Posted in Behind the News

‘An impressive chapter in journalism history’

, by Paul Colford

Five giants of journalism are profiled in director Thomas D. Herman’s new documentary, “Dateline - Saigon,” which had its Washington premiere last night at the Newseum.

The film tells the story of how Peter Arnett, Malcolm Browne and photographer Horst Faas, all of The Associated Press; David Halberstam of The New York Times, and Neil Sheehan, of United Press International, aggressively went about covering the growing U.S. military involvement in South Vietnam in the early 1960s despite a lack of credible official information and a wealth of government misinformation. Indeed, as narrated by the actor Sam Waterston, the five “had no clue that they would become the enemy.”

All five journalists won Pulitzer Prizes for their efforts and are also represented in the “Reporting Vietnam” exhibit now on view at the Newseum.

Left to right: Newseum discussion moderator Frank Bond, Neil Sheehan, George Packer and Thomas Herman. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt called it “an impressive chapter in journalism history — the early, hard-hitting coverage of the Vietnam War,” in remarks delivered before the lights dimmed. “The Associated Press was a key player in that, but we were not alone.”

AP CEO Gary Pruitt. (Maria Bryk/Newseum)

AP cosponsored last night’s gathering. The film was followed by a panel discussion featuring Sheehan, George Packer of The New Yorker and Herman, who said he spent 14 years making “Dateline - Saigon.”

Among those attending was former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, who served in Vietnam as a Navy SEAL and won a Congressional Medal of Honor. He offered this reaction: “The movie demonstrates the power of relatively low-cost documentaries and the importance of brave, talented journalists showing us why the First Amendment is so essential for democracy. It is also worth noting that there was no freedom of speech in North Vietnam when these five men were telling us what our government did not want us to know about what was going on in the South.”

The Newseum’s website will stream a recording of the discussion on a date to be determined.