Uncivil War  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   June 2002

Uncivil War   

A journalist outraged by a story in his former paper writes a scathing book accusing the news organization of contributing to the death of the story?s subject. But does the book suffer from the very flaws it accuses the newspaper of exhibiting?

By Alicia C. Shepard
Alicia C. Shepard is a former AJR senior writer and NPR ombudsman.     


As a one-man bureau covering a county outpost for Greensboro's News & Record, Ethan Feinsilver was always looking for The Story. He was willing to grind out dailies, but he came to the North Carolina paper to tackle more ambitious things, stories with some depth.

He thought he found one in a press release from a local community college.

The release announced a continuing education course, "North Carolina's Role in the War for Southern Independence." Cosponsoring the course was the Sons of Confederate Veterans, descendants of Confederate soldiers dedicated to honoring their ancestors, a group some view as apologists for the South.

After only 10 months in North Carolina, Feinsilver, who grew up in Washington, D.C., picked up on a lingering resentment among some Southerners, people who felt that because of pressures to be politically correct, they couldn't celebrate their heritage. This course reflected that, Feinsilver thought, and played into Confederate controversies simmering at the time throughout the region. In South Carolina, for instance, year after year, people were fighting to have the Confederate flag removed from atop the state Capitol, while in Alabama others questioned the appropriateness of singing "Dixie" at baseball games.

So with story sensors piqued, Feinsilver headed to the course. "I got my suspicions about the class when I saw the titles for each one," he recalls. "The first lecture talked about removing racial overtones from the war and removing any stigma from the Confederate flag. I wondered if in trying to do that, they might cross the line into making controversial claims about history."

He had no idea. On Sunday, November 15, 1998, the News & Record ran Feinsilver's story about the class on the B section front. Its lead: "A course at Randolph Community College teaches that most black people were happy under slavery and that tens of thousands of black men fought for the Confederacy because they believed in the Southern cause."

Editors didn't splash it across A1 as a blockbuster. In fact no one, not Feinsilver; not his editors; not the instructor, Jack Perdue; nor anyone at the college expected what would transpire after the Associated Press picked up the story. When Feinsilver got to work Monday morning, he found his voicemail filled with messages from ABC's "Good Morning America" and "Nightline," NBC's "Today" and the New York Times. AOL listed it as one of its top five stories of the day. Representatives of the NAACP were at the ready, if producers could talk Perdue or a college official into a televised debate.

First came the frenzy, then the fallout. After that Sunday's paper and the week of ensuing follow-up coverage went into the recycling bin, after the TV news stars switched off their bright camera lights and went home, the pieces of a different story lay in their wake. A shamed community college. The instructor dead of a heart attack. A reporter turning in his resignation. A newspaper's integrity questioned. And a famed local author, who once worked for that paper, turning his investigative sights on the whole affair and asking, in a book published this spring, whether it was "Death by Journalism?"

The Civil War ended in 1865. Yet some Southerners still flinch from their wounds almost 140 years after Confederate soldiers fired on South Carolina's Fort Sumter. Feelings about the Civil War are complex and layered with many perspectives on why it occurred. Was it fought to preserve states' rights? Or did 600,000 die to defend or end slavery? Or was it all about economics?

Feinsilver didn't know how radioactive this territory was when he entered Jack Perdue's class in September 1998 for the opening lecture. He didn't know that the Civil War is still being fought in classrooms, and whether those classrooms are above or below the Mason-Dixon line can determine the tenor of the lessons.

"It is time for a balanced view of the history of this era to be presented," Perdue said that night from a prepared text. "It should no longer be acceptable to make young North Carolinians feel ashamed of their ancestors, white, black, Hispanic and Native American, who fought for North Carolina and the Confederacy.... It is time to remove any racial overtones from the War for Southern Independence and portray it for what it really was, a war over the rights of a state to secede and a people for self-determination."

Perdue told the class he was proud of his Southern heritage, and particularly of his great-great-grandfather who died fighting for the Confederacy. A staunch defender of the Confederate battle flag and other symbols of the Confederacy, political correctness frustrated Perdue, as was apparent in his introduction.

"African Americans celebrate Kwanza, Native Americans hold powwows and various other ethnic groups hold festivals celebrating their heritage. Why, then, are Southerners singled out with scorn for promoting their heritage?" he asked. "Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans served honorably in Confederate service and their descendants are welcome in the SCV. The Southern States have shared the fate of all conquered peoples. The conquerors write the history."

