FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Cronkite and Vietnam

Media eulogies for Walter Cronkite — including from progressive commentators — rarely talk about his coverage of the Vietnam War before 1968. This obit omit is essential to the myth of Cronkite as a courageous truth-teller.

But facts are facts, and history is history — including what Cronkite actually did as TV’s most influential journalist during the first years of the Vietnam War. Despite all the posthumous praise for Cronkite’s February 1968 telecast that dubbed the war “a stalemate,” the facts of history show that the broadcast came only after Cronkite’s protracted support for the war.

In 1965, reporting from Vietnam, Cronkite dramatized the murderous war effort with enthusiasm. “B-57s — the British call them Canberra jets — we’re using them very effectively here in this war in Vietnam to dive-bomb the Vietcong in these jungles beyond Da Nang here,” he reported, standing in front of a plane. Cronkite then turned to a U.S. Air Force officer next to him and said: “Colonel, what’s our mission we’re about to embark on?”

“Well, our mission today, sir, is to report down to the site of the ambush 70 miles south of here and attempt to kill the VC,” the colonel replied.

Cronkite’s report continued from the air. “The colonel has just advised me that that is our target area right over there,” he said. “One, two, three, four, we dropped our bombs, and now a tremendous G-load as we pull out of that dive. Oh, I know something of what those astronauts must go through.”

Next, viewers saw Cronkite get off the plane and say: “Well, colonel, it’s a great way to go to war.”

The upbeat report didn’t mention civilians beneath the bombs.

That footage from CBS Evening News appears in “War Made Easy,” the documentary film based on my book of the same name. Routinely, audiences gasp as the media myth of Cronkite deconstructs itself in front of their eyes.

Also in 1965 — the pivotal year of escalation — Cronkite expressed explicit support for the Vietnam War. He lauded “the courageous decision that Communism’s advance must be stopped in Asia and that guerilla warfare as a means to a political end must be finally discouraged.”

Why does this matter now? Because citing Cronkite as an example of courageous reporting on a war is a dangerously low bar — as if reporting that a war can’t be won, after cheerleading it for years, is somehow the ultimate in journalistic quality and courage.

The biggest and most important lie about an aggressive war based on deception is not that the war can’t be won. The biggest and most important lie is deference to the conventional wisdom that insists the war must be fought in the first place and portrays it as a moral enterprise.

From the “War Made Easy” film transcript:

NORMAN SOLOMON: “A big problem with the media focus is that it sees the war through the eyes of the Americans, through the eyes of the occupiers, rather than those who are bearing the brunt of the war in human terms.”

WALTER CRONKITE: “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders both in Vietnam and Washington to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds.”

SOLOMON: “In early 1968, Walter Cronkite told CBS viewers that the war couldn’t be won.”

CRONKITE: “It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate.”

SOLOMON: “And that was instantly, and through time even more so, heralded as the tide has turned. As Lyndon Johnson is reputed to have said when he saw Cronkite give that report, ‘I’ve lost middle America.’ And it was presented as not only a turning point, quite often, but also as sort of a moral statement by the journalistic establishment. Well, I would say yes and no. It was an acknowledgement that the United States, contrary to official Washington claims, was not winning the war in Vietnam, and could not win. But it was not a statement that the war was wrong. A problem there is that if the critique says this war is bad because it’s not winnable, then the response is, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll show you it can be winnable, or the next war will be winnable.’ So, that critique doesn’t challenge the prerogatives of military expansion, or aggression if you will, or empire.”

NORMAN SOLOMON is the author of Made Love, Got War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail