Sunday, April 23, 2017

"Dateline-Saigon": When Presidents Routinely Lied

It is not just today that there is "fake news".  In fact, as the U.S. engaged in a brutal war in Southeast Asia, U.S. Presidents and generals routinely lied.  And the mainstream media eventually caught on.

Dateline Trailer 6-27-16 from William Anderson on Vimeo.

"Dateline - Saigon" is an excellent documentary (directed by lawyer Thomas D. Herman) that focuses on five western journalists based in Saigon in the early days of the Vietnam War or what the Vietnamese called the "American War".

Mostly early-career professionals the men (yes all (white) men portrayed), were brash, competitive and determined.  By daring to go into the field in South Vietnam, and speaking directly to the GIs, these reporters and photographers (before the advent of saturation news) were able to find what the U.S. and the South Vietnamese military were doing on the ground, killing civilians, burning down villages and covering up all that.

The film does not avoid taking sides.  The U.S. Government is slammed for spouting Cold War anti-communist rhetoric and the domino theory (that the fall of South Vietnam would lead to other dominoes falling).   South Vienamese soldiers are dismissed as weak and ineffective, while the enemy is explained as disciplined and determined.  The Saigon regime of  Ngô Đình Diệm is dismissed as Catholic from the north when the majority of the population in Vietnam is Buddhist.  And the notorious "Dragon Lady" Madame Ngô Đình Nhu appears in archival film footage speaking disdainfully of monks "barbecuing" themselves. 

One of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists portrayed,  Macolm Browne, indeed took the shocking 1963 photograph of a monk, Thích Quảng Đức, lit up in flames, a photo that was spashed on front-pages all over the world.  Focusing on Browne, the film also delves into the work of other Pulitzer-winning journalists:  Peter Arnett, David Halberstam, Neil Sheehan, and Horst Faas.

Another Pulitizer-Prize winning photographer from the Vietnam War period is listed in the credits, but is not featured, unfortunately, in the documentary.  AP photographer Nick Ut, who just retired weeks ago, after over five decades with AP, was actually hired by AP photographer Horst Faas in 1966 and took the iconic photo of the Vietnamese girl burning with napalm running naked down a road after her village was burned down in 1972.

Director Herman observe as Peter Arnett expounds on the media today and before. Photo credit: © Daniel C. Tsang 2017

Sam Waterson's strong voice narrates or the journalists themselves speak in retrospect in this excellent film that took some 16 years to bring to the screen.  Peter Arnett (AP reporter then, more known today as a CNN reporter), who is from OC, attended the first screening, at the 2017 Newport Beach Film Festival, and spoke at the Q&A, saying that the U.S. military now no longer allows the media to freely cover war zones today.   A second festival screening is coming up:  Wednesday 26 April 2017, at Island Cinemas in Newport Beach, at 5:45 pm.  -- Daniel C. Tsang.

Note: The documentary is not sympathetic to the Saigon regime's point of view of course.


Unknown said...

Looks like a good effort and definitely a film to see, but we are still waiting for a film from the perspective of the Vietnamese we were spending so many billions of dollars and millions of lives to kill.

Tom Miller, President
Green Cities Fund, Inc.

Subvert said...

Ken Burns forthcoming Vietnam documentary series on PBS should give voice to the "other side" and more.