Dillan Christensen Sarah Shepherd With Comments by Robin Franke and Yesenia Dueñas Interviewers
May 11, 2013 At Ron Bonn's House San Diego, California
Sarah Shepherd: Where did you grow up?
Ron Bonn: Mostly in Philadelphia. Then I went to Penn State, but I was born in New York. I still think of myself pretty much as a New Yorker.
SS: How did you get to California. You know, what caused you to move here?
RB: Well, of course, I worked all over the world as a journalist for CBS, NBC, and it was great, you know, you travel everywhere on somebody else's dime, but I did a lot of work in California, and oddly enough, right toward the end of my career, one of the last stories I did was focused in San Diego... and I liked it. I liked the weather. I liked the people. I liked the fact that everything here is outdoors, and so I thought this might be a pretty good place to come to, and so I brought my wife out and we stayed for 30 days and she liked it even better than I did. So, there are a couple of other possibilities. I've always loved San Francisco. We might well have wound up there, and we both liked Seattle. If Seattle had San Diego's weather, we'd be in Seattle. But, you know the 340th day of rain in the year, and it gets a little boring.
Dillan Christensen: How did you become interested in the broadcast media?
RB: the.. the...
DC: In... media
RB: Well, I think, I was always going to be a writer, um, and after I got out of the army, I went to New York to struggle, to try to become a freelance writer, and it was a strange thing because I was just starting to get some assignments, and I got one assignment from a little, a new magazine, called Limelight, and in those days Ed Murrow had this program called Person To Person and it was really pioneering because Murrow would sit in a CBS studio and by television he would visit Barbra Streisand, he would visit Henry Kissinger, and Streisand or Kissinger or whoever, would take you all through their home and sit down and chat with you and it was all done with cameras and Limelight wanted a story on how they did this because at that point, it’s brand new. So, I spent three days on one of his shoots, and I was enchanted. I couldn't believe what these people were doing. When you looked on the television camera all you saw was an apartment. Every square inch that wasn't on camera had some piece of technical equipment, and some technician working on it, and I said to myself, I got to get a piece of this, and that's how I got started in television. I had no thought of television until I did that story with Person to Person, and then I spent 40 years doing it, and enjoyed every minute of it.
SS: So, we know you went to Vietnam and reported there... what exactly did you do, and what was your role there?
RB: Here's how that worked out. I was working on, as a CBS News evening producer, with Walter Cronkite, and Walter made two trips to Vietnam, in 1965 and in 1968, and in both cases, the idea was, he wanted to see what was going on, because we were getting these incredibly different reports. From the government, from the White House, from the Pentagon, “All's well. We can see light at the end of the tunnel. We are winning.” From our reporters in the field, “This is a mess. This is totally screwed up.” And our reports were coming back, these things we're putting on every night. And somebody's lying. Now Cronkite is a veteran...war correspondent. He... he worked all through the Second World War for the United Press. And he wanted to see for himself like any good correspondent he wanted to see for himself, so I was the producer and we went over there in 1965 which just happened to be the time of the beginning of the enormous American build up there. This is when it went from JFK's 23,000 advisers to Lyndon Johnson's half a million troops in there, and we saw the beginning of that build up of that half a million troops. And we actually flew in over Cameron Bay and it was full of ships, full of gray ships. I'm not talking dozens I'm talking hundreds. This was the beginning of the huge American buildup, but we didn't know it at the time. For all we knew Cameron Bay always looked like that, but this was the beginning... and we flew into an airbase called Da Nang in the middle of the jungle, the United States had built a 12,000 foot runway that could support B-52s. That's like the biggest runway at O'Hare in Chicago, and it's in the middle of Vietnam.
Robin Franke: In the jungle?
RB: We climbed off the... I'm sorry.
RF: In the jungle?
