October 19, 1966
Saigon, South Viet Nam--The military forces in Viet Nam give every appearance of co-operating fully with the press, which has representatives here from almost every nation in the world.
But after attending one of the briefing sessions which covered military actions for the day, it appears to a newcomer that many members of the press don't appreciate the military's efforts.
A good deal of the news conference was wasted by inquisitors who asked questions they knew could not be answered by the military spokesmen who were present.
At one point in the meeting, a press representative who looked as though he'd just returned from a safari, made a great issue of whether Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara had visited the entire dock area on the Saigon River, or just one section.
The Army officer conducting that session of the briefing, bit his lip and dispatched an aide to get the answer. Soon, the assistant returned and the officer answered the question. But the reporter who inquired had left the room.
Perhaps similar incidents led the daily briefing sessions to be dubbed "The Five O'clock Follies."
By listening to various reporters talk, one could easily get the notion it is more important to be dressed like a reporter and act like a reporter than it is to actually get down to the business of covering the action.
There are dozens of men here dressed in chino slacks, tailored shirts and safari jackets who boast endlessly about their consumption of martinis and brandy and cover the war by attending the daily news briefings.
One rosy-cheeked reporter told a group of his colleagues that he hadn't been out of Saigon for more than a month and had no plans to leave. He said he wasn't going to follow McNamara around the country and solicited his buddies to cover for him.
In other conversations it seemed obvious that a group of reporters fashioned their own press pool of a few men to provide them with news after they hammered out an agreement that none of the stories exhumed by the pool reporters would be filed with their individual offices until all the participants had the particular story.
Naturally, not all of the nearly 500 newsmen and photographers now in South Viet Nam can be on top of all the big stories when they break, but it seems that if the readers of the news are victims of stereotyped stories, it is the fault of the press and not the military.
There are too many reporters who won't go to the trouble to get a story. Instead they rewrite military communiques and spend too much time trying to look like reporters, rather than being reporters.
The military will go to almost any length to get a reporter where he wants to go. They tell us, "You might get shot at, but if you want the news, we'll take you where it is. "
During one briefing, a military aide told reporters where they would meet to board a bus for Tan Son Nhut airport for a flight to DaNang.
The first question asked by a reporter was, "Will we have accommodations there?"
The military had provided accommodations, but it makes one wonder what happened to the resourceful reporters who could get by with a shelter half for cover and the ditty bag for a pillow.
A trickle of resentment is building up against some of the press among the military, who appear to be bending over backward for the press, only to get kicked in the teeth.
There are only a few military ground rules for reporters to follow:
Don't publish the movements of troops until the battle has begun and it is no longer a secret; don't publish the names of the dead or wounded until the victims' next of kin are notified; don't publish exact numbers of troops deployed in areas, and don't publish identifiable pictures of men either killed or wounded in action.
Simple enough, reasonable enough. The rest of the news coverage is un-managed and uncensored.
This should be the best covered war in history but the men who are trying to make it easy to cover are taking their lumps