Reed Irvine - Editor
|April A, 1973|
On March 29, 1973, returned American prisoners of war broke their silence about the treatment they had received at the hands of the North Vietnamese and Vietcong. They had waited until all the POWs were safely out of Vietnam before telling of the incredibly brutal torture and inhumane treatment that 95 per cent of the prisoners of the Communists had suffered.
With few exceptions, the newspapers we have examined did a reasonably good job of informing their readers about the brutal torture of the POWs revealed on March 29 and subsequently.
Conspicuously missing in the press coverage, however, has been reporting on reactions to the bombshell revelations of the POWs. Mysteriously, the press seemed not at all eager to obtain or publicize the reactions of Congressmen, government officials, anti-war activists or the man in the street. Nor did the press rush into print with its own commentary on the brutality of the Communists. The same editorialists and columnists who had been so quick and eloquent in their condemnation of My Lai had little or nothing to say about the bestial treatment and murder of American captives of the Vietnamese Communists.
Further, during all those years of suffering by the POWs, what did our mass media do to find out what was going on in the Communists prison camps. Did they do anything to make the lot of the POWs easier--or did they in effect pursue policies that encouraged the Communists to mistreat our men?
According to the returned POWs, the period of systematic torture in the North Vietnamese prison camps extended from 1966 to November 1969. Their accounts generally agree that the chief reason for the worst torture was to obtain statements that could be used for propaganda purposes. They also agree that the worst torture abated in the Fall of 1969 because of the campaign that focused on the plight of the POWs and the worldwide demands for humane treatment of them. The news media assisted in that campaign and are entitled to some of the credit for the abatement of the torture. Two questions are raised by this record:
The Communist purpose for extracting "confessions" and denunciations of the war from American POWs was to generate material that could be used in the United States to sap civilian morale and undermine U.S. support for the war in Vietnam. The most reliable channel for this was the Communist-controlled press, but the Communists also wanted to broaden their audience. That meant getting their message into the non-Communist mass media--newspapers, magazines and TV.
In am article published in The Times on January 11, 1967, Harrison Salisbury of The New York Times said that Hanoi decided to open the door to those who were neither communists nor communist sympathizers. "This decision by Hanoi may well, in the opinion of diplomats in Hanoi, have a major impact on the course of the war." He explained, "The impact of continuous and detailed reports of the bombing by Westerners should not, in the opinion of diplomats sympathetic to the United States, be underestimated in Washington...The effect on world opinion may be heightened by television and documentary film coverage of North Vietnam."
The Communists knew that the propaganda effect of these tours by foreign visitors and correspondents would be greatly heightened if they could have them meet with American pilots who would confess to all manner of war crimes and denounce the war. Since the foreign press seemed eager to report what visitors to Hanoi had to say, this was an ideal channel into U.S. mass media. A group of properly prepared prisoners, and the cooperation of gullible visitors, and of the news media were needed.
Though the prisoners were not cooperative, the Communists demonstrated that they could break some by brutal torture. The visitors, including such luminaries as Ramsey Clark, were very cooperative.
Very important segments of the American news media responded pretty much as the Communists hoped. Harrison Salisbury and his newspaper were evidently willing to serve as a transmission belt for propaganda by reporting from Hanoi Communist charges about American bombing as if he were describing what he had himself observed or confirmed. Salisbury tried to see some of the POWs, but the Communists declined that request, perhaps they still did not have anyone adequately "prepared" to meet him. Unable to make any first-hand observation of the POWs, Salisbury told the readers of the N.Y. Times that diplomats in Hanoi believed the prisoners were being given relatively good care.
Capt. James Mulligan, one of the returned POWs, has commented:
Why do you think we're so disturbed by the New York Times? While Harrison Salisbury was sitting in Hanoi (in 1966) me and the other guys were being tortured, and he knew nothing about it. And I know god dam well he knew nothing about it; he was completely duped. (New York Times, 4/1/73)
One of the most shocking early examples of the media's cooperation with the Communist propaganda machine came in October 1967. The East Garmans had produced filmed interviews with a group of POWs who had been carefully prepared by torture for this propaganda extravaganza. NBC paid the East Germans $12,000 for these films and broadcast excerpts from them over the Huntley-Brinkley nightly news show. Life magazine bought still photographs of the POWs from the East Germans for S25,000.
The N.Y. Times printed one of these photos on the front page of its Sunday edition of October 15, 1967, together with a story that quoted East German sources as saying: "The treatment of United States Air Force pilots imprisoned in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam does full credit to the Geneva convention on treatment of captured combatants." Reportedly, the prisoners described their treatment as "fair"; most of them expressed the wish for a quick end to the war; they had discovered that their "anti-Communist cliché notions were not borne out by reality."
The Times inserted in the story a paragraph pointing out that a U.S. spokesman charged Hanoi with "trafficking" in doctored photos. It said that officials implied that the majority of the prisoners were being kept out of sight and subjected to harsh conditions. This paragraph referred to a statement made by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Nitze blasting Hanoi's exploitation of the POWs. The Times placed this story on page 3. On the same day, it had the Communist propaganda story on page one.
The Washington Post was more forthright in reporting Nitze's comment, saying that the material sold by the Germans was "callous Communist propaganda" and was "yet another violation of international law and decency." Mr. Nitze said that he could understand the desire of American news organizations to obtain these films, "but it is important that the American people know that these films are Communist propaganda and that this propaganda is being sold for hard cash."
The N.Y. Times TV critic, Jack Gould, in his October 22, 1967 column commented on the showing of these enemy propaganda films by NBC, saying:
Since the films were made by an East German camera crew with acknowledged sympathies for North Vietnam, there is no way of determining the accuracy of their portrayal of the treatment of captured Americans. The history of the Communist world leaves no doubt of its addiction to slanted propaganda; the image of Americans as relatively well-fed and humanely regarded could be a serious distortion of actual fact.
Gould acknowledged that NBC had advised the viewers of the source of the film, but he said:
The emotional content of the pictures may invite a precipitous conclusion by some set owners that the images have at least a semblance of truth. One problem of TV is that the eye and mind do tend to be subliminally influenced by what is shown rather than by what is not seen.
As time went one, the media became less careful about reminding the audience that they should remember that statements made by the POWs may have been made under duress. Thus, the following statement from The N.Y. Times of July 4, 1968, was not accompanied by any word of caution:
The North Vietnamese delegations issued a statement attributed to Col. John Peter Flynn, an American pilot born in Ohio in 1922 and shot down over Hanoi on October 27, 1967. It said that the North Vietnamese had given Col. Flynn "the best of medical care," performing a very difficult operation on his right leg. "I am deeply grateful for the humane and competent treatment that I have received from the North Vietnamese people and for this opportunity to express my appreciation."
The transmission of such Communist propaganda continued in the American press through 1972. One of The most notorious cases was the reporting of Ramsey Clarke's comments, after his August 1972 visit to Hanoi, in newspapers and on TV as saying:
I've seen a lot of prisons in my life. These 10 men were unquestionably humanely treated, well treated. The rooms were better and bigger than the rooms in essentially every prison I have ever visited anywhere."
Clark said that he was convinced that the prisoners he talked to had not been corrupted or brainwashed. He seamed equally sure that the camp he visited was typical, not "just a set-up." Clark made much of the fact that he had been able to talk freely with the prisoners about any subject. He did not reveal until pressed by a reporter that North Vietnamese officials had been present during the entire interview. Many papers, including The N.Y. Times, did not report this fact.
Very few news media published any statements that might cast doubt on the validity of Clark's observations about the treatment of the POWs. The Chicago Tribune, however, checked with one of the few released POWs who had actually been imprisoned in the camp that Clark visited in Hanoi. They located Douglas Hegdahl in San Diego. Released, together with Lt. Robert Frishman in 1969, they had shocked the country with their revelations of torture and inhumane treatment in the prison camps of North Vietnam. Asked to comment on Ramsey Clark's statements, Hegdahl said: "I have to smile at his gullibility. He obviously was given the typical 25-cent tour." Hegdahl said that when he was there, "Every delegation was shown the same model prisoners." He pointed out that before he was transferred to the showcase, he had spent 13 months in a solitary, windowless, cell.
