The Military and the Media: Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War

By William V. Kennedy | Go to book overview

7
Vietnam: The Watershed

Try as one might, Hanson W. Baldwin commented in an interview concerning his long career as military correspondent of the New York Times, it is impossible to separate coverage of military affairs from politics. 1

For Baldwin that was a vast understatement of the bitter rear-guard action he had fought during his last decade at the Times. It was a struggle born in equal parts of the Times's deep commitment to the Kennedy political dynasty and, paradoxically, of the Times's growing opposition to what would become President John F. Kennedy's principal legacy, the Vietnam War.

The history of that internal struggle is told in thousands of internal Times documents deposited by Baldwin in the Sterling Library at Yale University, with important additional background in a series of oral history interviews with Baldwin by the U.S. Naval Institute at Annapolis, Maryland. Because of the profound influence the Times exerts on all of the rest of American journalism, 2 in particular the networks and the weekly news magazines, the internal New York Times dispute over Vietnam coverage lies at the core of the lasting hostility and distrust between the military and the press that is the long-term legacy of the Vietnam War.

The defining moment both in Baldwin's defeat within the corporate structure of the Times and in the likely permanent embitterment embodied in the relationship between the press and the U.S. military was the visit by Harrison E. Salisbury, then an assistant managing editor of the Times, to North Vietnam in December 1966. At that time U.S. forces were engaged in combat with North Vietnam in defense of South Vietnam.

During a U.S. Naval Institute oral history interview, Baldwin charged that Salisbury "wasn't in Vietnam more than 24 hours before he filed his first story. It contained almost verbatim . . . a release which the North Vi

-87-

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The Military and the Media: Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Notes xi
  • 1 - Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover A War 1
  • Notes 11
  • 2 - The Roots of Conflict 13
  • Notes 18
  • 3 - Television: The Here, Now, and Obituary Medium 21
  • Notes 39
  • 4 - The Dailies: Shaky Bedrock 41
  • Note 58
  • 5 - The Wire Services: The Weakest Reed 61
  • Notes 71
  • 6 - The Magazines 73
  • Notes 85
  • 7 - Vietnam: The Watershed 87
  • Notes 104
  • 8 - Aftermath 109
  • Notes 125
  • 9 - Managing the "Right to Lie" 129
  • Notes 140
  • 10 - How to Defeat the "Right to Lie" 143
  • Notes 154
  • Epilogue 157
  • Select Bibliography 159
  • Index 163
  • About the Author *
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