The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Diem: the media Hall of Shame

A window on the Age of Murrow [1].

Henry Luce gushed a Mississippi over the guy (p221):
President Ngo Dinh Diem is one of the great statesmen of Asia and of the world...In honoring him we pay tribute to the eternal values which all free men everywhere are prepared to defend with their lives.

At least, when Sulzberger, Raines and Keller published his crap, they weren't quite so effusive about Ahmed Chalabi!

It was a Life headline that tagged Diem "The Tough Miracle Man of Vietnam," and the world "miracle" became indelibly associated with Diem's name.

It came out in the wash in 1963, I seem to recall...

There are similar counterfactual accolades quoted by Jacobs from Newsweek, the New York Herald Tribune and William Randolph Hearst in the New York Journal-American.

And the New York Times does not disappoint. The Gray Lady casts dignity to the wind, and performs a knickerless can-can the length of 42nd Street in Diem's honour:
The [Times] "salute[d] President Ngo Dinh Diem" for carrying out a "five-year miracle" in South Vietnam.

The tail-end charlie of this roll of shame is - none other than the aforementioned Murrow:
In a radio interview in 1956, Murrow asserted, "Diem...has made so much progress in the past six months that some people use the overworked word 'miracle' in describing improvements in South Vietnam.

Note that Murrow is not (or not fully) endorsing use of the M-word. But his evident endorsement of the P-word is bad enough.

The dour US News and World Report joins the Diem street parade more than half-cut:
[It] presented a photograph of Diem surrounded by a cheering mob; alongside the photo ran the caption: "Ngo Dihn Diem, South Vietnam's president, has sought and gained popular support. The success of Diem's leadership has surprised the skeptics and aroused the anger of the communists.

Was it a lack of reporters in theatre? Or incompetence or ideological blindness to the facts? Or their being overruled by top editors anxious to be on the team?

The providers of fish-wrapping were not the only culprits:
Scholarly publications proved no less susceptible to the miracle legend. The prestigious journal Foreign Affairs asserts, "History may yet judge Diem as one of the great figures of twentieth century Asia." The author William Henderson claimed that prior to Diem's assumption of the premiership, South Vietnam "seemed certain to sink into the abyss of bloody internecine strife ending in complete collapse." Yet a mere two years later, "South Vietnam is very much in business...In short, a wholly unexpected political miracle has taken place in South Vietnam...[T]he principal credit should be given to [Diem].

Slaves to today's liberal conventional wisdom may find it strange that
The liberal press was most lavish in its praise, a development that seems counterintuitive give Diem's conservatism and religious zealotry. These traits were more than offset, however, by his uprightness and apparent independence. Whereas Asian Allies like Bao Dai and Chiang Kai-shek had, either through corruption or sloth, earned the label of puppet, Diem appeared immune to such obloquy. Self-denying in his lifestyle, he did not visibly profit from the aid America funneled into his regime. Further more, his determination to steer his own course, even if that meant initiating war with the Bihn Xuyen against the wishes of Eisenhower's personal representative, seemed to demonstrate his freedom from superpower coercion. The phrases "nobody's puppet" and "nobody's pawn" recurred frequently in the stories run on Diem in the American media. If Diem were no puppet, it followed that the United States was not practicing neocolonialism by supporting him, and cold war liberals like [Mansfield] and [Justice Douglas] could be secure in their own righteousness and confident that America would not repeat France's failure in Vietnam. The Miracle Man's appeal to the messianic liberalism of the early cold war - as distinguished from the more jaded liberalism of post-Vietnam America - ensured that, in James Fisher's words, "Diem was beacon of non-communist Left internationalism in the 1950s.

General Pinochet should have been so lucky!

Because, as Jacobs points out, of all this hero-worship
...none...was a consequence of any programs initiated by Diem as leader of the Republic of Vietnam. On the contrary, Diem moved swiftly after consolidating power to transform his country into a police state structurally indistinguishable from the most oppressive dictatorships on either side of the Iron Curtain.

Ignorance serving wishful-thinking and ironclad conformism? Or cynical partisan politics? (The Dems were still raw from the electorally successful GOP claim - the Swift Boating of its day- that they lost China. Dissent from liberal pols and their media supporters on Diem's stellar evaluation in DC would have offered opponents a powerful wedge. The minimal salience of Vietnam would hardly justify the risk.)

A good many of those who read it, no doubt, genuinely believed it. But, then, half of today's Americans think Noah put animals two by two in an actual boat. So, go figure...

  1. Close - my recall from Prime Time is that See It Now lost its sponsor - Alcoa - in 1955, and lost its regular slot to The $64,000 Question. This, this, and this are useful.

    Oh - and: Golden Agers, prepare yourself for a nasty shock downpiece.

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