It may be said in defense of the media that the facts were not known; but even before prisoners such as Frishman and Hegdahl returned in 1969 and told the facts, there was good reason to suspect that the prisoners were being treated inhumanely. First, there was the persistent refusal of the Communists to permit the International Red Cross to inspect the prison camps. Secondly, it has been well-known for many years that the Communists routinely torture prisoners to extract confessions from them. We had first-hand knowledge of this in Korea.
DeForest Z. Rathbone of Hemdon, Va. had no trouble figuring out what was happening to our men behind those prison walls that no one was allowed to see. in February 1968, he took a half-page ad in the Washington Star to arouse public opinion to the plight of the POWs. He told the readers of the Star that our men were being tortured and that their plight was virtually ignored. He asked: "Why, Mr. Editor?" Mr. Rathbone said:
Reams of copy are poured forth from nearly all major newspapers bemoaning our accidental harming of civilians who happen to be in the vicinity of war operations, but very small amounts of space, either newswise or editorialwise, are devoted to the purposeful willful torturing, starving and murdering of our boys who have been captured by the Communists...
It is because of this subtle non-publicizing of these atrocities what the American public, having practically no knowledge of these things, have never been inspired to raise their collective voices in protest of these incredibly inhumane acts. And since there has been no public outcry against these atrocities, the political leaders of this country have been most uninspired in their unresponded-to requests that the Communists stop them.
And since the Communist recognize the impotence of resolve behind the few mildly worded objections they have received from our political leaders, they feel perfectly safe and free to continue this inhumane policy of torturing our boys.
We know now that DeForest Rathbone was absolutely right--both in charging torture and in saying that the Cownists continued the inhumane treatment because there was no public outcry against it. It was proven a year and a half later that public opinion could have an effect on Hanoi's treatment of the prisoners. The POWs could have been saved countless hours of agony if the press had been responsive to Mr. Rathbone's chiding. They were not. The Washington Post even refused to take his money for an ad pleading for humane treatment for the prisoners.
The news media clearly did not take the initiative in exposing the inhumane treatment of the POWs. Indeed, when in February 1970, Maj. James N. Rowe gave a public address in Washington on his experience as a prisoner of the Vietcong for five years and on his dramatic escape, The Washington Post chose to print nothing at all about his speech. Instead, it carried a page-one article, which mentioned an attack on Major Rowe by Senator George McGovern.
Since the returned POWs broke the story of their torture and inhumane treatment, most of the news media have been giving the facts to the public.
The Chicago Tribune, however, has been outstanding for its poor coverage of the story. It failed on March 30 to give a run down of the revelations made at the March 29 press conferences about the treatment of the POWs in North Vietnam. On the following Sunday, in a page-one story it featured that the survivors of My Lai were still wondering why the massacre of five years ago had occurred. While other papers were using their Sunday editions to give a fuller story of the POW tortures, The Chicago Tribune ignored that major story, except for publishing North Vietnam's denial that it had tortured the POWs.
The N.Y. Times devoted a substantial amount of space to the torture story, and gave it good placement. The Times appeared, however, to be trying to play down the horror and lighten the blame that would attach to the Communists. For example, The Washington Post reported that Lt. Col. John A. Dramesi had said that "he believed one of his buddies was tortured to death by the Communists after he attempted to escape from a POW camp near Hanoi." The Times put it this way: "Col. Dramesi strongly implied that Capt. Alterberry had died in prison, possibly from the effects of mistreatment after the escape attempt."
The same Times reporter, Steven V. Roberts, added this little editorial touch to his news story:
As one former prisoner put it recently, the older prisoners "lived on hate" for their captors and the Communist system. And it was not really clear today how that hatred colored their tales of an experience that Col. Risner described as "severe torture, degradation, deprivation, humiliation, you name it."
On March 31, Mr. Roberts had a story under a five-column head that read: "Captain says Resistance by POWs forced Captors to Be Brutal." This was extracted from a long AP story on Capt. Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr., who had been senior officer at the prison camp known as the Zoo. Capt. Denton had ordered the men under him not to give the Communists information that they were not obliged to give under the Geneva Convention.
