How did newspapers cover the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Most Americans first heard of the atomic bomb when it was announced by the White House. President Harry Truman recorded the announcement onboard the USS Augusta, while enroute from Potsdam to Washington. The announcement was broadcast on the radio at 11 a. m. Eastern War Time, with a written statement issued simultaneously.
The statements were released almost 16 hours after the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (note in the written statement there’s a blank spot where Truman says “Hiroshima.”)
The first newspapers to make it to press in time were the evening newspapers, like the Chicago Daily News, Chicago Times and Gary Post-Tribune.
The morning papers had already been printed on August 6, and had to wait until the following morning to announce it. The New York Times had a story on page 5 of its August 7 issue on its science correspondent, William L. Laurence, being recruited by the War Department to explain the atomic program to the layman, which Laurence did throughout that year. He would be given a Pulitzer Prize for reporting for his work, even though the Times (and the Pulitzer committee) knew he was being paid by the War Department. In 2005 independent journalists David and Amy Goodman called for the Pulitzer Committee to revoke Laurence’s prize.
The other major story on August 6 was the death of flying ace Major Dick Bong, who died while testing what later became the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star. The other big story of the day was the death of Senator Hiram Johnson of California.
For the next few days, all of these newspapers ran stories on the history of the atomic bomb, how it worked, the Manhattan Project and what it meant for the future.
When Bockscar dropped the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, the story ran very quickly – General Carl Spaatz announced its use even before the plane landed at Okinawa. This time around, the morning papers got the story out first and coupled it with the other important story of the day: The Soviet Union declared war on Japan and marched into Manchuria.