Accuracy in Media

In response to recent criticism of CNN and Time magazine for their totally discredited story on Operation Tailwind, Dan Rather, who writes a syndicated column in addition to anchoring the CBS Evening News, declared that there is not now and never has been any anti-military bias in the media. He said in his column that the real bias is, quote, “decidedly pro-military…This includes Vietnam. It’s a myth that most American journalists in Vietnam didn’t like the military.”

Dan Rather either has a very poor memory or he is deliberately trying to rewrite history. Take Peter Arnett, who covered Vietnam for the AP for eight years. He won a Pulitzer prize for five stories he wrote in 1965. Four out of the five reflected his strong anti-military bias. His reporting played an important role in converting the stunning defeat the Viet Cong suffered in the 1968 Tet offensive into a psychological victory. He reported that the Vietcong had captured the U.S. embassy in Saigon, and he continued to report it for eight hours after he had been informed that it wasn’t true. That helped convince the public that we had suffered a military defeat at the hands of the Viet Cong.

An analysis of the CBS Evening News broadcasts for the year 1972 showed that when CBS newsmen had an opportunity to express an explicit opinion on the air concerning spending more or less on national defense, the dovish views outnumbered the hawkish by 25 to one. Lefever found that a similar pattern prevailed when CBS was reporting the views of others.

James Reston of the New York Times boasted of the media’s role in bringing about the Communist takeover of Vietnam. In a 1975 column he said, “Maybe the historians will agree that the reporters and the cameras were decisive in the end. They brought the issue of the war to the people, before the Congress and the courts, and forced the withdrawal of American power from Vietnam.”

Rather displayed his own anti-U.S. military bias in a newscast on March 30, 1987. He reported that Soviet a Soviet publication had charged that an American military laboratory had developed the virus that caused the AIDS epidemic. He did not accompany this vicious charge against the U. S. military with any comment from the Pentagon or the State Department.

This story had been exposed as 17-month old Soviet disinformation at a special State Department briefing for reporters five months before Rather aired it. A CBS correspondent was there, but if he submitted a story, CBS didn’t air it. Accuracy in Media demanded that CBS retract this smear of the U.S. and our military. Tom Bettag, who was then Dan Rather’s executive producer, sent us a letter rejecting that demand. He said, “We give a lot of attention to avoiding disinformation, but I don’t think this is an example that bears the kind of scrutiny you suggest. I certainly do not find it shocking.” We presume Bettag cleared that with Dan Rather, who now claims there is not now and never has been any anti-military bias in the media.

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