By not explaining that the prisoners were resisting demands that contravened the Geneva Convention, The N.Y. Times managed to create the impression that it was really the POWs who were responsible for the torture, not their captors. Indeed, Mr. Roberts wrote: "As the stories of mistreatment continue to be told, Capt. Denton's comments about prisoner attitudes added a new dimension to the complex relationship between captor and captive that existed in the prisons of Indochina." Does the refusal of a prisoner to confess to a crime add a new dimension to his relationship with the police, justifying the use of brutality to elicit cooperation?
When the news of My Lai broke, the news media were full of comments from all manner of people. Such reactions may be offered spontaneously, but often they are generated by reporters' requests. Significantly, almost none of the newspapers examined by AIM have reported any comment on the POW torture revelations, except the denial by the Vietnamese Communists and Jane Fonda that such tortures took place. No comment was reported from President Nixon, from Senator George McGovern or Hubert Humphrey or even Ramsey Clark, who only last August was assuring the nation that the POWs were getting the best of treatment.
AIM checked with the Washington Post to see if they had tried to get a statement from Ramsey Clark. The answer was that they had not and did not intend to try. The reason given was that the POW story had been adequately covered and that Clark had been discredited by what the returned POWs had said.
It was left to a group of the POWs to find out what Clark now thought in the light of the revelations about their mistreatment. Several of them confronted him on April 9 at William and Mary College where he had participated in a debate. Asked about Jane Fonda's charge that the prisoners were lying about being tortured, Clark said: "I haven't talked with any prisoners who say they were tortured." He said that he made his judgment about the treatment of prisoners on the basis of what he saw in Hanoi. He apparently was not willing to admit that he had been duped. We still do not know what Ramsey Clark thinks about the report of Lt. Cmdr. David W. Hoffman, one of the prisoners he met during his trip to Hanoi. Cmdr. Hoffman has said that he was "persuaded" to meet with Fonda and Clark by being hung by his broken arm. The story of the confrontation between the POWs and Clark was carried on the AP wire. The Washington Post remained indifferent to Clark and did not report the story.
On the other side, Senator James Buckley of New York issued a press release on April 1, saying that he would ask Secretary of State Rogers to issue the strongest possible protest to the North Vietnamese Government concerning their treatment of American prisoners of war. He also said he would ask President Nixon to reconsider carefully any proposal for economic assistance to North Vietnam in light of the POW disclosures. Senator Buckley said that the reports were shocking and sickening and that they followed the practice of the Communists in torturing POWs in the Soviet Union in World War II, in Korea during the Korean War and more recently in North Korea during the captivity of the Pueblo crew. Senator Buckley said the dissemination of the POW story would be helpful in educating people about the nature of the Communist ideology "during this era of detente."
AIM was able to find only one newspaper that made any mention of the Buckley statement. That was the Baltimore Sun, and it mentioned only his recommendation that aid for North Vietnam be reconsidered. The New York Times, the most influential paper in the State, which Senator Buckley represents, did not see fit to mention his comment.
Another comment came from the Council Against Communist Aggression, which issued a call for the creation of a special war crimes tribunal to investigate the torture and abuse of the POWs. The Council said that this tribunal should take testimony from the POWs and place on the public record a complete and accurate account of the crimes committed by the Communists, naming those responsible for them. This was embodied in a resolution signed by some 200 people attending the Annual Awards Dinner of the Council on April 1. The story was carried on the AP wire, but ALM has not been able to find any newspaper that picked it up and ran it.
A similar demand has been made by at least three of the returned POWs, Cols. Bobby R. Bagley, Carl B. Crumpier and Irby D. Terrell, Jr., but we have been able to find this demand mentioned only in the Atlanta Constitution.
AIM has been able to find only a few newspaper editorials on the POW torture. In the first few days after the revelations, we found editorials touching on the subject in the Washington Post, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Atlanta Constitution. None of these editorials voiced any strong condemnation of the perpetrators of the torture. The Post came the closest to this, saying that severe damage had been done to North Vietnam's image, but most of the editorial was devoted to criticism of President Nixon for attacking in his TV address, the critics of the war.
