In 1950, editor of Picture Post Tom Hopkinson sent reporter James Cameron and photographer Bert Hardy to cover the Korean War. While in Korea the two men produced three illustrated stories for Picture Post, including General Douglas MacArthur’s landing at Inchon. But the photos Hardy took outside Pusan Station were the memorable images that eventually ripped Britain’s premier picture magazine apart.
In early September 1950, Pusan was the only Korean city held by U.N. Forces. There outside the train station were about sixty political prisoners, aged 14 to 70, suspected of opposing South Korean dictator Syngman Rhee. They were tied up, and wore almost no clothes; when they tried to scoop a drink from the puddles of rain that they were squatting in, South Korean guards beat them with rifle butts. When Hardy took the photos, they were about to be taken off and shot. Their fate reminded Hardy and Cameron of the horrors of Bergen-Belsen. Cameron wrote a story harshly critical of the Allies, the UN and the Red Cross for giving Rhee a free rein.
In London, Tom Hopkinson admitted that Hardy’s photos were the best he ever received; but considering the story’s sensitivity, he waited until Cameron and Hardy came back to confirm the story’s authenticity and assure him that it was no isolated case. Even then, he attached a picture of an American prisoner being paraded cruelly through Pyongyang (taken from in a Czech magazine) to achieve some balance, and asked Cameron to remove any trace of excessive emotion which might lead people to accuse the paper of sensationalism or bias. Cameron rewrote the story in flatter style, and later reflected that he had “never worked so hard to write so badly”.
But Hopkinson was constantly conflict with Picture Post’s owner Edward G. Hulton. In August 1945, Hulton wrote to Hopkinson whom he suspected was a socialist: “I cannot permit editors of my newspapers to become organs of Communist propaganda. Still less to make the great newspaper which I built up a laughing-stock.” While Hulton initially did not object to Cameron’s story, he was persuaded by his beautiful émigrée wife Nika to remove the story. Hulton — on the verge of receiving a knighthood — stopped the presses, fearing that coverage would “give aid and comfort to the enemy”.
After a week’s cooling period, Hopkinson insisted on printing the story; he refused to accept the management’s invitation to resign, and they sacked him. He persuaded most of the staff not to resign in protest, although some did. Hulton sent Cameron and Hardy into the Himalayas on a wild goose chase for the Dalai Lama. Their “Inchon” story touting Gen. MacArthur covered nine pages of the Oct. 7, 1950 Picture Post. After Hopkinson, Post was led by a revolving door of incompetent editors until it finally closed shop in 1957. Syngman Rhee’s authoritarian presidency lasted ten more years until 1960, when following popular protests against a disputed election, he resigned. More than 200,000 perished under his reign of terror.