Reporting America At War
About The Series
The Reporters
Richard Harding Davis
Martha Gellhorn
Edward R. Murrow
Ernie Pyle
Walter Cronkite
Andy Rooney
Robert Capa
Homer Bigart
David Halberstam
Malcolm W. Browne
Gloria Emerson
Morley Safer
Peter Arnett
Ward Just
Chris Hedges
Christiane Amanpour

For Teachers
The Reporters

The Saigon Press Corps

After Homer [Bigart] left, we [in the Saigon press corps] were a very easy target because we were all so young — probably a median age of twenty-seven, twenty-eight, and none of us had yet distinguished himself. Later there would be five Pulitzer Prizes — Mal [Browne], Peter Arnett, Neil Sheehan, and Horst [Faas] won twice.

We were finding out stuff we didn't want to find out. We were going against our own grain. We wanted the Americans to win. Once of the interesting things was our own difficult reeducation process, because we wanted it to work. And then it didn't work, so we started saying it didn't work. That's when they all started attacking us, saying, "These are the guys who want us to lose."

I think the stuff we learned there made us infinitely tougher. We had a very good press corps that worked very hard. A lot of native, raw talent got funneled into a highly disciplined toughness of mind. We learned very early on that the briefings just didn't matter, that the American briefers were vouching for information that they couldn't vouch for. They were putting their name on reports from ARVN [Army of the Republic of Vietnam — the South Vietnamese Army], and as such, they had no credibility. Unless it was an unusual event, I didn't go [to the daily briefings], and even those who went, went with their eyebrows raised.

We became the enemy [of the U.S. Mission] very quickly. I can remember, in the fall of '63, there was a battle down in the [Mekong] delta and they weren't going to get us down there. Neil [Sheehan] and I got on the phone calling General [Paul] Harkins [commander of U.S. forces] and Ambassador Lodge, trying to figure out a way to get down there. Later that day, they had a briefing at the MACV headquarters [Military Assistance Command, Vietnam]. But it wasn't by the usual captain or major, and it wasn't in the usual room. It was in a major room and every bit of brass in the country was there. There was this briefing by a two-star [general], Dick Stillwell, the slickest briefer they had; he was the rising star. And then all the way around, lined up, were all kinds of generals and colonels. It was a clear attempt to intimidate.

Stillwell began in the most condescending way. "Before I go into this briefing, some of you young men," meaning Neil and me, "bothered General Harkins and Ambassador Lodge today about trying to get to the battle. You're not going to do that anymore. They're very busy men; they don't have time for your phone calls. You will," in effect, "take down what we tell you."

I don't like confrontational reporters. I've always stayed away from the fake tough guys — you know, the kind of television guy who shouts out questions. I don't believe in that. But I mean, my heart was pounding, and I got up and said, "Excuse me, sir, but we're not your corporals and PFCs. We're here because the New York Times, the United Press, the AP and Time magazine sent us here. And x number of American helicopter pilots with gunners went into combat today, risked their lives with I don't know how many million dollars' worth of gear. It was a very big battle. The American people are entitled to know. I will keep calling you, as will Mr. Sheehan. If you want to write our publications and tell them that we are being too aggressive, and that they should replace us, you go right ahead." So that was a time when lines were really being drawn, and drawn very hard, very tough, very ugly.

From Reporting America at War: An Oral History, compiled by Michelle Ferrari, with commentary by James Tobin, published by Hyperion, 2003. Copyright ©, 2003 Goodhue Pictures.

Photo: David Halberstam Reporter's Notebook