Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Walter Cronkite War(e) Legacy

Major Mike

War reporting changed forever when Walter Cronkite reported that the Vietnam War was lost after the
1968 Viet Cong/NVA Tet Offensive. It is worth posting in its entirety, so that its influence can be readily seen in the war reporting of our time.

“Tonight, back in more familiar surroundings in New York, we'd like to sum up our findings in Vietnam, an analysis that must be speculative, personal, subjective. Who won and who lost in the great Tet offensive against the cities? I'm not sure. The Vietcong did not win by a knockout, but neither did we. The referees of history may make it a draw. Another standoff may be coming in the big battles expected south of the Demilitarized Zone. Khesanh could well fall, with a terrible loss in American lives, prestige and morale, and this is a tragedy of our stubbornness there; but the bastion no longer is a key to the rest of the northern regions, and it is doubtful that the American forces can be defeated across the breadth of the DMZ with any substantial loss of ground. Another standoff. On the political front, past performance gives no confidence that the Vietnamese government can cope with its problems, now compounded by the attack on the cities. It may not fall, it may hold on, but it probably won't show the dynamic qualities demanded of this young nation. Another standoff.

We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds. They may be right, that Hanoi's winter-spring offensive has been forced by the Communist realization
that they could not win the longer war of attrition, and that the Communists hope that any success in the offensive will improve their position for eventual negotiations. It would improve their position, and it would also require our realization, that we should have had all along, that any negotiations must be that-negotiations, not the dictation of peace terms. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. This summer's almost certain standoff will either end in real give-and-take negotiations or terrible escalation; and for every means we have to escalate, the enemy can match us, and that applies to invasion of the North, the use of nuclear weapons, or the mere commitment of one hundred, or two hundred, or three hundred thousand more American troops to the battle. And with each escalation, the world comes closer to the brink of cosmic disaster.

To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of the evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past. To suggest we are on the edge of defeat is to yield to unreasonable pessimism. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion. On the off chance that military and political analysts are right, in the next few months we must test the enemy's intentions, in case this is indeed his last big gasp before negotiations. But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.

This is Walter Cronkite. Good night.”

Nice editorial.
Poor reporting. Khe Sanh did not fall. Viet Cong and NVA casualties far exceeded those of US and South Vietnamese troops. Yet nonetheless, Uncle Walty declared, without facts, that the war was a waste of time and would be eventually lost. And America believed him. Walter Cronkite had single handedly flushed the efforts of hundreds of thousands of troops down the drain. In one fell swoop, he had undercut the foreign policy objectives of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, and set the stage for near anarchy at home.

But worst of all, he changed journalism forever, and for the worse. He imbued a generation of reporters with the notion that reporters are meant to influence government with their pens and typewriters.

Woodward and Bernstein would be next. They would bring down the Nixon Administration, only confirming that the real power to influence policy and government rested with the press. The press has been a herd of liberal zealots since.

Michael Ware is just another example of a reporter trying to influence the outcome of a global issue with his biased and slanted presentation of events afar.

First, Mr. Ware and his ilk have successfully removed the moral issues from the discussion about the war. He refuses to answer the question that HH raises about the comparative differences between life in Bahgdad, pre- and post- Operation Iraqi Freedom. From Radioblogger...

"HH: Because we talked about this on CNN. Do you think Iraq is better off today, just...than it was under Saddam? Do you think that...

MW: Well, I was never here under Saddam. My period during Saddam's regime was in the Kurdish North, where with U.S. air cover, they've forged their own autonomous sanctuaries. So I never lived under Saddam, and I can only imagine what the horrors were like, and what the restrictions were like. All I can tell you that life here right now is extraordinarily difficult, and there's a lot of killing going on, and there's a lot of deprivation going on, and to be able to compare that to something I never saw is a bit difficult for me.

HH: Well, do you think the Russian people were better under Krushchev than they were under Stalin? Neither of us saw Kruschev or Stalin, but both of us...

MW: Yeah, I wouldn't have a clue, you know??

This is a dodge of the simple question that usually frames all modern wars...was it the morally correct course of action? Ware avoids answering this because it would allow the moral discussion to pre-empt his morally-neutural, anti-policy messaging.

Ware, and his ilk, are framing this debate outside of the usual good vs. evil forum, and they transfer it to an emotionless policy discussion, by calling muderers, insurgents. They do it by counting the dead on TV, but not atriculating these assaults as the murders they are; carried out by homicidal robotons, wound up by depostic Islamofascists. They soft pedal the heinous crimes of the peace-loving "insurgents" in order to preserve their access to the murdering side, and to the negatively influence policy at the same time.

This isn't journalism, this is being part of, and party to, the information war that Ware acknowledges is part of the equation.

"MW... Don't forget also that this is an information war. This is a propaganda war. This war, as, you know, insurgents said way back in 2003, isn't going to be won on the battlefield. It's going to be won on the air waves. It turns out it's going to be won or lost on the internet. So these things become critically important."

Ware's job is to report the facts, if he is influenced in his reporting simply to retain access to the opposition, then he is, by defaulting on his journalistic obligations, part of the opposition. He recognizes that the information war is a huge part of the current struggle, and this recognition necessarily requires a balanced presentation of the facts. By ignoring the readily apparent morality issue, there is an imbalance in the information war...of which, he is an active part. This is called bias where I come from.

Walter Cronkite saddled us forever with a generation, possibly generations, of reporters who actively chose to influence government via their reporting. They are drawn to the power of the Cronkite model, and believe that their immortality lies with toppling an Administration that they oppose. They hope to be revered within their circles as the power players they desire to be.

They forget that in their quest they undermine the efforts of our troops in the field. They undermine the approved policies of our government. They forget that they undermine the will of the people, and that in the process they undermine the very democracy that gives them the freedom to report as they please...even if it is blindly biased.


Narniaman said...

Nice discussion.

I think, though, that you credit Uncle Walter a bit too much -- he wasn't the first media figure to try to influence the course of a war and bring defeat to their own country.

I think Tokyo Rose and Lord Ha Ha can claim those titles. And, no doubt, they had very "good" reasons for trying to bring down their own government and force defeat to their own people, just as Walter had "good" reasons for rooting for a communist dictatorship and Ware does for coddling up to the Islamofascists.

The reason, you see, is that they all "wanted to make a difference".

Major Mike said...

Narn, thanks for for the great comments...I think my take was that Walter...once the "Most Trusted Man in America," misused that influence, at the most crucial time during the Vietnam War, to completely take the air out of the war effort. I think the ultimate by-product, is the neo-journalistic focus on influencing vice reporting.

Thanks for stopping by. MM

Anonymous said...

Walter is the fucking man he has acheived more than you ever could. i would be embarassed to scold this great man! I think you should take pride in what this man has done in his life becuase im sure as hell it doesnt come close to measuring up to anything in your life! your attitude is assine get rid of it!