RB: Well actually Khe Sanh is a city... but, I'm sorry Da Nang is a city. In the, the depths of the third world, was this incredible airfield, and as we climbed off the plane, I noticed something... that's 12,000 feet, that's two and a half miles, right. The entire length of this landing strip, on both sides were these revetments, are these deep enclosures, and inside each one is one of the most modern warplanes in the world, F-102s, F-104s, F-106s, B-57s... for two miles on each side, and these things are sitting there shining, and I remember, and I turned to Walter, and I said maybe the dumbest thing I have ever said in my life. I said, “How can we lose.” The problem was, it was the wrong war... this was not a war that was going to be won by F-102s, 104s, and 106s, it was going to be won by the guys who could survive in the boondocks, the guys who could keep coming back, and most important of all, the guys that lived there. The people we were fighting were the guys who lived there, no matter how long we stayed, the day after we left, they're still going to be there, and it gradually became evident that this was not a winnable war, that our correspondents were telling the truth, and, now if I am telling you too much, I want you to stop me because I tend to go on about this stuff.
SS: Oh no
RB: But this is the kind of stuff that is coming back from this. First of all you have to realize this: never before or since have we been able to cover a war the way we covered Vietnam.
RF: It's the first living room war right?
RB: The first and last living room war, and the last is important because here's what's going on. We're covering the war and the way I am going to tell you in a minute is there's bunch of guys who were very fond of this war in the pentagon. There's a fellow called Dick Cheney. He's in the Pentagon. There was a fellow named Don Rumsfeld. He's in the Pentagon. They both got military deferments. Not one of any of these people ever served a day in uniform, and I speak as someone who has. They didn't like what we were reporting. Night after night after night, we were bringing this war into the American living room, and that was not a good way to sell this war that they were very fond of, and so one of the things, the lessons for them that came out of the war is that you never let the press cover a war this way again and they never have. Now, let me tell you how we covered that war. We had a bunch of the best correspondents and the best crews I have ever worked with in my life and some of them got shot, and some of them got killed, but they were out there. Jack Laurence was out there. David Halberstan was out there. Gary Shepard, Morley Safer, all of these great correspondents, and when they wanted to do a story here's what they did. They're in Saigon, you went to Tan Son Nhut airbase. Now Tan Son Nhut was the Saigon civilian airport, but another side of it was military, was ours, and there's this little gray building there. You walked in, and sitting at a desk is a warrant officer. Now a warrant officer is halfway between a non-commissioned officer and a commissioned officer. What I'm saying is this is not a very heavy person. Right? And you walk up to the desk and you'd say “I want to go cover the fighting in Khe Sanh” He'd look up a manifest and he says “Okay, I've got a C-130 going to Khe Sanh at 10:30. I've got three seats on that. You want 'em?” And that's all it took, you, your crew, were in route to Khe Sanh and once you got there you were covering one of the bloodiest battles of the war. You were telling these terrible stories because war is a terrible story, and then you were shipping it back to the living room because the television situation at that time, you got to remember this, it's not like now. There are three and only three sources of television, news, in America: CBS News, NBC News, ABC News. There's no cable. There's no CNN. Ted Turner hasn't even been born, much less invented it. Right? There's three sources, but at the same time, you've had this explosion of television. At the beginning of the 1960s, almost nobody had a set. By 1965 every family in America had a set. They had paid six to eight hundred dollars for this little squinty black and white set. You bet they were going to use it, and so every evening before dinner, the whole family settled down, in front of this little set, to watch the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite, and here we come. Here is the kind of story we're doing. Jack Laurence, I forget who his camera man was, but he goes into a medical tent, and what he comes upon is a navy corpsman trying to save the life of a young shot-up marine, and Jack sits down, and the cameraman starts rolling, and the first thing you see is this guy working over the marine... and failing.. and the marine dies, and the corpsman starts talking to Jack about what he's doing here, about the ones he's saved, and the ones who died. I don't think Jack Laurence said ten words during this 8 minute sequence. It's just this fella, this corpsman... venting of what he's seen and all the dying, and his successes too, and he's proud of them. Ok, now we ran that on the CBS evening news for 8 minutes and change, and remember we've only got 22 minutes, but we ran that for 8 minutes. I will never forget it. The people who watched it will never forget it, and all of a sudden