David Halberstam: media scum

I quite enjoyed his sports writing, I had no idea he was apparently such an dishonest piece of journalistic refuse:

The leading American journalists in Vietnam during 1963, they favored American involvement in Vietnam, in stark contrast to the press corps of the war’s latter years. But they had a low opinion of South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem and decided that he would need to be removed if the war was to be won. Brazenly attempting to influence history, Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow gave Diem’s opponents in the U.S. government negative information on Diem in print and in private. Most of the information they passed on was false or misleading, owing in part to their heavy reliance on a Reuters stringer named Pham Xuan An who was actually a secret Communist agent. The journalists convinced Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge to accept their reports in place of much more accurate reports from the CIA and the U.S. military, which led Lodge to urge South Vietnamese generals to stage a coup. Press articles suggesting that Diem had lost his principal ally’s confidence made the South Vietnamese generals receptive to coup plots — the Vietnamese elites generally misinterpreted American news reporters as official spokesmen of the U.S. government.

After Diem’s assassination, the South Vietnamese fared very poorly in their war against the Communists, which was why the U.S. eventually had to send half a million troops to South Vietnam. Halberstam, Sheehan, and Karnow quickly realized that as advocates of Diem’s ouster they could be held responsible for wrecking the South Vietnamese government, and so they devised a masterful strategy for neutralizing the accusation. Based on a few faulty pieces of evidence, they contended that the South Vietnamese war effort had crumbled before Diem’s overthrow, not after it. No one of influence succeeded in pointing out that these men’s own articles in 1963 contradicted this claim. The journalists thus succeeded in persuading the American people that Diem, rather than his successors, had ruined the country, and therefore that the press had been right in denouncing him. Newly available American and Vietnamese Communist sources, it turns out, show that the South Vietnamese were fighting very well until the last day of Diem’s life, and that their performance plummeted immediately after the coup because the new rulers purged suspected Diem loyalists and failed to lead.