AP Coverage of Sean Flynn Discovery Appears Biased

March 30, 2010

David Macmillan handing over potential remains of Sean Flynn to the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh. Photo by Fred Wissink

On Sunday, AsiaLIFE contributing editor Thomas Maresca and Simon Parry of Hong Kong’s Red Door News Agency, along with AsiaLIFE photo editor Fred Wissink, broke the story in the Sunday Mail and South China Morning Post that the remains of Sean Flynn, the famed war photographer and son of actor Errol Flynn who went missing in Cambodia in 1970 along with colleague Dana Stone, may have been found by Australian David Macmillan and Briton Keith Rotheram.

Soon after the story broke, the Associated Press began widely distributing an article by Sopheng Cheang reporting on the impending forensic tests that will be carried out to determine if the bones–which Macmillan and Rotheram turned over to the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday–are indeed the remains of Sean Flynn.

The article, however, appears heavily biased against the find, and at the very least overlooks or intentionally omits important information.

By the ninth graf, the article seems to cast suspicion on Macmillan and Rotheram’s motives, noting that: “Freelance ‘bone hunters’ have also taken up the search for both missing journalists and US service personnel. Some proved to be swindlers who demanded money from relatives of the missing.”

(At the time of writing, neither Macmillan nor Rotheram have made any claims that the bones they found are the remains of Sean Flynn.)

Tim Page, the photographer and friend of Flynn who has been on the hunt as well, is quoted in the following grafs regarding his doubts about the dig:”It was not a forensic dig – they used an excavator and uncovered a full set of remains, which they removed from the site,” Page said.

The AP article fails to note two major aspects of the dig. First, Macmillan and Rotheram’s efforts were partially funded by Flynn’s surviving sister, Rory, who was quoted in Maresca and Parry’s article as saying, “I grew up with Sean and also named my son after him, so we have hoped and prayed that his remains would be found … Information came to me in the past year that motivated this private search and we hope that the person found is my brother so that he can finally come home.”

Second, Tim Page worked alongside David Macmillan to some degree to make advances in the search. It was Macmillan who put AsiaLIFE in touch with Tim Page in February 2009 for a special feature that ran in our March issue, “The Last Search for Sean Flynn. At the time of the interview, Page told AsiaLIFE he was at work on a book chronicling his search, tentatively titled Bones of Contention. He also expressed interest in having a documentary film on the subject made. The article made no mention of Page and Macmillan’s past history.

What is troubling is that Cheang’s AP article has been distributed to hundreds of newspapers around the world, including The Guardian, The New York Times, and The Australian.

AsiaLIFE was contacted about two weeks ago by Macmillan after he made the discovery. He requested that Thomas Maresca, who wrote the March special feature, cover the story. Macmillan was later approached by AP. He inquired about payment for photos taken of the dig and was told that AP does not pay for photos.

UPDATEThe Australian ups the ante on irresponsible coverage of the discovery. Read about it here.

Contributed by Tom DiChristopher

5 Responses to “AP Coverage of Sean Flynn Discovery Appears Biased”

  1. Marianne Meyers Says:

    I made a mistake on my previous comment. The Australian did not state that Sean Flynn and Dana Stone disappeared in 1972.

  2. Alice Says:

    Why would you write a piece trying to argue this headline, only to write a caption saying ‘potential remains of Sean Flynn’??
    They are the potential remains of at least 12 other people in that area.

  3. asialife Says:

    We say “potential” because Macmillan was specifically looking for Sean Flynn’s remains, following up on new evidence that they were buried in a very specific location. According to Macmillan they were found within an hour of digging, which lends some credence to the accuracy of the information.

    We are not, however, in any way trying to argue the merit of the excavation methods. Our problem is that, lacking more than one side of the story, journalists have assumed too much about Macmillan and Rotheram.

    The concerns about the possible disruption of other remains are certainly valid, but as yet, only Thomas Maresca and Simon Parry have interviewed Macmillan and Rotheram, so the accusations of a reckless dig are largely based on speculation. No one from the embassy or any expert in excavation has yet weighed in. Nor has the new information that led to the discovery been examined in detail.

    That information, given by an alleged eyewitness, was enough to convince Rory Flynn to give Macmillan her blessing to conduct the dig. Whether either were justified is not what we’re trying to argue. It appears to us in the rush to get the story, some journalists are creating it themselves.

  4. Marianne Meyers Says:

    Anyone who wants updated information from valid sources on Sean Flynn, check out Tim King’s articles at Salem News.

  5. […] the potential discovery of Sean Flynn’s remains. This afternoon, we received a comment on our original post about the seemingly biased Associated Press article that points out another article that calls into […]

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