Monday, January 22, 2007

Vietnam reporting

A couple of follow-up points about Halberstam and his band of knowing brothers. CSPAN did an interview with William Prochnau author of Once Upon a Distant War: David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett--Young War Correspondents and Their Early Vietnam Battles.

Here the author describes Neil Sheehan's background that earned him s spot in Saigon and gave him such deep insight into the war:

Neil Sheehan was 25 years old. A sometimes brooding, sometimes absolutely wildly humorous and wonderful Irishman who had worked exactly two weeks for UPI in Tokyo before the Saigon correspondent for this, second-rate, second-best news agency. The Saigon chief quit. They rustled around in Tokyo to see who could speak French; he spoke French. And suddenly, after two week's experience, he was the Saigon bureau chief for UPI, and it was 30 years before he really rid himself of Vietnam after that.
Here is Halberstam in his element with the media mob:

Well, Halberstam I describe as a brilliant brat. I mean, he clearly was the driving force. He worked for The New York Times. The Times, at that time was clearly the dominant and most prestigious newspaper in the world at that time. And television was not what it is today. That television came in occasionally with stringers and part-time correspondents and you'd see a little blip here and a little blip there about Vietnam, but Halberstam represented the most powerful media institution of all. He was 28 years old. He was a man of great passions, great angers. The lying and more deception of another kind, the self-delusion and the self-deception -- he felt was deluding itself as much as deluding the American people -- drove him to fits. At one point, in one very famous episode, he slammed his fist down on a table in a little cafe in Saigon and said that the commanding general, the American General Harkins, Paul Harkins, should be court-martialed and shot. And everybody in the room turned around and looked at this 28-year old making this kind of announcement. He was clearly the drivingforce.

Here is Sheehan's own explanation for his political evolution from hawk to dove:

I have sometimes thought, when a street urchin with sores covering his legs stopped me and begged for a few cents' worth of Vietnamese piastres, that he might be better off growing up as a political commissar. He would then, at least, have some self-respect.
Ideology as an unthinking tantrum. That is all it takes to become a journalistic hero.

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