The N.Y. Times, which normally produces its editorial comment on an event almost as soon as the news is out, did not produce an editorial until April 8, over a week after the first revelations of torture, and after AIM had called to inquire why no editorial had been printed on this subject. It was a forthright condemnation of the torturers, and it corrected any impression that may have been created by the March 31 article that the torture was partly the fault of the prisoners for not cooperating. It quoted from the Geneva Convention, saying: "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever." The Times concluded that a compelling case could and should be made against the North Vietnamese for their clear violations of the General Convention. However, The Times found it necessary to evoke the memory of the South Vietnamese "tiger cages," My Lai, "the bombing and shelling of civilian areas, torture of prisoners in the field and the use of chemical weapons" by our side, "violations of the spirit if not the letter of international law." The remedy suggested seemed not to call for the guilty parties to be punished, but for the United States to adhere rigorously to the highest standards of conduct, hoping that others would follow our good example.
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TRUTH IN THE NEWS MEDIA THE PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO KNOW, a talk by Abraham H. Kalish, Executive Secretary of Accuracy in Media, at the American Heritage Center, Hardin, College Campus, Searcy, Arkansas, 4/12/73
Thank you for your kind introduction. With your indulgence, I should like to discuss first some basic questions relating to our democracy. Many people seem to take it for granted that democracy is everlasting. Let me quote from a historian who wrote more than 200 years ago, even before the American Revolution. In describing the decline of Athenian democracy, 2,000 years before, he wrote, "A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy."
A related force operating in a democracy is the almost universal and natural desire of man for economic security. Thus all sorts of noble causes are promoted, which results in a steady growth of government bureaucracy. Not only does the bureaucracy grow, it also reaches for power. In due time, people become aware that they are being governed less by laws passed by their elected representatives, but more according to rules, regulations, orders, decisions issued by various sections of the bureaucracy. A careful study of the history of the school business law passed by Congress should give you a picture of what l have been saying.
You might consider here a question: What is the system of government where there is complete economic security, where everybody works for the government, where the bureaucracy rules by edicts and decrees and where the elected representatives of the people are mere puppets?
In a democracy all the people rule. It is therefore essential that they all be wise, learned, and have a deep sense of civic responsibility. You recall that in Plato's Republic only a very few, very carefully selected and carefully trained individuals ruled. They were the philosopher kings.
In a democracy, everybody has to be a philosopher. This is obviously an impossible situation. If it happens, it is a miracle. Yet this miracle happened in the United States. And the results have indeed been miraculous. Not only have we attained the highest standard of living in the world's history, (Two thirds of American families live in their mm homes; more than 60% own at least one automobile) but we have given generously of our wealth to help other countries raise their living standards.
We engaged in two World Wars to help other countries preserve their freedom. Since then, we have been the great force, which has kept communist imperialism from sweeping over all Europe and Asia. Meanwhile, we have contributed greatly to scholarship, to scientific research, to literature, art, music. One reason we were able to achieve all this was the valuable services performed by the news media in supplying the public with essential information on vital issues.
In the past 10 or 15 years, however, great changes have come about. We have lost our outstanding position in international politics and economics. Internally, we have witnessed frightening increases in crime; in the use of drugs, in pornography. Our educational standards have plummeted; so has our creation of good art, literature, and music.
During the same years, there has been a great increase in the power and influence of the news media. When I say the news media, I do not mean the local newspapers and stations. I refer to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the A.P., the U.P., Newsweek, Time, and especially the TV networks. The average American adult watches TV more than 6 hours a day. I am not scolding, but merely pointing out that even if all the TV programs were of the quality of Kenneth Clarke's Civilization or Alistair Cooke's America, the effect both mentally, and physically, of so much TV viewing must be a matter of public concern.
But not all programs are of such high quality. Recently, I had a visit from a representative of a two million family, voluntary member, farm organization. He told me of a documentary, Harvest of Shame, presented over a TV network in 1960. The program purported to tell of the plight of migrant farm workers. He pointed out that this program contained 18 documented errors, beginning with the repeated use of the number 2 to 3 million migrant workers, though the correct figure was 400,000. The entire documentary presented an inaccurate and demeaning picture of American farming. Yet, despite persistent pleas, these errors have never been corrected. Indeed a number of other farm documentaries have been broadcast which repeat the old, and add new errors.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. Our files bulge with similar cases of news media treatment of various trades, professions, industries, businesses, minority groups; you name them.
