Atlanta Film Critics Circle Review
Dateline-Saigon is a powerful, haunting documentary about 5 journalists reporting the truth about the Vietnam War
Dateline-Saigon, documentary, Vietnam War, reporting, reporters, journalism, Thomas D. Herman, David Halberstam, Malcolm Browne, Neil Sheehan, Peter Arnett, Horst Faas, John F. Kennedy, President Kennedy, New York Times, Associated Press, United Press International
1997
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Atlanta Film Critics Circle

Atlanta Film Critics Circle Review

“Fake news” is nothing new. Thomas D. Herman’s documentary takes us back to 1961, in the early days of America’s involvement in Vietnam. We had sent a few “military advisors” in the guise of “flood relief workers” to train South Vietnamese soldiers – who had neither the heart nor the stomach for battle – to fight the Viet Cong. News organizations sent reporters – relative rookies, none older than 30, because it didn’t seem like a very important story. One of them reported on the arrival of a U.S. aircraft carrier loaded with helicopters in Saigon harbor, something the administration had hoped to keep secret; and the battle was on. As the journalists continued reporting what they witnessed, rather than the party line, they were labeled “Commies” and “traitors.” This is the story of five of those future Pulitzer Prize winners: David Halberstam of the New York Times, Neil Sheehan of United Press International, and the Associated Press team of Malcolm Browne, Peter Arnett and photographer Horst Faas. What started as almost a vacation in Saigon grew ever more challenging, with local coffee shops providing unreliable gossip the way social media does today and U.S. officials proving equally unreliable. In 1963 South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic, took repressive measures against the Buddhist majority, triggering a virtual civil war that led to a coup and Diem’s assassination in the same month as U.S. President Kennedy’s. The next year U.S. involvement officially escalated, as did TV coverage, and the war went on for more than a decade. I’d be surprised if our schools are teaching as much of this history as you can learn from this film. (But of course a journalist would like it.)

By Steve Warren, INsite Magazine/Atlanta
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