[sixties-l] What's Wrong With The Kerrey Story?

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Sat May 12 2001 - 17:31:56 EDT

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    What's Wrong With The Kerrey Story?


    By Richard Reeves

    LOS ANGELES -- I have no special knowledge of the heroism or shame of Bob
    Kerrey 32 years ago in Vietnam, but I am reasonably certain that the debate
    over his conduct as a young Navy lieutenant will make him better known and
    more popular than he ever was as a governor and U.S. senator. The publicity,
    the charges and counter-charges, could even make him president.

    Americans generally do not believe that the young men and women they send
    into harm's way are likely to kill civilians or children -- and if they do,
    there is good reason. War is hell.

    In the best-documented American atrocity of that dreadful war -- the killing
    of at least 109 old men, women and children on March 16, 1968, in a village
    we called My Lai -- the public overwhelmingly supported Lt. William Calley
    Jr. as he was court-martialed and found guilty by a panel of officers who
    had served in Vietnam.

    The six-man jury deliberated for 13 days after the longest war-crime trial
    in American military history ended. They found Calley guilty of premeditated
    murder, rejecting his defense and this testimony: "They were all the enemy.
    They were all to be destroyed. ... That was my order, sir. That was the
    order of the day, sir." He said that he had been told that even the children
    of the hamlet were considered Vietcong sympathizers and had thrown grenades
    at Americans.

    On March 31, 1971, the court-martial sentenced Calley to life in prison.
    There were more than 50,000 telegrams to President Nixon by the end of the
    day -- running 100-to-1 in favor of clemency for Calley. A quick White House
    national poll indicated that 96 percent of Americans were aware of the
    charges and 79 percent of respondents disapproved of the verdict. The
    commander in chief commuted his sentence.

    Kerrey is obviously a better man by far than Calley. For reasons of his own,
    it was he who decided to tell this shaming story about himself. I know that
    he talked about it because he wanted it out and probably because he thinks
    it is healthy to talk about what young men are actually called on to do to
    survive in war.

    That said, my concern is not about once and future politicians, but about
    journalism. This story is another advance of a new kind of bottom-line
    journalism. I was startled by the fact that my alma mater, The New York
    Times, was working with CBS News, the producers of "60 Minutes II." The
    Vietnam interviews were not done by the writer, Gregory L. Vistica, but by
    anonymous (to Times' readers) CBS producers. So two world-class news
    operations willingly gave up full control over the reporting on an important
    story because it cost less that way.

    Pooling resources is a good way to save money. The same thing is happening
    across the spectrum of my business. The once-competitive network news
    departments now share film shot by foreign news organizations or free-lance
    crews hustling film and stories around the world -- all ABC, CBS and NBC
    often do is to put in voice-overs by their own anchors or correspondents.
    That is the way the accountants want it. That is why MSNBC and Newsweek have
    a deal. Why train newspeople when you can rent them for 10 minutes or an

    Does it matter? Well, it did on election night last year. The confusion in
    broadcasting results from all over the country did not happen because
    systems were too complicated. It was because new systems are too simple. In
    the old days, each network had its own polling units, run by proved and
    trusted supervisors. Then the accountants said why shouldn't we all get
    together and have only one operation -- for a third the cost?

    So they did it, creating Voters News Service on the cheap. Then VNS screwed
    up the counts, and there was no one else in the field. The networks and
    voters, too, got what they paid for: chaos.

    Where will it end? If it keeps going this way, one day there will be only
    one giant source of most news: Big Brother producing the same message
    printed in different typefaces, told in different voices.

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