In this class, with just 12 students, Perdue hoped to teach that the South's cause was just and that the central motivation for Northern and Southern soldiers firing muskets at one another did not--as is often taught--revolve around slavery.

Perdue lined up several guest speakers. Though the pro-Confederate slant was evident in the course's title, he planned to offer other opinions. Bob Zeller, a Civil War buff with an extensive collection of 3-D slides of war photographs, was invited.

"Jack Perdue achieved a certain balance to his course by inviting me to present my slide show," says Zeller, who from 1991 to 1998 wrote about NASCAR for three Landmark Communications papers, including the News & Record. Since Zeller's photos were mainly shot by Northern photographers, "my show naturally has a Northern bent. And I've always clearly sided for the North, so that bias is evident, too."

Feinsilver attended classes when he could. It wasn't a priority story his editors were pushing, and he felt he had to carve out time, as bureau reporters do, to pursue it. One class that he particularly wanted to attend, but couldn't, was the October 15 session on the roles of blacks and Cherokee Indians in the Civil War.

But a student faxed Feinsilver a handout from that class, led by a guest lecturer, the Rev. Herman White, an SCV member. The handout, "The role of Blacks in the War for Southern Independence," included information that Feinsilver was certain he had never learned about the Civil War. "I thought a few people might be interested in what was being taught," he says. Feinsilver was drawn in particular to two items--he wondered whether they should be taught in a public building and whether two ex-teachers taking the course should be able to use it to keep their teaching credentials current:

? According to "The Slave Narratives," testimonies collected in the 1930s, "more than 70 percent of ex-slaves had only good experiences to report about their life as a slave in the south...."

? White provided three accounts by Northerners to back a claim that many blacks freely, faithfully and willingly fought for the South.

But since Feinsilver hadn't attended the class, he thought he might not have the story. He made sure he attended another class, just so he could ask Perdue and White if what he'd read in the handout and heard from other students was true. He expected denials.

"I talked to Jack and Herman," says Feinsilver, "and said, 'I'm looking at all these notes and it sounds like what you are saying is that slaves, in general, were fine with being slaves?' They did not say, 'No, no, no. Don't put that in the paper.' They said that this is the side of the story that's not being told because it's not politically correct." Feinsilver concluded that White and Perdue believed a vast majority was fine with being slaves. "I kept going back to this question. I was trying to make sure that I wasn't misunderstanding them by asking them several times."

White argued that if the slaves were unhappy, they could have fled during the Civil War because most adult men were off fighting, says Feinsilver.

Feinsilver attended one more class, then interviewed historians and African American leaders about the course's interpretation of slave life. The story ran with a picture of Perdue in a Confederate uniform. A day or so later, after the national media throngs had jumped on the story and were literally camped out at Perdue's house, waiting for him to say something, Feinsilver wrote in another article, "The world is at Jack Perdue's doorstep, waiting to hear his side of the story on his controversial Civil War class at Randolph Community College. But Perdue is not answering the bell."

In the midst of the fervor, White and Perdue denied that they'd ever taught that "most black people were happy" during slavery. They argued that once again, political correctness was rearing its ugliness, and they were being tarred as racists for presenting historically factual material about the past that conflicts with today's sensitivities.

"Good experiences could relate to [slaves] having been provided their food, clothing, shelter and had been treated well by their master or mistress," White wrote in a scathing letter to the paper. "Only an idiot would think this meant that they were 'happy' being slaves. However, Feinsilver changes this to 'happy' and purposely misleads to incite anger and hatred between the races. The only reason this was in the lecture was to counter the idea promoted so prominently that all slaves were victims of outrageous abuse.... This kind of reckless and dishonest 'reporting' is a perfect example of why the media of every kind is not trustworthy."

The media onslaught so overwhelmed the tiny community college that it brought in a spin consultant. He advocated canceling the class, which the college did November 20, and encouraged the instructors and staff to avoid the press--but despite the college's silence, the frenzy grew. The NAACP was now promising to investigate, as was the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. This firestorm was out of control.

I thought [Jack Perdue] was some yahoo when I read the stories," recalls author and former News & Record columnist Jerry Bledsoe, who'd soon radically change that opinion.

