According to the New York Times, a group of liberal venture capitalists are in the process of developing their own liberal radio network to counter conservative shows like Rush Limbaugh. They feel the liberal viewpoint is not being heard -- except on TV, in the movies, in music, by comedians, magazines and newspapers. Other than that, it's not getting out!" --- Jay Leno

Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War

by William V. Kennedy


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Very few citizens have the time and means to search out government information vital to their well-being. As a result, access means mainly access by the press, like it or not.

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But American journalism has neither the technical competence to recognize the long-term implications of [military information] nor the structural means to relate it to a crisis that occurs years, or even months, later…..

As with every major military story since the end of World War II, the press failed. It did not fail because of government censorship. Rather, it failed because of the inadequacies of its own training and organization, deficiencies that prevented it from reporting matters of crucial importance, even when all of the essential facts were in the public domain.

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At least since the early 1960s the press has been unable to assess accurately the mass of military data that was already on the public record.

It was said ruefully, and truly, by Ron Nessen, vice president for news at NBC Radio/Mutual Broadcasting, when the degree of press exclusion became clear that "The Pentagon has won the last battle of the Vietnam War. It was fought in the sands of Saudi Arabia, and the defeated enemy was us."….

Vietnam is indeed the watershed… [The deep structural defects that led to the disastrous Vietnam press coverage existed long before U.S. forces became engaged in Southeast Asia and were apparent in every major military news story up to that time. These are discussed in Chapters 2 through 6. What went wrong in Vietnam is discussed in Chapter 7]

The establishment of a "right to lie" as official U.S. government policy during the administration of President John F. Kennedy and the elaborate systems available to pursue such a policy, made all the more dangerous by the absence of effective press surveillance, are discussed in Chapter 9. The final chapter describes what could be done if an aroused citizenry were to force the owners of the nation's major news media to address the problem.

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Vietnam: The Watershed (p.103) On October 9, 1967, “CBS Evening News” broadcast film showing a U.S. soldier attempting to cut off the ear of a dead enemy soldier. The Army immediately brought charges against the soldier, such conduct being in violation of the Rules of Land Warfare, of which the United States is a signatory. Those rules are implemented in the U S. Uniform Code of Military Justice on the provisions on which all U. S. soldiers are instructed during basic training. During the trial it developed that the soldier had been urged on by CBS reporters Don Webster and John Smith, Smith having supplied the knife. The soldier was convicted. Smith and Webster were not charged.

Two years later, still employed by CBS, Webster figured in another incident, broadcast on November 3, 1969, which appeared to portray the stabbing of a captured enemy soldier by a South Vietnamese in the presence of U.S. personnel. The U.S. embassy in Saigon presented convincing evidence that the report had been put together using film clips from different locales, U.S. training films, and varying personnel to produce the desired, and fictitious, effect. CBS refused to assist in the investigation of the incident, but did not challenge the embassy report.

In early February 1968, U.S. Army Colonel Ronald A. Roberge, then senior province adviser at Vinh Long, was asked the following questions by a network television crew, concerning the then recent Communist Tet offensive:

Q: Did you receive any warning from [U.S. military headquarters] of the Tet attack?
A: Yes, as we had many times in the past. We anticipated attacks in the district, but we did not anticipate an attack on Vinh Long itself.
Q: Did the Vietnamese have any idea such an attack was coming?
A: Hell no! Or if they did they didn't tell me.

Friends of Roberge told him later that the interview as broadcast had been edited to make the answer to the second question appear to be the answer to the first question, the question of advance warning by senior U.S. headquarters having become an important political issue at home.

As was the case with the expertly distorted 1969 Webster stabbing report, that editing was done in New York, in an atmosphere described by Professor John Roche of Brandeis University who, while serving as an adviser to President Johnson, was called on frequently to appear on network news "shows." "At the junior producer level," Professor Roche told future television news host John McLaughlin, "there are a lot of very bright college-educated guys, still in their twenties who decide which film clips to run. Just before going on the air, staffers would ask me how anyone can support an immoral war. The producer was using a picture of Johnson for a dart-board. "48

As Roche's experience indicates, the emotional bias may have been more extreme at CBS than at the other networks, but it prevailed throughout. Virtually every U.S. officer of whatever rank who served in Vietnam, and many enlisted persons as well, who had contact with television news crews reported incidents, if not of deliberate fakery, of ignorance, ineptitude, and an obsession with action-packed photography to the exclusion of all else. Threaded through it all was the bias reflected by those young producers in New York, imbibed from nowhere else than the editorials and ideologically infected news columns of the New York Times, the only comprehensive report of the war to which those producers and the more senior executives had ever been exposed.

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Vietnam: The Watershed (p.93) Warnings from Hanson Baldwin [of the Times] that the military chiefs were telling McNamara his strategy would require 1 million men and "many years" of struggle either went unheeded or never made it into print as Baldwin encountered increasing opposition from pro-McNamara editors at every level of New York Times management.23
The chorus of press support continued well into 1966….
A suspicious press? Except for Baldwin's lone voice, not until the damage to the public interest was irrevocable.

Aftermath (p.113) …Roper and others have long since established through analysis of the post-election polling that the immediate cause of Johnson's moral collapse-the heavy vote for a Democratic opponent, Eugene McCarthy, in the 1968 New Hampshire primary-was similarly misreported and misinterpreted by the press.8 That is, the voters who supported McCarthy in the primary mainly voted in the general election for Alabama Governor George Wallace on a "win the war" platform. On that same platform was none other than the world's leading advocate of bombing the North Vietnamese "back into the Stone Age," retired Air Force General Curtis E. LeMay. In short, the New Hampshire primary voters were trying to throw out a president who would not prosecute the war to a conclusion and replace him with one who talked in terms of ''victory.

Dan Rather's charge that the military failed to alert the public, presumably by resignations, had become a subject of intense discussion and debate within the military itself. In the mind of General William C. Westmoreland, the principal U.S commander in Vietnam, the fulsome support from the press for the firing of Decker and Anderson seemed to indicate that "the American people" did not want senior officers defying civilian authority in any form.9 Even so, Westmoreland came to believe that resignation would have been better than permitting himself to be used as a military front for Kennedy, Johnson, and McNamara policies that had foredoomed the effort.

The New York Times greeted Colonel Harry Summers's On Strategy by offering him a job, in effect as replacement for Hanson Baldwin. Summers accepted instead an offer from U. S. News and World Report and from there went on to become a syndicated columnist for the Los Angeles Times News Service, but retaining all the while an official connection as a "Distinguished Fellow of the U.S. Army War College." Although this was a blatant conflict of interest, the press was so relieved and delighted over Summers's exculpation of its Vietnam performance that the issue has never been raised.

(p 124) Moreover, this is not the first time that a Pulitzer Prize has been awarded more for the benefit of institutional interests than as a reward for quality journalism. David Halberstam was awarded a Pulitzer Prize less to reward the quality of his reporting from Vietnam than to silence those who were raising uncomfortable questions about the role of the New York Times in the overthrow and murder of President Diem. According to Hanson Baldwin, an attempt was made to silence critics of Harrison Salisbury's 1966 trip to Hanoi by awarding Salisbury a Pulitzer, but it failed by one vote.30


In 1985, the Los Angeles Times surveyed 3,000 journalists across the country at 621 newspapers. Their conclusion was that "Members of the press are predominantly liberal, considerably more liberal than the general public." A 1995 Roper Poll furnished similar results.