In many ways, the Democratic Party and its sycophants in the mainstream media are still reeling from the stunning victory of Donald Trump over the hollow harridan of New Haven, Hillary Clinton. But aside from the former secretary of state being relegated to the dustbin of history next to Thomas Dewey, the most significant hallmark of the 2016 election was the electorate’s rejection of the fake news and treachery employed by the liberal media to try to secure the presidency for their desired candidate. These sophomoric tactics were largely met with derision by a more perspicacious voting public, but such agenda-driven reporting has not always met with the appropriate level of discernment.
Roughly 53 years ago, fake news had more deleterious consequences for U.S. foreign policy as American journalists unwittingly became willing dupes for Communists looking to topple the South Vietnamese government.
For many later generation baby boomers, Vietnam was about body counts on the nightly news, pictures of napalmed South Vietnamese villages, anti-war protests and faded memories of America’s disgraceful withdrawal in April 1975. But very few were likely aware of the subterfuge taking place within media circles to help bring down the South Vietnamese regime of Ngo Dinh Diem in the early 1960s.
In his book, Triumph Forsaken, The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, author Mark Moyar unveils the instrumental role that David Halberstam of the New York Times and Neil Sheehan of the Washington Post played in determining the course of the war early on.
In the initial stage of their war coverage assignment, Sheehan and Halberstam were largely supportive of the U.S. effort to defeat communism in Southeast Asia, but soon adopted a more self-absorbed attitude toward their job. According to Moyar, they “came to Vietnam believing that they were entitled to receive all the information they wanted, and when the government did not follow their script, the two young men became indignant and vengeful.” Gradually the two reporters took on a more critical tone toward the Diem regime, deriding the South Vietnamese army in their columns while overlooking its overwhelming battlefield successes.
Unfortunately for the South Vietnamese, the flawed reporting would come to have more adverse repercussions over the summer of 1963 as protests by the Buddhist minority over alleged religious discrimination quickly escalated, abetted by the Communist fifth column that had infiltrated the movement. Some of the Communist militants even became active sources of disinformation for the U.S. journalists.
As Moyar notes: “The American correspondents, because of their hatred of the Diem government and their unfamiliarity with the Vietnamese political environment, uncritically accepted their Buddhist friends’ claims about the political situation, many of which were fallacious.”
The protests culminated in a series of pagoda raids by South Vietnamese police and the self-immolation of several Buddhist priests, the most celebrated of which became the lead subject on the front pages of many western periodicals. This widely publicized event, in Moyar’s words, “did much to transform Vietnam from a Cold War sideshow into a major foreign policy issue. Americans unfamiliar with recent events in Vietnam were inclined to believe that such a self-sacrifice could have occurred only if the government had engaged in severe religious persecution.”
Halberstam’s columns became increasingly critical of the South Vietnamese regime’s efforts to quell the protests and included references to bloodshed and killings of protesters that turned out to be grossly embellished. There then followed a series of egregious diplomatic missteps by the Kennedy administration that eventually led to the November 1 coup and Diem’s assassination. Much of the competent military leadership that Diem had put in place quickly unraveled, providing the opportunity for a dramatic escalation of attacks by Vietcong insurgents and the North Vietnamese Army. By July 1965, after several timid attempts at getting the Communist aggressors to pull back, a flustered and ill-prepared President Johnson committed the United States to large-scale troop deployment.
The media’s agenda-driven coverage of the Vietnam War and its related adverse foreign policy outcomes provides a glowing example of the phenomenon of fake news and its potential to generate destructive consequences. Yet the liberal media seems to have maintained this belief that its overriding mission is that of shaping public opinion, even if it requires the distorting reality or the omission of facts and events that do not coincide with its worldview.
The Candy Crowley-like instances of the media inserting itself in a national discussion as an active filter, the editing of transcripts to change the facts of an event (the Trayvon Martin tape edit of the 911 operator asking “OK, and this guy—is he black, white or Hispanic?”) or the false accounting of the actions of their political adversaries (claiming Donald Trump removed the bust of Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Oval Office to promote the racist narrative) all act to undermine their very credibility.
But given their primary interest remains that of playing the role of “news traffic cop” and trying to tell the public what to ignore and what to believe, look for their impact to continue to be marginalized. If there was any doubt before the 2016 election, it is now clear that the statist media’s cover has been blown and that the public is better off seeking information outside from traditional media sources.