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Forty Years Later

Remembering the lies of Tet.

As the Washington Post's Saigon bureau chief Peter Braestrup documented in his 1977 book, "The Big Story," the desperate fury of the communist attacks including on Saigon, where most reporters lived and worked, caught the press by surprise. (Not the military: It had been expecting an attack and had been on full alert since Jan. 24.) It also put many reporters in physical danger for the first time. Braestrup, a former Marine, calculated that only 40 of 354 print and TV journalists covering the war at the time had seen any real fighting. Their own panic deeply colored their reportage, suggesting that the communist assault had flung Vietnam into chaos.

Their editors at home, like CBS's Walter Cronkite, seized on the distorted reporting to discredit the military's version of events. The Viet Cong insurgency was in its death throes, just as U.S. military officials assured the American people at the time. Yet the press version painted a different picture.

To quote Braestrup, "the media tended to leave the shock and confusion of early February, as then perceived, fixed as the final impression of Tet" and of Vietnam generally. "Drama was perpetuated at the expense of information," and "the negative trend" of media reporting "added to the distortion of the real situation on the ground in Vietnam."

The North Vietnamese were delighted. On the heels of their devastating defeat, Hanoi increasingly shifted its propaganda efforts toward the media and the antiwar movement. Causing American (not South Vietnamese) casualties, even at heavy cost, became a battlefield objective in order to reinforce the American media's narrative of a failing policy in Vietnam.

Sound familiar?

I fear that Al Qaeda may attempt one more spasm of violence, and the media, ever dutiful to the enemy, wittingly or not, will report it as the war futile and lost in Iraq.


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Dennis Wingo wrote:

I will forever hate the media for what they did then. My brother was in the First Cav during Tet and they kicked ass.

Habitat Hermit wrote:

Another good article (this one by Uwe Siemon-Netto, saw it linked at NRO).

I've been aware of the momentous lies for a long time (even when born after it ended) but that's sadly uncommon in my generation and it is crucial that good people keep spreading the truth. My sincere gratitude to those that do, in some ways it feels to me like the Viet Nam war will not be over until the truth is generally acknowledged and taught instead of deranged lies of the idiotarians. Some day that will happen.

Barbara Skolaut wrote:

"ever dutiful to the enemy, wittingly or not"

Don't worry, Rand, it's wittingly. >:-( *spit*

Trimegistus wrote:

Why should Al-Qaeda bother? They just have to hang on until next January and the Democrats will hand them victory on a velvet cushion. The terrorists can save their resources for massacring Iraqis afterwards.

Jeff Mauldin wrote:

On reflection, it's hard to believe anybody really thinks they know what's going on in the world based on 2 minute (or less) news spots on video. Or rather, it's not so hard to believe, but it's unfortunate that people think that.

Any time I've taken the time to delve into any issue of importance, I usually find complexity not hinted at by the news, and there is almost always several sides to an issue. I do usually find certain "sides" of a story more persuasive and am thus convinced, but at least I can usually understand the thinking of the "other side."

My perception, gleaned from the media growing up was that our activities in Vietnam were a big mess and a big mistake. My thinking has changed over the years to "we abandoned them, and if we had stuck it out things would have been very different."

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on February 6, 2008 6:57 AM.

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