Around North Carolina, the name Jerry Bledsoe is as closely associated with the state and his hometown, Asheboro, as is pork barbecue. Bledsoe, one of the most famous Tarheel writers, sealed his literary reputation in 1988 with a true-crime book, "Bitter Blood," that settled onto the New York Times paperback bestseller list for 26 weeks. In it, he grippingly recounted the story of two first cousins, Fritz Klenner and Susie Lynch, who ended their lives with a car bomb in Greensboro in 1985 while police watched, and while Lynch's two small sons, already poisoned and shot, were in the back of the car. Before the bomb blew apart the Chevy Blazer, Klenner had gone on a killing spree that wiped out five members of Lynch's family. All because of a custody dispute over whether Lynch's ex-husband could have 14 more days to visit his sons.

In News & Record country, Bledsoe is perhaps better known as the paper's longtime reporter and columnist--he worked there off and on for some 20 years beginning in 1966. But after the success of "Bitter Blood," Bledsoe left the newspaper life to write books and start his own publishing company, Down Home Press. He wrote a host of true-crime titles based on sensational local crimes of passion, "Death Sentence," "Blood Games" and "Before He Wakes," as well as a sentimental novel about Christmas during the 1951 polio scare called "The Angel Doll," inspired by his own childhood experiences. "The Angel Doll" was turned into a movie, as were several of his nonfiction books--in "Angel Doll" actor Keith Carradine stood in for Bledsoe.

Some say outrage is Bledsoe's natural state and that it fuels his award-winning writing and reporting. Challenging authority is what he does best, say his friends, and that makes him an entertaining and effective writer. "The thing that makes Jerry a great reporter is that his threshold for outrage, his curiosity and his sense of right and wrong are very sensitive," says Jack Betts, who worked with Bledsoe at the News & Record and is now a columnist for the Charlotte Observer.

There's no doubt that Bledsoe had a huge fan club when he was at the News & Record, and it's why the paper always took him back each time he quit. "I was there when Jerry was at the paper," says Joe McNulty, a former News & Record reporter who left in 1976 to become an attorney. "He's a unique writer. He's sort of the essence of what a good newspaper writer is. He's got the human touch. He's dogged. He can smell a story."

Bledsoe caught the scent of one after learning of the controversy from old News & Record buddies. He didn't know Perdue, but Bledsoe went to the library, read the stories and became convinced that the paper had created something from nothing. He wrote a stinging letter, printed in the Greensboro alt-weekly the Rhinoceros Times, chastising the News & Record. Perdue saw it and called Bledsoe.

"I was just taking notes as we talked," says Bledsoe. "I do that. He was telling me things that were so contrary to what appeared. It was more or less a conversation that became an interview." After the class was canceled, Bledsoe wrote a letter to the Asheboro Courier-Tribune saying canceling the class violated the First Amendment and that the college president should restore the class or resign. After that, "I thought I was finished with the issue," Bledsoe says.

But in February 1999 Bledsoe came home from a speech in Norfolk, Virginia, to a packed answering machine. Friends were calling to say that Jack Perdue had died of a heart attack.

To Bledsoe, this changed things. He was certain that his former paper had contributed to Perdue's death. Perdue was only 60.

"There's no way you could ever know if this story killed him," says Bledsoe, now 60 himself. "I don't see how it could not have contributed. When something like this happens to somebody, it takes over your life. Especially when you are helpless against it. It had to have contributed. His reputation was pretty much destroyed. People who know him wouldn't know that person Ethan described in the newspaper."

Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute first heard of Bledsoe in the early 1980s. Bledsoe had called Clark after picking up a copy of an American Society of Newspaper Editors book on top newspaper writing that Clark edited. Bledsoe thought passages sounded like his 1975 book on NASCAR racing--they were. Clark says feature writer Tom Archdeacon plagiarized about 5 percent of a NASCAR story in the now-defunct Miami News from Bledsoe's book.

"ASNE decided it was a venial but not a mortal sin," says Clark. "They decided not to take back the award.... Archdeacon showed up [at the paper] to formally apologize. I think Jerry felt for the writer even though he recognized that the writer did something irresponsible."

That was then. When it came to Feinsilver, and what Bledsoe considered his irresponsible reporting, Bledsoe would not be so kind.

Feinsilver says the News & Record lured him to Asheboro, with a population of 21,000 and 28 miles south of the comparatively bustling Greensboro, by promising a bureau job with no story quotas. Editors expected plenty of dailies, but mainly wanted him to find the best stories and write the hell out of them.