you've got an idea of what this war is like, not in terms of Pentagon statistics, but of a dead marine and a live corpsman. Another story we came up with, and again if I am giving you too much, you are going to have to cut me off. There started to be in about 1966 a controversy over whether the Pentagon was cooking its figures, and particularly its figures on enemy dead. There was a whole challenge to how many Viet Cong we were killing, and so the word goes out from the Pentagon. It goes out to the combat units. Every time you kill a VC, you will cut off his ear, so that you have a record of the dead VC. You will cut of his right ear. Now, this is not some rogue unit. This is a marine corps order. You will take ears. Like something out of the seventeenth century. So, here comes our correspondent and our crew on a bunch of marines who had just been in combat. “What are you doing?” “We're cutting off the ears” and this piece comes back and I cut most of these pieces in New York I was sort of the supervising producer. What do you do with this? How can you possibly put this on, into America's living rooms. On the other hand, and here's the heart of it. This is America's war. Our people have ratified it by electing first, Lyndon Johnson and then Richard Nixon. They have ratified the war. They have a right to see what their war is. So, I came up with a technique that I called use the wide shot, lose the tight shot. The cameraman got the tight shot of the ear coming off and he shot it wide. I never used the tight shot, but I used enough of the wide shot so that there was no doubt in your mind what these marines were doing, and the narration told you that this was orders from the Pentagon. These endless stories came in of... our troops and the terrible, terrible situation that they had been put in over there. This marvelous piece of Jack Laurence. It ran for an hour on CBS called Charlie Company[The World of Charlie Company], and Charlie Company was the story of a near mutiny. Of American soldiers who would not go down a path, because they had a new lieutenant who didn't know what he was doing, and these soldiers were veterans, and they knew that down that path was eelgrass, 8 feet high. Down that path, they could get killed and the lieutenant said go, and the men said no. Ok, this is not the kind of thing you see in the war movies right? If you saw Wake Island, if you saw Corregidor, if you saw Pork Chop Hill. It's all heroism, and we're the good guys. War is complicated, and we were showing it every night, and this was the origin of the anti-war movement. There's no question. You would not have had an anti-war movement in America without these nightly reports, but we weren't doing it to get an anti-war movement going. We were doing it as journalists to show America what it had bought with this war, and I think that my friends, and, and some of them aren't alive anymore, but my friends who did that, did a magnificent job. I will tell you that I was in Vietnam for only three weeks, and I was frightened the entire three weeks. I was scared to death. These guys, Laurence, Shepard, Don Webster, Murray Fromson. They went in on 18 month tours and some of them came back in for a second 18 month tour, and I got to tell you they are my heroes. They are, they are my heroes. I am so proud to know guys like that... So, that's why there will never be a war covered like that again, and when the Cheneys and the Rumsfelds got into position of authority, they set it up so that we could never cover a war that way again because it almost cost them their war, and they weren't about to have that.
SS: When you were in Vietnam, did you get to talk to any of the locals who lived there or, you know, the soldiers?
RB: Oh, I talked to everybody I could talk to. Absolutely. Just talked to everybody I could talk to. Talked to them in the field, talked to them in the bars, talked to them in the streets. That's that you do as a journalist because that's the only way you learn anything... You talk, and I guess, far more important, you listen.
RF: Did they all say the same thing?
RB: Not at the beginning. Not at the beginning. I'll tell you an incident. Again, you may not want to use this, but... when we got there in 1965, the press corps that were there, the Americans that were there, were already totally cynical about what basically was a propaganda operation by the Pentagon. They were in the field and they knew that what the Pentagon was putting out every night was not true. So there was a nightly briefing in the Caravelle hotel. At five o'clock at night, and it quickly became known as the five o'clock follies and the ameri- the resident press corps, the Americans who were there on assignment, stopped going to the five o'clock follies because they didn't need to be propagandized by the Pentagon, and these turned into propaganda sessions, but I just got there, and I wanted to see what was going on in these briefings. So, the first night I got there, I put on my CBS credentials and I walked over to the five o'clock follies, and the CBS credential is a big placard, about like this [motions], that has my name, and it had the eye, you know the CBS eye on it, and as I walk in, this little shavetail second lieutenant walks up to me, very belligerently, and he looks at the plaque and he says, “CBS huh... why don't you guys get on the team.”
