According to Rosenthal, Bonner was removed because he had never been fully trained in the Times' particular methods. Bonner, he said, "didn't know the techniques of weaving a story together. I brought him back because it seemed terribly unfair to leave him there without training " But "training" was not the only issue—for that matter, as Bonner pointed out to me, he had spent a good part of 1981 on the Metro desk—and, at least in Rosenthal's case, the question of Bonner's "journalistic technique" seems to have been inextricably bound up with what the executive editor came to perceive as the reporter's left-wing sympathies. Several current and former Times employees (none of whom would speak for attribution) pointed to a scene in a Georgetown restaurant a few weeks after the El Mozote [massacre] story ran—it was the evening of the annual Gridiron dinner—in which Rosenthal criticized Bonner and angrily described the sufferings that Communist regimes inflict on their people."
In his most aggressive denial, Rosenthal declared: "At no time did anybody in the United States government suggest to me, directly or indirectly, that I remove Mr. Bonner. Anyone who would approach the New York Times and suggest to me that I remove or punish a correspondent would have to be an idiot. To imply that a man who devoted himself to journalism would remove a reporter because of the U.S. government or the C.I.A., or whatever, is ridiculous, naïve, cruel, and slanderous."
In "Iran-Contra's Untold Story," Foreign Policy, Robert Parry and Peter Kornbluh report: "U.S. embassy officials boasted in 1982 that they had forced the New York Times correspondent Raymond Bonner out of the country because of his unfavorable reporting on the Salvadoran government."
Bonner has since written on contract for the New York Times, covering the Rwanda genocide, Bosnia, and the two terrorist bombings in Bali. He was also a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1988–1992, writing from Peru, Sudan, Indonesia, Kuwait, and Kurdistan. From 1988 until 2007 Bonner lived in Nairobi, and then Warsaw, Vienna, and Jakarta. Since 2007, he has written book reviews, principally about international security, for The New York Times, The Economist, The Australian, The National Interest and The Guardian.
In 2008 it emerged, in an article in the Washington Post, that Bonner had been one of four journalists whose telephone call records had been illegally obtained by the FBI between 2002 and 2006. During that time Bonner had been based in Jakarta, filing reports on detainee abuse and illegal surveillance.
Prior to his career in journalism, Bonner was an attorney; he worked with the Public Citizen Litigation Group, the Consumers Union (establishing their West Coast Advocacy office), and the San Francisco District Attorney's office (as head of their white collar crime division). He taught at the University of California, Davis, School of Law.
Bonner is the co-founder of OneJustice (formerly Public Interest Clearinghouse), an organization that expands the availability of legal services for Californians in need through innovative partnerships with nonprofits, law schools, and the private sector.
- Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, 1985, for "Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador".
- Overseas Press Club Award, 1994, for coverage of Rwanda.
- Louis M. Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism, by the Nieman Foundation Fellows, in 1996. The citation reads, “In his work in Central America, the Philippines, Central Europe and Africa, Bonner has demonstrated a passionate, principled journalism,”.
- Pulitzer Prize, 1999 (team award), while with The New York Times
- Cornelius Ryan Award from the Overseas Press Club
- Hillman Prize for Book Journalism
- He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize by The New York Times in 2001, along with Sara Rimer, for their coverage of the death penalty.
- Weakness and Deceit: U.S. Policy and El Salvador. New York: Times Books, 1984. ISBN 0-8129-1108-3 (Winner of the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award)
- Waltzing with a Dictator: The Marcoses and the Making of American Policy. New York: Times Books, 1987. ISBN 0-8129-1326-4 (winner of Overseas Press Club, and Sidney Hillman Foundation awards for best book on foreign affairs)
- At the Hand of Man: Peril and Hope for Africa's Wildlife. New York: Knopf, 1993. ISBN 0-679-40008-7
- Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong. New York: Knopf, 2012. ISBN 978-0-307-70021-6
- Lyons Award Goes to American Journalist. The Harvard University Gazette. May 2, 1996. Retrieved July 19, 2007.
- Parry, Robert (January 30, 2007). "Reagan & the Salvadoran Baby Skulls". consortiumnews.com. Retrieved March 18, 2012.
- "Salvador Skeletons Confirm Reports of Massacre in 1981" The New York Times, October 22, 1992
- "On bended knee: the press and the Reagan presidency" By Mark Hertsgaard, September 9, 1989
- "The Truth of El Mozote" The New Yorker, December 06, 1993
- "Iran-Contra's Untold Story" Foreign Policy, 1988
- Washington Post: FBI Apologizes to Post, Times: August 9, 2008
- World Socialist Web Site: FBI illegally obtained thousands of phone records: 20 January, 2010
- The Atlantic website: Authors - Ray Bonner
- New York Times: Jane Perlez