That's why, Feinsilver says, he left a reporting job at Norwalk, Connecticut's Hour for an area where his friends thought he might be a fish out of water. "But I didn't come down here with those prejudices," he says. "I tried to write about the character of Randolph County."

Feinsilver, who graduated from the University of Chicago in 1989, had already been married and divorced and had worked as a ski instructor. Now he wanted to take his writing career up a notch at a bigger paper. And North Carolina intrigued him. All he knew of the South's wounded culture and race relations came from the media. So in January 1998, he moved to Randolph County, rented a one-bedroom apartment only two blocks from the bureau, and began covering one of the country's remaining dry counties.

With his story later that year on the Civil War course, Feinsilver thought he was on to the kind of notable piece he moved South hoping to find. But he made mistakes, two key ones in writing on such a sensitive topic. First, he didn't attend the critical class. Second, he used the word "happy" to paraphrase White's words. He also spelled someone's name wrong in the first story and misattributed a quote. All of which came back to haunt him when things heated up and course organizers and others accused him of getting it all wrong.

About two weeks after the initial story ran, on December 1, 1998, the Sons of Confederate Veterans ran a half-page ad on page A4 of the News & Record personally attacking Feinsilver, accusing him in bold type of engaging in race-baiting.

"If I had had any idea after the story ran that they [White or Perdue] would say that they did not teach that, I would have had five tape recorders on me," says Feinsilver. "I really wish I had."

But he didn't, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans did. Each class was videotaped.

"I looked at all the tapes very carefully," says McNulty, who after reviewing the tapes on behalf of SCV, concluded the group had no grounds to sue the paper. "The only tape that could be at issue was the Herman White tape. He never said that the slaves were happy. But Herman White is a little bit of, well, he's a minister. Kind of a Bible-thumping minister. He's an energetic speaker and maybe goes a little bit overboard. He had notes. But what was said in the newspaper, I can tell you after looking at all the tapes very carefully, was not taught in the class." Yet, McNulty says he didn't consider what appeared in the newspaper to be libelous against the SCV.

Despite the growing public criticism, officials at the paper stayed mum, barely saying anything other than, "The N&R stands by the story." Feinsilver, too, said nothing. "I was a good little boy," he recalls. "I shouldn't have been. But the News & Record forbade me from talking to anyone in the media about this." The paper ran one correction on minor aspects of the coverage. However, after the first two stories, the word "happy" never again appeared. Instead, the paper used the terms "satisfied" and "content."

"It's true we changed the word," says John Robinson, the News & Record's editor since January 1999. "It distracted from the story. People were getting hung up on the word 'happy.' It distracted from the whole point of the story, which is what they were teaching."

Van King, publisher then and now, says, "I felt the stories we published were accurate, and they speak for themselves. Something that's very important is that the story ran on B1. What the other media did with the story was up to them, you know? Throughout, as questions were raised, we answered them or examined things. I'm comfortable with this. Very comfortable. That was also in 1998. That was a while ago."

It was a while ago. More than three years, in fact. Some might have let it go and moved on, but Bledsoe spent that time investigating the newspaper's role in the controversy and writing a book about it, his latest take on a "true crime" in his North Carolina backyard. Only this time Bledsoe gave the role of the bad guy to the paper and the reporter. The victim was Jack Perdue.

A final straw for Bledsoe was when the News & Record declined to cover Perdue's death, sticking to a 10-year policy requiring paid obituaries unless the person is a prominent figure. Robinson decided that despite Perdue's notoriety, the paper would not publish a news obituary. "The only reason we would have done it is because he was in this controversy about this course," says Robinson. "That would have been disrespectful to his memory if we wrote it as a news obituary. That was only a small part of his life."

Bledsoe saw the book as a way to right the wrongs the paper inflicted on Perdue. He'd investigate, and then he'd reveal the truth of what the paper's shoddy reporting and politically correct thinking did to this man. "This is not a book I intended to write," says Bledsoe. "It's a book that chose me. It was my county and the paper I worked for and loved for many, many years. I couldn't abide seeing that take place."

To write authoritatively, Bledsoe says he learned about the Civil War and slavery. He interviewed class members, Perdue's family, other instructors and Asheboro officials who worked with Feinsilver. He watched the tapes of each class. In March, Bledsoe published and printed 5,200 copies of "Death by Journalism?: One Teacher's Fateful Encounter with Political Correctness."