RB: Get on the team? That's not what we do. We are not on the team. We're in the press box. We give the play by play. The teams may be our teams, the United States, and their team, the Communists, but we're not on the team. What we're doing is reporting the score, and that's all the journalist does, is give you the the play by play and the score. Why don't you get on the team. Anyway this sorta brings us to Cronkite's second trip, and the, the famous trip there. I don't know if you've heard of the Tet Offensive, but you've got to remember what was going on. America got involved in the early 60s with advisers. This massive buildup starts in 1965. By '68 we have a half a million troops there... and all we're hearing is that we are winning the war. On the Vietnamese New Year, which is Tet, which is in February, of 1968. All of a sudden every single city in South Vietnam explodes, I mean explodes. There are Viet Cong teams coming in, fighting, and winning against the South Vietnamese forces, against our marines, against the best that we have, and they are holding ground. They're taking ground in more than 30 cities after three years of us at home hearing, “Everything's fine. We're winning this war.” This is the origin of Cronkite's second trip because now not only Cronkite but all of CBS management says, “What the hell. They've told us for three years that we're winning. How can this army suddenly arise from nowhere and start taking over cities.” They took over Hue. The marines had to take it back from them. They almost took Saigon. This is the origin of Cronkite's second trip, during the Tet Offensive, to find out what is going on, and you've got to remember something, Walter is a seasoned war correspondent. He covered American forces all the way through the Second World War, and one thing he knows is the difference between winning and losing, and so he does his report on the combat in Hue and he sends a series of reports back to the CBS evening news, and then they do a news special, and the important thing to Walter about the news special was that he would not put his opinion on the CBS evening news. That was an absolute no-no, but he thought that at this point on a CBS news special, he could tell people what he saw, and what, in his really expert opinion, he was seeing and that's when Walter said that, “essentially this war hit stalemate. We may not lose it, but we won't win it, and it's time to go to the diplomatic option and find an honorable way for America to withdraw from the war.” Now, I'm going to tell you first, the impact it did have, and then I am going to tell you the impact that it didn't have, and they’re very different. There's no question that Walter's report influenced the 1968 presidential election because Lyndon Johnson supposedly said, and there's some controversy, but he supposedly said, “If' I've lost Walter Cronkite, I've lost middle America.” Undoubtedly that was part of Johnson’s calculus that he would not run for another term, throwing the entire election open. Along comes Eugene McCarthy with a demand building a really powerful electorate that we withdraw. Here comes Bobby Kennedy, and Bobby Kennedy probably would have become President of the United States if Sirhan Sirhan hadn't shot him. Here comes Richard Nixon, back from the political dead. All of this is stirred up by the Tet offensive and at least in part by Walter's expert analysis of the Tet offensive. Well the result is we get a Nixon victory, a very narrow Nixon victory if you remember, and Nixon decides to adopt this war. Now Nixon came in with no commitment to the war. He could have done what a growing proportion of the United States populous was demanding after all these stories on television. Do what Walter said, find an honorable way out. Now, instead, Nixon and Kissinger prosecute this war... until 1975. Seven more years. Now there is this myth that has grown, and it is very similar to the myth in Germany after the First World War, after the Germans lost the First World War. This myth arose that the German army had really been winning that war and it was betrayed by the politicians, and the civilians, and the Jews. We knew what came out of that, Hitler came out of that myth. After Vietnam faded from people's consciousness, this myth arose that we were winning in 1968 and that Walter Cronkite betrayed the American troops and that Walter, in his talk, was the reason we lost the war. When Walter gave that Tet analysis, the big American commitment was three years old. That war went on for seven more years. Far more young Americans died. Far more Vietnamese died from 1968-1975 than from '65-'68. Walter had an impact on that election, I think. Walter as the reason we lost the war is a vile and dangerous myth promoted by people who liked that war... my own personal analysis but I did live through it... What else? … Why I have really been going on... Why don't you shut me up, guys? Like really!
RF: What you are saying is so interesting!
SS: So, you were in Vietnam and you said you were kind of, you know, you were able to go to the army propaganda meeting. So did you live side-by-side with the people in the army?
