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