Pentagon Official Once Told Morley Safer That Reporters Who Believe the Government Are “Stupid”

by Jon Schwaiz, from the Intercept

.. There will be hundreds of obituaries about (Morley) Safer, but at least so far, there’s been no mention of what I think was one of the most important stories he ever told…

(In 1966 in Saigon, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, Arthur) Sylvester had arranged to speak with reporters for U.S. outlets, including Safer. Here’s how Safer described it:

There had been some annoying moments in previous weeks that had directly involved Sylvester’s own office. In the first B-52 raids, Pentagon releases were in direct contradiction to what had actually happened on the ground in Viet Nam.

There was general opening banter, which Sylvester quickly brushed aside. He seemed anxious to take a stand — to say something that would jar us. He said:

“I can’t understand how you fellows can write what you do while American boys are dying out here,” he began. Then he went on to the effect that American correspondents had a patriotic duty to disseminate only information that made the United States look good.

A network television correspondent said, “Surely, Arthur, you don’t expect the American press to be the handmaidens of government.”

“That’s exactly what I expect,” came the reply.

An agency man raised the problem that had preoccupied Ambassador Maxwell Taylor and [U.S. spokesman] Barry Zorthian — about the credibility of American officials. Responded the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs:

“Look, if you think any American official is going to tell you the truth, then you’re stupid. Did you hear that? — stupid.”

One of the most respected of all the newsmen in Vietnam — a veteran of World War II, the Indochina War and Korea — suggested that Sylvester was being deliberately provocative. Sylvester replied:

“Look, I don’t even have to talk to you people. I know how to deal with you through your editors and publishers back in the States.”

At this point, the Hon. Arthur Sylvester put his thumbs in his ears, bulged his eyes, stuck out his tongue and wiggled his fingers.

Vance Hartke, a Democratic senator from Indiana, entered Safer’s article into the Congressional Record, and Durward Hall, a Republican representative from Missouri, called for Sylvester to resign. For its part, the Pentagon told CBS executives: “Unless you get Safer out of there, he’s liable to end up with a bullet in his back.”

[read more here]

3 Responses

  1. was morley’s response “we don’t care about the truth. we just say what those who pay us MILLIONS of dollars tell us to say”?

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