Accused by a British newspaper of writing a column about Northern Ireland that was "a work of pure imagination," a star columnist for The New York Daily news, the largest circulation paper in New York, resigned under fire today.
Michael Daly, 29, had been singled out by The London Daily Mail for a story in which British soldiers, on patrol in the streets of Belfast, shot -- with plastic bullets and live ammunition -- at a mob of children who were attacking them with bricks and gasoline bombs.
"Go for the heads," says a British soldier in the story, which appeared Wednesday entitled "On the streets of Belfast, the children's war." In another section, a British officer reprimands a soldier for shooting an unarmed civilian in front of a reporter. The soldier merely laughs: "If I'm lucky, the little Fenian will die."
The Daily Mail, reprinting the column Thursday, termed it "a classic example of pure propagandist writing." In a detailed expose, it charged that one of the key figures in the story, a gunner named Christopher Spell, does not exist, and that the exhortation to shoot children in the head was a conversation "of pure fiction."
Reportedly called back to New York from Belfast the day the story broke, Daly was questioned by New York Daily News editor Michael J. O'Neill last evening, and by additional News editors this morning. Late this afternoon -- after a statement which said Daly's column had been put on "temporary hold" -- the News issued another statement saying Daly had resigned and "in the absence of independent corroboration of disputed points and in view of his use of misleading journalistic techniques his resignation was accepted."
A statement by Daly, a Yale University graduate who recently won Columbia University's prestigious Meyer Berger Award, defended his story.
"I stick by my story concerning the soldier in Northern Ireland," he said. "I am, however, unable to substantiate the story with independent sources. I am therefore resigning my position at the Daily News in the hope I will save this newspaper from any further embarrassment. The Daily News is a paper of the city of New York and New York is the city of the world. The best thing in my life has been to have my writing appear on this newspaper's pages."