RB: Yeah. Once we got out of Saigon... First of all we went to a press camp in Da Nang and the one thing, if you're going to go with Walter Cronkite, you are going to find where the action is. All he wants to do is hear bullets, and there were people in the press, I remember one guy in the press camp at Da Nang, and he was an NBC guy, and [undecipherable, possibly At Nang], and what he decided on the first night was that NBC had sent him to the press camp to think about the war, and that's what he was going to do. He was going to sit in the press camp and think about the war.,and you know, we just laughed and looked at each other, and he goes, the next morning, we were going out to try to find a firefight... But yeah, we got into some... I mean the army was obviously protecting Walter. They were not going to have Walter Cronkite shot on their watch, but we did go out with an infantry squad. Walter flew on a bombing mission, unfortunately it was a two-seater plane so I couldn't go along, because that I really would have liked to have done, and he was in his element, he was having a grand time, it's the old war, the old firehorse. He smelled smoke again, it's been a long time since VE day and VJ day and Walter wanted to be back in the action.
SS: So what were the living conditions that you and the Army had?
RB: Well if you were in one of the bases, they were pretty good, they were pretty good. But if you were on a firebase or with a marine squad moving through the boonies, it was, it was quite primitive, and we didn't get with that. We usually got back to a fixed installation by nightfall, so I can't actually tell you how that was. You'd have to talk to one of my friends who spent all that time there and lived in the mud.
DC: So you were saying that.. the Pentagon was sort of.. I forget the word
DC: Yeah. Would you say that they censored any of the footage that you..
RB: They. Will they say what?
DC: Do you think that the Pentagon censored any of the footage that you took there?
RB: That was the thing. They couldn't. That was the whole point. Now look, during the, the Second world war, there was a general censorship. Any film is of a film crew sent out from the Second world war or usually this was radio reports because there wasn't that much film going on, would always go through a military censor before it could possibly land on your doorstep in the morning paper, but that mechanism had gone away by the time of Vietnam, and no military censor looked at that film from Vietnam before Tommy Michaels and I saw it to cut it into a piece for tonight's evening news.
RF: How long would it take to get footage from Vietnam back into the states?
RB: A long time and it could drive you crazy. Remember there's no satellites. Right? There's no tape. Alright, so here's what you have to do. Jack Laurence is doing a piece for us, lets say its his corpsman piece. He collects all the film, and the film is in these big tin cans and he's got the stack of tin cans, and he sits down with the cameraman, in the field, and talks about what the cameraman showed so that Jack knows exactly what's on the film and then Jack writes a narration for that and he and the cameraman record it, and that goes into another can. Now that is sitting out on a firebase called Khe Sanh. So what you've got to do, is you got to get transportation for that film can back to Saigon where we have got a bureau. The bureau then ships that material to Tokyo. Tokyo transships it across the Pacific and it'll come into one of our bureaus, either Los Angeles or San Francisco, and usually it still has to go on to New York because neither of them is equipped to edit a piece. So the first thing you do when it gets back to New York, is you have to put it into a lab. You remember a lab? You remember film that you have to develop it? And the film, you get these negative film strips that come out of it. You don't have time to print it, so you got to learn to recognize film on sixteen millimeter strips in negative, and then you take out Jack's script and you go over it, and you screen all the film, you and the film editor, and you figure, well that can go with this paragraph, and this can go with that paragraph, and you start to put it together on two projectors because you have to be able to cut back and forth between sound and picture. So you build two parallel rolls of film with the sound over here and the picture over here, or the sound here, a picture here, or sound and picture here, but as you go down, you’re going to have to keep jumping back and forth. The technician in the studio has to keep jumping back and forth between those two film strips. If you were lucky, then what you saw tonight on television happened 48 hours ago in Vietnam, but that's if everything goes right, and of course the last thing that could go wrong, is if you get the film to the airport and you used your high speed film processor, which you've got at the airport, because it's breaking news, and you've got to get it on that night’s show and the high speed film processor wipes away all the emulsion... and you've got nothing but blank strips of film. For all those guys who went through in Vietnam, you've got nothing but blank strips of film.
RF: That happened often?
RB: Yes... it did... way too often, and that's why you tried never to use the high speed processor at the airports... never.
SS: So how much did the media coverage affect the anti-war movement in America?
RB: I think it created it. I really do, but I want to emphasize that the media coverage wasn't about an anti-war movement. It was about the war. It was to show, for the first time, in history... to show the American people exactly what they were buying in Vietnam. No one had ever seen that before, or since, and when they saw it... they didn't like it. They didn't like to see marines... burning a village with Zippo lighters. Morley Safer's great story of Cam Ne. People said, you know... this is wrong. People said it's wrong and that created an anti-war movement. What people probably should have realized was it's not wrong and it's not right, it's war. This is what war looks like... take it or leave it.
