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

By William V. Kennedy | Go to book overview

an obsession with action-packed photography to the exclusion of all else. 49 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.

There were rare exceptions to the general atmosphere of messianism and irresponsibility. Bill Wordham of ABC News was eyewitness to repeated incidents in which Marines had died because their M-16 rifles had jammed. Although the Marine chain of command bitterly and vociferously denied that there was any such problem, Wordham persisted until a more honest investigation established that, indeed, there was a major problem and it was fixed. Without question, Wordham saved many American lives.

With three years remaining in the decade Army Chief of Staff Harold K. Johnson said it would take to defeat North Vietnam within the strategic straitjacket imposed by the McNamara regime, and when only half of the million-man U.S. expeditionary force Johnson said would be required had been deployed, the United States deserted its South Vietnamese ally.

Initially, powerful voices in American journalism claimed that the reporters of print and broadcast had brought about that abandonment.

"The reporters and the cameras," James Reston of the New York Times wrote as North Vietnamese armored columns overran South Vietnam, "forced the withdrawal of American power from Vietnam." 50

William J. Small, then director of CBS News in Washington, claimed that television news had "caused the disillusionment of Americans with this war, the cynicism of many young people towards America, and the destruction of Lyndon Johnson's tenure of office." 51


NOTES
1.
Hanson W. Baldwin, conversations with author at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and at Baldwin's home in Connecticut, 1977-79, during preparation of a U.S. Army War College monograph, Press Coverage of the Vietnam War: The Third View, published in May 1979.
2.
For the Times's influence on all the rest of American journalism, see inter alia, Edward J. Epstein, News from Nowhere ( New York: 1973); Random House, John Hohenberg, Foreign Correspondence: The Great Reporters and Their Times ( New York: Columbia University, 1964); Leon V. Sigal, Reporters and Officials: The Organization and Politics of Newsmaking ( Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath & Co., 1973).
3.
Hanson W. Baldwin, correspondence with author, 2 August 1979.
4.
Hanson W. Baldwin, "Memorandum for Mr. E.C. Daniel", 29 December 1966.
5.
Clifton Daniel, "Memorandum for Mr. Baldwin", 28 December 1966.

-104-

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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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