AP: Media Had Wide Access in Vietnam War
Tuesday, June 27, 2006; 12:28 PM
NEW YORK -- The news media's ability to cover the Vietnam War without censorship was unlike anything that has been seen since, correspondents who covered that conflict for The Associated Press said during a reunion.
"We had relationships with officers and generals that are totally foreign to reporters trying to cover Iraq today, absolutely in a fantasy world," said Peter Arnett, who spent 13 years in Vietnam for the news cooperative from 1962 to 1975.
"The military was remarkable in Vietnam _ they not only didn't try to censor us, they made every accommodation to us," said Richard Pyle, who was AP's bureau chief in Saigon from 1970-1973. "There's never been a situation quite like that anywhere."
Arnett and Pyle were joined on the panel by correspondents Seymour Topping, George Esper, Hugh Mulligan, Edith Lederer and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Horst Faas, who took part from Germany.
The discussion was part of a lecture series on the AP's history, and was timed to coincide with an exhibit of the archives from the Saigon bureau on display at the company's headquarters. The archive chronicles the AP's coverage of the war, including thousands of stories and battlefield dispatches that were marked up by editors.
The journalists recalled that soldiers in the field welcomed reporters, would transport them around the country and respected them for facing the hardships and dangers in battle zones.
"In Vietnam, if you had the courage and the stamina, you could go anywhere," said Esper, who spent 10 years in Southeast Asia and wrote more words on the war than any other reporter. He retired from the AP in 2000.
But the media's freedom to cover the war had some lasting harm, including journalists killed on the battlefield. There also was resentment from the military establishment, which didn't always appreciate what was written, the journalists said.
"This built a sense of annoyance with the press that has persisted through all the wars since then," said Pyle, now a writer in the AP's New York City bureau.
The panel discussion, moderated by AP President and CEO Tom Curley, included journalists who were in Saigon from 1950 through after the fall of the South Vietnamese government in 1975.
Topping, who arrived in Saigon for the AP in 1950 and went on to become managing editor of The New York Times, plans to teach at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University this fall. Arnett won a Pulitzer in 1966 in international reporting and later became a reporter for CNN. Mulligan and Faas are retired.
Several other Vietnam reporters and photographers attended Monday's event, including former AP Saigon bureau chief Malcolm Browne, who won a Pulitzer in 1964.
Lederer, now the AP's correspondent at the United Nations and one of the few women to cover Vietnam, said every U.S. military engagement since Vietnam has featured attempts to control the media. In the 1991 Gulf War, she recalled, stories had to go through U.S. military censors, and she remembered clearly the time she interviewed a general and had his media handler sitting behind her the entire time.
"In Vietnam, anybody that you could get hold of would generally talk to you," she said after the panel discussion. "I don't think that in our lifetimes we will ever see that kind of freedom again."
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