CONCLUSION: This article points out that the Government IS going to lie to us. PERIOD. They’ve admitted it as this article points out. It is important for journalists to remember. The government lies, and it’s their job to expose those lies.
Arthur Sylvester, the Pentagon’s PR chief, told Safer the facts of life in 1966 in Vietnam.
In 1965, Safer was sent to Vietnam by CBS to cover the escalating U.S. war there. That August he filed a famous report showing American soldiers burning down a Vietnamese village with Zippo lighters and flamethrowers as children and elderly women and men cowered nearby.
The next year he wrote a newspaper column about a visit to Saigon by Arthur Sylvester, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs — i.e., the head of all the U.S. military’s PR.
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.”