SS: How did your view of the war change from when you first landed in Vietnam to when you left?
RB: It didn't change that much in my three weeks there. I still remember the feeling, “how can we lose?” Because I didn't know how we could lose at that point. Then they started teaching us how we could lose, but my feeling about the war... I was never a great proponent of it. It never seemed a terrible good idea. The reasoning behind the war, I didn't like, because, for one thing... this outfit, North Vietnam, and the Viet Cong... had just defeated the third most powerful army in the world. They had sent the French packing home and the US had the best army, the Russians had the second best, and the French had the third best, and these guerrillas, in their rubber tired shoes, in their pajamas, in their hiding places underground, had whipped the French. So, I was, you know, pretty weary of it, and also, I had this very strong impression from when I got there. As I got off the airplane in Tan Son Nhut airbase, I didn't have to change the time on my watch, because Tan Son Nhut, Saigon, is exactly twelve hours away from New York. In other words, this is as far away as you can get on the planet, before you start coming back. It seemed to me hard to justify our fighting the war, literally halfway around the world. That impression never left me.... but you also have to remember that when the Nixon administration took over this war, and it took over this war, and it did it under the guidance of Henry Kissinger. Kissinger's rationale for the war, always, was the domino theory. He... saw, or said he saw, all of Southeast Asia, as a series of dominoes that would fall to communism, and if Vietnam, the first domino, fell, then Laos would fall, then Cambodia would become communist, then Burma would become communist, then Indonesia would become communist. This was the domino theory of how communism would dominate all of Southeast Asia if we didn't stay in Vietnam. In 1975, we left Vietnam, right? How many of those countries today are communist?
SS: Well didn't Cambodia become communist?
RB: Not one.
SS: Oh, it didn't?
RB: Not one is communist. The only one that is still communist is Vietnam, and their one of our trading partners now. Not one of those dominoes fell to communism. In other words, for seven years, we were, the American people, were told a theory that had no reality to it.
DC: Would you say that your opinion about the US changed throughout the course of the war?
RF: Or the government.
RF: The US Government.
RB: About the government, yes, oh, absolutely. About the nation, no. When I saw essentially the selling of this war, when I saw who was fighting this war, and who wasn't fighting it, the Cheneys, the Rumsfelds, the Bushes. You never ran into them over there. This war was being fought by half a million guys named Juan. Half a million people that you'd never heard of. They tended to be black, they tended to be Hispanic, they tended to be poor, they tended to be from the hinterlands. I grew up during the Second World War, ok. President Roosevelt had four sons. Every single one was a leader in a combat unit on the cutting edge of that war. Every single son of that president could have been killed in that war. That’s what you call having skin in the game. The people running the Vietnam war had no skin in the game. They were not fighting it, their children were not fighting it. If you were in college you got five exemptions like Dick Cheney got. Who's in college? The elite right? Not the half a million guys named Juan. So, that seemed to me a terrible thing... about this country itself, and the people of this country. You have to remember, I traveled all over the world. I went three or four times around the world on somebody else's dime... and every time I got back here, I realized how lucky I was to be back here in this country, and that's why, when I was drafted, during the Korean War, I didn't like it. It never occurred to me that I didn't owe this country a couple of years of my life to pay it back for everything it was giving me... the freedom, the change to advance. I'm the first guy in my family that ever went to college. The chances you have in this country. There's nothing like it in the world, and being able to travel, to do all that travel, showed it to me. The way people don't travel, don't understand just how good a place, a country, a people, this is, but the government, and I think the government now, is not worthy of the people. Now, that's a personal opinion. That comes from a lot of observing, but that's a personal opinion, butI look at Washington, and I find it is not worthy of the American people. Probably, you shouldn't use that because that's-
DC, SS, RF, Yesenia Duenas: [Laugh]
DC: How old were you when you did your three weeks in Vietnam?
RB: Woo. That's 1965... I was 35.
DC: Do you think your age played any difference in the way you would have gone about broadcasting it?