One other point, in other days, if a newspaper made an error, its rivals could not wait to rush to their printing presses to point out the error. I cannot recall any TV network running a documentary pointing out errors made by a rival network. Nor do I! Recall the N.Y. Times, the Washington Post or other news media running headlines or feature articles highlighting such errors, or vice versa.
The net result is that inaccurate statements made by national news media remain largely uncorrected. Thus they enter the mainstream of essential information as fact. And upon these, citizens have to decide vital issues!
We hear much these days about free speech. Now free speech existed before the First Amendment. It existed before the Constitution. If you go back in recorded history, you will find that people were always able to broadcast their views, whether true or false, throughout the land, provided they were the rulers. In recent times, Hitler and the Communist rulers have exercised the same right. The genius of the American Constitution is that it gave the right of free speech to the people. The First Amendment reaffirmed this right and then gave protection to an instrument (the press), which could help effectuate this right of the people.
When, however, a news commentator or documentary broadcasts to tens of millions of people inaccurate statements about vital public issues and then fails to correct the errors, the news media have moved from a position of instruments supplying essential news to the public, to that of controlling what the people should know. Like poison injected into the bloodstream, such control over the news undermines the entire democratic process. Unless there is a change in the present course, though the trappings of democracy may remain, the people's freedom of speech will be replaced by the freedom of the owners of the news media to broadcast through the land anything they wish, whether true or false.
Some spokesmen for the news media insist that they are concerned about the public's right to know. If that is so, they should start by correcting the errors they themselves have made, and give the facts to the public. My right to use the free market does not give me the right to pass out counterfeit money. So the first Amendment gives nobody the right to break the Ninth Commandment.
Instead of correcting their errors, some spokesmen for the news media raise cries of harassment, of repression of free speech and liberties. Currently, we are witnessing a drive, of the First Amendment, to obtain absolute immunity for journalists. We should not give complete immunity to angels. You may recall that there have been fall angels; and not all journalists are angels. A few years back, a Philadelphia reporter made a career of blackmailing businessmen. Under an immunity law, he would only have to say that he had received his information from highly confidential sources, and the case against him would collapse. Further, according to Gresham's law, bad coins drive out good coins. Would not the same happen to good newsmen?
There are two widely current myths about the news media I should like to treat briefly. The first is the statement, sometimes it is a charge, that the news media are liberal. Now liberal happens to be that is known as a "good" word; everybody wants to be a liberal. It means that you stand for freedom; who is against that? Also you are progressive and humane. In this spirit the Liberals of England organized to free the people. From what? From the government bureaucracy, then known as mercantilism. The Liberals stood for free enterprise, and on that basis fought for the repeal of the Corn Laws. This was in line with the Jeffersonian belief that the government was best which governed the least.
With the passage of time, however, the Liberal Party in England began to ask for programs, which called for financial assistance from the government. A similar development took place in this country. And as I have already indicated, government assistance almost invariably means bureaucratic control.
You may recall that after Sputnik in 1957, there were calls for government assistance for education, with the proviso "No strings attached." Recently, a member of a school board told me that he was violently opposed to the introduction of certain textbooks into his school system, yet he agreed to go along or have his schools cut off from various Federal funds.
Thus, it might be more correct to say that some of the news media people vigorously advocating various programs are not liberals but Utopians, out to create a perfect world -- in which they perhaps expect to play the role of philosopher kings.
Also, spokesmen for the news media try to justify some of their releases by saying that much of public criticism of the news media really arises because people do not like to hear bad news. There is little proof of that. We have plenty of proof that what people object to is inaccurate news. There is a lot of bad news that the news media should, but does not, tell the public.
For example, the worst possible news is that the U.S. is falling militarily behind a self-proclaimed enemy, which has repeatedly promised to destroy us. Is there any worse news than that?
Because they felt that the news media were not telling the facts of this situation to the public, 100 members of Congress participated in a special meeting in August 1971, in which they expressed grave concern about the dangerous decline in our defensive capabilities. They hoped thus to break the virtual blackout of tie news media on this subject Yet, the news media carried not a word about this meeting. They dismissed all the efforts of 100 Congressmen as not newsworthy.