The 241-page book is intensely critical of Feinsilver, the paper, its editors and the journalism community as a whole. Bledsoe takes the national media to task for jumping on the AP story and not checking the accuracy of Feinsilver's piece.

"In his reporting, Feinsilver employed an old and cheap journalistic trick: seize upon a sensational tidbit, call people who are certain to disagree with it, or be enraged by it, and get their reactions--an easy formula for controversy," wrote Bledsoe. "Moreover, the false information appeared to be deliberately provocative. Many African-Americans deeply resent the notion that slaves in the South were happy, an image that endured, in some part, due to popular books and movies, such as 'Gone with the Wind.' "

The book paints Feinsilver as an arrogant, pushy Northerner out only for himself. In one chapter, Bledsoe writes that Feinsilver dismissed a lecturer who wanted to speak with the reporter. After tossing aside the lecturer's business card, Feinsilver snapped: "Didn't you hear me? I said I'm busy." ("I know I didn't do what was depicted in the book," responds Feinsilver. "That and a million other things. I'm so obnoxious in the book. I just don't behave that way.")

Bledsoe is convinced that Feinsilver's story was wrong; nowhere on the videotapes were the words "most black people were happy under slavery." Feinsilver, Bledsoe reported, wrote the story to stir up controversy and make a name for himself. "He was from Washington, a city kid," says Bledsoe. "I don't think he had any inkling of the South. I think he came south thinking that the Klan is behind every bush."

Former News & Record reporter Jack Betts says that though Bledsoe's book demonstrates his meticulous reporting and researching, it also shows his clear bias. "You can see his feelings about the paper come out and that may detract from the story a bit," Betts says. "But he's got this side of the story nailed."

That may be the book's biggest flaw. Bledsoe only nails one side, although he does so in an engaging and convincing manner. "What's unfortunate to me is, even with our youngest reporters, we teach them to get every side of the story," says Editor John Robinson. "If the people on one side won't talk, the reporter is still responsible to report the facts evenly and fairly, and I just don't think that the book did this."

While Bledsoe asked for interviews, the paper turned him down. "We declined to talk to Jerry for his book because we did not think he would represent the story or the newspaper's actions fairly and accurately," Robinson says. "He made his opinion quite clear a month after the story ran when he wrote Van and 19 media outlets a long open letter detailing his sense of outrage with the story. Despite his long friendship with Van, he did not attempt to call or meet with Van privately to talk about his concerns. We also knew early on that he had titled the book, 'Death by Journalism?' You can imagine what conclusions we drew from that."

Because editors at the News & Record and Feinsilver refused to be interviewed, Bledsoe's book relies solely on anonymous sources at the paper. He finds no evidence supporting the paper's case, or Feinsilver's. Everything mentioned about the paper and the reporter is negative. "I haven't read it all, but the rhetoric in the book seems a little feverish," says Poynter's Clark. "It doesn't attempt to be coolly detached. I would say, 'Bitter Blood,' which I know the best, is coolly detached. His books observe the traditional standards of neutrality and impartiality, disinterest. They are not screeds."

Bledsoe says no one at the paper would go on the record. "If the people who had helped me went on the record," he explains, "they'd have been fired. No newspaper wants it known that their story was false and allows it to stand."

Even now, with the exception of interviews with AJR, the newspaper has largely given the book the same silent treatment it adopted at the time of the controversy. When journalists call about the book, they're faxed a statement that essentially reiterates the paper's position, which is that it checked and rechecked the accuracy of the story in the years after it appeared, and it still sees no reason to correct it.

Publisher Van King makes sure callers know Bledsoe's book was self-published, and that Bledsoe left the paper mad in 1991. Robinson, King and others within the newsroom can't quite understand why Bledsoe has so much venom stored that he had to write a book about one story, a story from more than three years ago, written by a reporter who no longer works at the paper. King and Bledsoe used to be good friends and spent weekends at the beach. But they haven't talked since the book.

"For some reason, this is personal," says Robinson. "Lots of people wage their battles in different ways, and this is the way Jerry wages his."

"What's interesting about Jerry is he's one of the best people, one of the most brotherly writers that I've ever met in terms of seeing himself as part of a guild or community of writers," says Clark. "And he can be quite inspiring. But I think when it comes to those who attempt to exercise authority--I'm not getting into whether his daddy loved him or not--I'm just talking about editors. I've never heard Jerry say anything good about an editor. He seems to have disdain for editors as a class. I'm not saying he dislikes individual editors, but there's something in his personality as a journalist that would not be controlled by the decisions of others."

