06 Aug Dateline-Saigon remembers the journalists who revealed a dirty war
Nearly 60 years ago, Associated Press reporter Malcolm Browne was sent to Saigon to report on the conflict between the Communist North and American-backed South. He was soon joined in the AP bureau by Peter Arnett and photojournalist Horst Faas, and they found themselves competing with upstart UPI reporter Neil Sheehan and brash New York Times journalist David Halberstam on the beat as the Vietnamese civil war erupted into an American-led war of Cold War containment.
The consequences of that escalation — the protests and culture wars, the draft and the quagmire — were all years away. But the reporting those journalists did, and the price they paid for it, foretold what was in store for America. That story has been eclipsed by Vietnam’s more provocative media moments (My Lai, Agent Orange, Walter Cronkite declaring the war unwinnable on national TV), but it’s resuscitated by filmmaker Thomas D. Herman in his documentary Dateline-Saigon.
The Vietnam experience of Halberstam, Sheehan, Browne, Arnett, and Faas upended how conflict was covered in the American press, and it gave the government and its enablers ammunition in its war against the First Amendment and the reporters some still feel cost the country victory. And despite being more than a half century past, Vietnam has proven it will never be done with us — nor we with it. Dateline-Saigon’s release comes as the country is more divided than at any time since the 1960s. The fault lines are familiar — civil rights, brutal crackdowns of protests, state-sponsored attempts to delegitimize the press — and they vibrate throughout the film.
Herman spoke with the Star-Revue about his unexpectantly relevant film and the journalists at the center of it. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
By Dante A. Ciampaglia, The Star Review
Read the interview here: star-revue.com