Little-Known Blogger Got William Calley Scoop

You may have heard last week that Lt. William Calley, for the first time ever, publicly apologized for his role in the 1968 My Lai massacre, in which 350 to 500 Vietnamese -- mostly unarmed women and children -- were killed by U.S. troops under his command. Calley was sentenced to life in prison for 22 murders, but his sentence was commuted by President Nixon to three years of house arrest.

During an Aug. 19 speech at the Columbus, Ga., Kiwanis Club, Calley said, "There is not a day that goes by that I do not feel remorse for what happened that day in My Lai. I feel remorse for the Vietnamese who were killed, for their families, for the American soldiers involved and their families. I am very sorry."

This story was the exclusive scoop of a blogger, but when Associated Press ran its story on Calley's apology, it used the blogger's quotes without crediting him.

Dick McMichael, a retired broadcast journalist, was one of 50 people in attendance at the Kiwanis Club when Calley made a short speech and answered questions. McMichael wrote about the appearance on his blog, a personal site that primarily covers Georgia and Alabama topics. No professional media were present.

Calley refuses to talk to the media, so all of his quotes from the AP story came from McMichael, but he isn't credited. Instead, AP cited the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, which asked McMichael to write up the story for the paper after it found out about his incredible scoop.

I'm not clear on whether AP had the legal right to run McMichael's quotes or anything else from his story. The wire service can legally make use of the copyrighted work of local newspapers that belong to the organization, but his byline is "Special to the Ledger-Enquirer," which means that he wrote it as a freelancer.

Last year, a site that I publish, the Drudge Retort, was embroiled in a copyright battle with AP over 33- to 79-word snippets of AP articles that were posted by users on the Retort. We resolved the matter amicably, but in a phone call with me, AP's attorneys took an extremely narrow view of fair use when it came to the headlines and leads from its stories. AP maintained that any verbatim quote of its headlines or leads is a copyright violation.

One of the ironies of that conflict -- and the aggressive stance AP has continued to take since then -- is that the wire service has an extremely expansive view of its own reuse rights. AP regularly turns the work of local newspapers into wire service stories without giving the originating reporter or newspaper any credit at all -- something we grumbled about when I was a reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the '80s. AP also runs photos of people in the news copied from places like Facebook and MySpace without permission and can be stingy about crediting anyone else for breaking news.

In this case, McMichael's role in bringing Calley's remarks to light was an important element of the story wrongly omitted by AP. McMichael got one of the biggest scoops of the year -- reporters have tried for decades to get Calley to talk, and when he finally did we were fortunate a blogger was in attendance. Some other media outlets did credit him, including reporter Ernie Suggs in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

The appearance might have gone unnoticed, if not for Dick McMichael, a retired journalist who now blogs in Columbus. McMichael attended the meeting, blogged about it and his story was picked up by the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

"The questions were asked respectfully and politely, which could give the impression they were softball," McMichael blogged later. "I don't think that was the case. The questions got right to the crux of the matter, in my view, and Calley didn't dodge any of them."