In February Bledsoe continued his war against his former paper by starting a column dedicated to just that in the Rhinoceros Times. But in late April, he discontinued it.

"This column was conceived in anger," Bledsoe wrote, "and decisions made in that white-hot heat are usually stupid. Courtrooms bulge with such sad cases. I knew better. But I was so astounded that people who are in charge of a newspaper would lie to readers, and when presented with truth, deny it. I'll never get over that."

Feinsilver weathered the controversy, although he says it was without strong backing from the paper. Publicly it stood by him, but inside the newsroom, he says, his colleagues wanted the story to go away. In January 1999, Feinsilver won Employee of the Month, but many feel that was just to reward him for enduring the public barrage. On January 13 he was put on probation, something Feinsilver and others at the paper say wasn't only because of the Civil War story.

"I was put on probation two months later [after the Perdue story] for a story about the town of Randleman's white police chief coming to the defense of its first black police officer, who was being targeted by the town's board members," says Feinsilver. "It was an unbelievable story and we did not cover it. Arguing with my editors about it got me on probation. But by then the feeling toward me definitely had changed after the Civil War story. They weren't able to say I got anything wrong. I felt like they were upset about the attention the story was getting, even before it turned critical."

Both King and Robinson passed on discussing Feinsilver's performance. "When people leave our paper, we just have a policy of not giving references or talking about them," King says. "But Jerry and Ethan were very good when they were here."

"Ethan's a pretty soft-spoken guy," says Andrea Ball, who worked with him in Greensboro and now reports for the Austin American-Statesman. "He's quirky. He doesn't think the same way other people do. When we talked about stories, I never got the impression he was out to get anyone to make a name for himself. He just didn't seem interested in that sort of thing."

When Feinsilver covered a dog and Frisbee event in May 1999, the paper had to run a 163-word correction. Not long after that, Feinsilver resigned and moved to Chapel Hill, where today he's a training coordinator for a University of North Carolina program. He has left journalism.

Ironically, although Bledsoe might not see it this way, the book he's written does to Feinsilver and his old paper what he accuses them of doing to Jack Perdue. For instance:

? Bledsoe says Feinsilver made mistakes and reported sloppily, yet Bledsoe has mistakes in his book. He writes that Feinsilver lived in Greensboro, not Asheboro. Untrue. And that Feinsilver is in a UNC graduate program. He's not. Bledsoe says if there are errors, he'll correct them in the next edition.

? Bledsoe criticizes Feinsilver for reporting on a class that he didn't attend, yet Bledsoe recreates scene after scene that he didn't observe. "It's worth noting that for someone who repeatedly criticizes me for reporting on a class I was not there to witness firsthand," says Feinsilver, "Bledsoe does almost nothing but second- and thirdhand reporting on these conversations he did not witness, including extensive use of the highly dubious practice of secondhand quoting."

? Bledsoe says the Civil War teacher Feinsilver depicts doesn't come close to resembling Perdue. Those who know Feinsilver, from his mother and girlfriend to those who don't necessarily like him, say they don't recognize the former reporter in Bledsoe's one-dimensional portrayal.

? Bledsoe accuses Feinsilver of trying to stir up sensationalism with his story on Perdue's class. Yet for the cover of his book, Bledsoe chose a design in which big, bold red letters on a stark white background scream: "Death by Journalism?"

? In the book, and in his recent columns, Bledsoe makes repeated ad hominem attacks on Feinsilver, too many to list, and on Robinson, a one-time friend whom he now calls publicly, "Dissemblin' John."

Most reviewers of Bledsoe's book do just what Bledsoe criticized the national press for when it unquestioningly picked up Feinsilver's Civil War story. Most reviewers say Bledsoe's book should be widely disseminated as a cautionary journalism tale. Few seem too bothered by the book's one-sided nature, or inclined to go beyond Bledsoe's version.

After Jack Perdue died, Bledsoe stopped by Feinsilver's Asheboro office. He told the reporter he was mentioned by name at the funeral. And he told Feinsilver he wanted to talk to him for a book he was planning about all this, and that he'd be investigating him. Feinsilver, trying to catch his breath, replied that his editors had instructed him not to talk.

Feinsilver took Bledsoe's visit as a threat. Bledsoe says it was more like fair warning.

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