A similar situation exists in news media coverage of education. About 18 years ago, I asked my then 12-year-old son what he had learned in school that day. He answered, "We learned nothing all year, and now we are reviewing". This alarmed me. I investigated and found it was literally true. I also found that a root cause of the situation had already been clearly stated by Rudolph Flesch's book '"Why Johnny Can't Read". Children were not taught correctly the basic skill of reading. Instead of having to learn tie sounds of letters, they were asked to guess at words.
Since then, we have acquired some 10 million functional illiterates, many with high school diplomas; and the number is increasing by 700,000 each year. This is not merely bad news, it is a terrifying situation which threatens the foundations of our society. You would think that the news media would ferret out the facts here and give them at least as much publicity as say, the Watergate Case. But do they? If I had the time, I would present to you material for a dozen top news stories including some on the POW's which the national news media have refused to carry.
Accuracy in Media tries to point out such errors of omission and have the new media give the public the facts. Generally, the news media have not responded favorably to our efforts. We have sent dozens of letters to newspapers documentary serious errors in fact; very few have been printed or resulted in corrections. We have thus had to go the very costly route of buying advertisement space to point out a few of the errors. This ad in the Washington Post cost $1,800. It printed five of eighteen letters we had sent to the Editor, pointing out errors. We have also had ads in the New York Times, Washington Star, Editor and Publisher, and elsewhere.
Only one TV Network has corrected errors we pointed out, and only in one documentary. We thus have been forced to take 10 cases to the PCC to try to have them enforce the Fairness Doctrine. Some years ago, a study of Government commissions found that though the Commissions are set up to protect the public, in almost all cases they soon fell under the strong influence of the industry. This seems to be the problem with the FCC.
We thus urge broadcasting stations to exercise their right to reject Network programs that contain inaccuracies. We also have urged businessmen to exercise the right of the free market and refuse to buy programs, which are inaccurate.
The news media have taken to themselves the task of watchdog of the government. But obviously, the news media also need a watchdog over them. We have no doubt that in any contest there truth and falsehood grapple, truth will triumph; but especially in an electronic age, truth should be allowed to present its case.
The great danger to our liberty today comes not because evil men are plotting our destruction but because so few good men and women are willing to pay the price of eternal vigilance. Accuracy in Media tries to meet this challenge. We are a voluntary organization, supported by the public and acting in their behalf. We wish there were many larger, more powerful, more effective organizations working to protect the consumers' right to receive the truth. But until such a time comes along, we will continue to do the best we can.
MEET REED J. IRVINE, founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of Accuracy in Media, for the past 22 years Mr. Irvine has been an economist with the federal government; he has written and lectured extensively on economics, international politics, and the news media. Educated at the Universities of Utah, Washington and Oxford, where he held a Fulbright scholarship. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. During World War II, Mr. Irvine completed the Navy's crash program in written and spoken Japanese, and served as a Marine Corps intelligence officer in the Pacific and in the Japanese occupation.
MEET PROFESSOR WALTER W. SEIFERT, member of Accuracy in Media's National Advisory Board and Professor, School of Journalism, Ohio State University since 1958. A former reporter with the Akron Beacon and International News Service, Professor Seifert was a Public Information Officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
On the news media, Professor Seifert has written:
The people of America long ago demanded and got professional standards for doctors, lawyers and teachers. Today they are questioning the credentials of journalists. The public knows that a medical doctor has taken extensive specialized training, passed rigid examinations, and agreed to a specific code of professional ethics. His license may be revoked. An attorney has taken specialized study, passed examinations, and accepted ethical rules. He may be disbarred. But what of the journalist--a person who may influence the daily thoughts of millions? He cannot be removed from practice because he has passed no accepted tests and is bound by no accepted standards. If he is fired from one job, he may immediately begin another. He bears no cachet of competence conferred by his peers or superiors. Today, America is demanding that people who feed the public mind be as qualified as those who operate upon the public body. This brings immediate protest from those who consider newsmen a special creation, exempt from all laws of personal responsibility and practice that the public imposes on other professionals. No one who knows the nature of news and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution can advocate state or federal licensing of journalists. Yet, the time may well have come to establish voluntary standards for those inside the news profession. The possibility exists that this might benefit all concerned.