RB: No, because, you know I would have been on and off with it. I had been in the National Guard when I was much younger, so I had bumped up against the military... No, but again, I was fairly new to television journalism. This was only my fifth year in television journalism, and it was a very educational experience... I learned so much from the mistakes that I made over there, and you know, this is, I don't know if you guys agree with me, the only way that I have ever learned anything in my life, was to do it wrong the first time. You learn from your mistakes, and if you're smart enough to learn from your mistakes, then you won't make the same mistake again. You’ll go make a different mistake, and then learn from that one.
SS: Vietnam... does it affect how you see modern day media?
SS: How so?
RB: Because of the difference between the kind of reporter that Jack Laurence was, the kind of reporter that, uh, Neil Sheehan was, the kind of reporter that Gary Shepard was, and the kind of reporters we have today, who are so much more interested in being on television than doing television, so much more interested in how they are coming across than the dying marine over there. Once again, I remind you that there were three, and only three sources of television news at the point I am talking about, and today there are dozens and dozens and dozens and dozens, but that does not mean that they’re good. Now the three networks, the three original networks, they are good. They are doing the job and doing it, I think, brilliantly. You watch CBS evening news, you watch NBC nightly news, you watch ABC world news tonight, you get thorough, objective, coverage of the day's news. They are upholding the vision. You go to CNN, you go, God forbid, to Fox-
RF and YD: [Laugh]
RB: You go to any of these other upstart outfits and all you see is Nancy Grace yelling at a perpetrator. Everybody has an opinion, and nobody has facts, but the three networks still go out after the facts. Very few people do that anymore. What it's become, the CNN technique of covering a story... is to get two experts... two talking heads, and you get one talking head turned in this direction, saying “Black!” for 35 seconds, and you got another talking head in this direction saying “White!” for 35 seconds, and CNN will tell you it has covered the story instead of sending somebody onto the ground to see whether it's black or white or some other color, and of course Fox... this head says “Black!” and this head says, this head says “No, real black!”
DC: What would you say the most important message you got from being apart of the war?
RB: Being what?
DC: Being a part of the war and showing the war and how it happened?
RB: That people got to know what they are paying for. If they are paying for a war, then the journalist's' job is to show them what they’ve bought. Show it without fear or favor. Show it without opinion. Show it objectively. Show it! But you do not have the right to buy a war and ignore it, and we've been doing too much of that in this country recently because... of the half a million guys named Juan. Their families are devastated, but nobody else cares. Nobody in authority cares, none of the people who matter cares because it's not their kids going over there, and once Nixon ended the draft, he made it possible to get away with some very frivolous wars.
SS: When you think of your experience in the Vietnam War, what would the first thing you think of to describe it be?
RB: Unwise... unwise. We get into these things without thinking them through. We have this terrible habit of messing with cultures that we don't understand. You've got the perfect example of that in the Middle East. Nobody in the White House in 2002 could have told you the difference between a Shiite Muslim and an Sunni Muslim. These people have been killing each other for 13 centuries just because he's a Shiite and he's a Sunni, and nobody knew, nobody in the White House knew, nobody in the Pentagon knew. Nobody spoke Arabic, we had no Arabic speakers to speak up, right, and we get messed up in these totally incomprehensible cultures that we think we are going to turn into Jeffersonian democracies, and we're not, and it's the same thing I told you about Vietnam. The day after we leave these countries, no matter how far in the future, those people are still there because they live there, and we don't live there.
SS: I'm going to start a new recording...
RB: You guys have given me a lot of opportunity to vent here.
RB and RF: [Laugh]
RB: You probably ought to slow me or challenge me, or argue with me. Anybody want to argue with me? Argue with me. Tell me where I'm wrong.
RF: I don't think you're wrong.
RB:...well, then you... then you better think more because somewhere I'm wrong. I'm probably wrong as much as I'm right. I'm just giving you reflections a long time after it happened, but I never spent a whole long period of my life that I didn't think about it.
SS: Well, this is kind of what the whole thing is about, finding individual perspectives about things, you know, it's not wrong or right, it's just what you went though.
RB: Okay. Well I guess this is as individual of a perspective as you're going to get. And you know, you're also going to find people who will take entirely the opposite view, but you're also going to find people who don't believe in climate change.